GOP vs. Obama: The Gloves Come Off

Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, held a press conference call with a small group of bloggers. If he is representative of the GOP caucus, it appears that the Republicans are in fighting form -- ready to take on the president on his approach (or lack thereof) to the war on terror and on key portions of his domestic agenda.

The topic of the day was the release of the interrogation memos and the president's vacillating position on a so-called truth commission to investigate potential illegal conduct by Bush administration officials in the war on terror.

Bond declared that after last week the administration is "in disarray" and accused the Obama team of making decisions "on the basis of politics and not national security." But he emphasized that a series of discrete actions by the president (e.g., announcing the closure of Guantanamo, releasing the CIA memos, deciding to release photos of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan) should not be looked at in isolation. Rather, he said, Americans should be asking how these are making us safer. He asked, "What is this administration's strategy?"

In response to questions on the impact of the memos release on the CIA, he said, "The president sent the message to CIA: it's time to CYA." And he queried whether the president "has their back or will stab them in the back." He asserted that detainees now know that they can be expected to endure no harsher questioning than a new Army or SEAL recruit.

I asked what he could tell us about congressional oversight and awareness of the interrogation program. He was emphatic that the "Gang of Four," which included Nancy Pelosi, "was briefed by the CIA." He contends that they "understood what the CIA was doing and gave bipartisan support and funding." He noted that the activities were fully funded in 2006, although Congress did make a request for more information. He pointed out that if Pelosi found the program objectionable, "there was plenty she could have done," including cutting CIA funding, demanding a closed session of Congress, writing a letter, or meeting with other members. "She didn't do anything," he explained.

Later I inquired about the plan to potentially release Guantanamo prisoners into the U.S. He was quick to reply that "Missourians would not stand for terrorists released [into the U.S.]," nor would people from other states. He again asked what the Obama administration's plan to "make us safer" could be if the president was contemplating the release of dangerous detainees. He reiterated that at least 18 and perhaps as many as 43 "Guantanamo graduates" had returned to the battlefield.

Pressed again to explain the administration's approach, he said, "Looking backwards is the wrong direction." And as for Congress' motivations he declared, "A lot of people are still suffering from Bush derangement syndrome."