Union Tribune

May 18, 2002

White House turns tables on Congress
Feinstein remarks to CNN in July fuel finger-pointing about terror warnings


By TOBY ECKERT 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON Seizing on remarks Sen. Dianne Feinstein
made last summer about a possible terrorist attack, the White
House yesterday pointed a finger back at Congress as debate
raged over information President Bush received about potential
hijackings a month before the Sept. 11 attacks.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer quoted Feinstein, D-Calif.,
as telling CNN in July 2001 that she had received reports from the
Senate Intelligence Committee staff of "a major probability of a
terrorist incident within the next three months."

"Clearly, if Sen. Feinstein ... was aware of this, the question arises,
what did the Democrats know and why weren't they talking to
each other?" Fleischer said.

That prompted a long written response from Feinstein, who said
she "had no specific data leading to a possible attack" and does
"not believe that any of our nation's leadership had specific
information last summer to know when and what kind of attack to
anticipate."

Feinstein also said the White House did not heed her repeated
calls to beef up counterterrorism efforts in the weeks before the
attacks.

In her response to Fleischer's remarks, Feinstein said she had
repeatedly urged Vice President Dick Cheney's office to
strengthen counterterrorism efforts, but "the White House did not
address my request."

She said she pressed the issue on Sept. 10 and was told by
Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, "that it might be
another six months before he would be able to review the
material."

Yesterday's exchange between Fleischer and Feinstein amplified
the political storm that has broken out over whether adequate
attention was paid to pre-Sept. 11 warnings about possible
terrorism. Numerous members of Congress, mostly Democrats
but also some Republicans, have questioned Bush's response to
an August intelligence briefing about possible hijackings by Osama
bin Laden's al-Qaeda group.

Fleischer seized on Feinstein's comments to CNN to turn the
tables on congressional critics. He quoted Feinstein as saying
Cheney told Democrats he was going to work on the issue.

"The point being, the administration, prior to Sept. 11th, as shared
with the Democrats, was already moving on the homeland security
front," Fleischer said.