Why was Sen. Jay Rockefeller talking to Bashar Assad about the president's "plans" for Iraq?
11:00 PM, Nov 15, 2005 • By EDWARD MORRISSEY
PRESIDENT BUSH'S DECISION to finally push back against the "Bush lied!" fable paid off in strange ways this past week. Democrats seemed caught by surprise that the president would attack them so frontally on Veteran's Day; the shock caught them flatfooted all weekend long. Senators from the minority caucus could not explain their own words from 2002 supporting the same intelligence, and the same conclusions, as the Bush administration.
The strangest episode came from an appearance by Senator Jay Rockefeller on Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: OK. Senator Rockefeller, the president says that Democratic critics, like you, looked at pre-war intelligence and came to the same conclusion that he did. In fact, looking back at the speech that you gave in October of 2002 in which you authorized the use of force, you went further than the president ever did. Let's watch:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Now, the president never said that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat. As you saw, you did say that. If anyone hyped the intelligence, isn't it Jay Rockefeller?
ROCKEFELLER: No. I mean, this question is asked a thousand times and I'll be happy to answer it a thousand times. I took a trip by myself in January of 2002 to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq, that that was a predetermined set course which had taken shape shortly after 9/11. [emphasis added]
What was the second-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee doing in Syria, a country which perennially finds itself among the top listings of terrorist-sponsoring nations, discussing President Bush's decision-making on the war on terror with Bashar Assad, one of the worst sponsors of terror in the months after 9/11?
So far, no journalist has had an opportunity to ask Rockefeller that question directly, and Rockefeller hasn't elaborated on the point. We do know, however, that Rockefeller didn't lie about the trip itself. Arabic News covered the January 2002 visit in a short report that confirms Rockefeller's meeting with Assad. While the report does not directly quote Rockefeller after the meeting, it describes the senator as "content" and noted his "happiness" in meeting with the terror-enabler (who now faces condemnation even at the United Nations for his involvement in the assassination of a political opponent in Lebanon).
If Rockefeller discussed war plans with Assad while the United States had begun military operations against global terrorist organizations, which Assad has been known to fund, surely it is a major breach of the senator's duties? The Logan Act, a piece of rarely enforced legislation, may be pertinent:
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
By Rockefeller's own admission, he went to Syria (as well as Saudi Arabia) to conduct his own foreign policy initiative. He warned Assad that Bush intended to invade Iraq and could not be deterred--giving Assad plenty of opportunity to communicate with Saddam Hussein, and Hussein plenty of opportunity to prepare for war.
Mind you, it took President Bush nine months from time of Rockefeller's trip to even bring the subject of Iraq to Congress, and even though he got the authorization he wanted, he spent five months after that attempting to negotiate with the United Nations for unanimous backing on military action. That hardly seems like an implacably-resolved president determined to go to war.
None of this is to say that our elected representatives can't speak to foreign heads of state, even those unfriendly to the United States. However, by Rockefeller's own reckoning, this incident involves more than just fact-finding. The man who sits in judgment of American intelligence communities went to a known supporter of Islamist terror at a time when the nation had explicitly declared itself in conflict with such groups, and discussed our wartime preparations with a tyrant who could have--and may have--used that information to America's disadvantage. The timetable, and Rockefeller's admitted intervention, allowed the Assad and Hussein enough time to create strategic planning for the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.
Given the facts we know now, it seems to be an excellent example of why Congress passed the Logan Act in the first place.
Edward Morrissey is a contributing writer to The Daily Standard and a contributor to the blog Captain's Quarters.