Senate Democrats Accuse Rice of Lying

By Sonni Efron

Los Angeles Times

January 25, 2005

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats today attacked the nomination of Condoleezza Rice to be secretary of State, saying she had misled or even lied in order to sell the American public and the Congress on the need for war against Iraq.

While Rice was expected to win confirmation easily in a Senate vote scheduled for Wednesday, Senate staff members said that at least 10, and as many as 20 senators, were expected to vote against her nomination. If so, Rice would be the first secretary of State not to win unanimous confirmation since 1981, when six senators voted against the nomination of Alexander M. Haig.

However, the Senate Democratic leadership did not attempt to rally votes against Rice, who was described even by her fiercest critics as impeccably qualified for the job, a candidate with an inspiring personal history, and an official who will be known to speak with the president's voice when talking to foreign leaders.

Instead, the Democratic leadership was mustering its political capital to make a stand against President Bush's nominee for attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales.

"Frankly, there is much more angst over Gonzales, and there comes a practical choice: Having been [branded] an obstructionist party for so long, do you lead with Rice … or do you take on a candidate who is more problematic?" one staffer said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the Gonzales nomination Wednesday, and a close vote could embolden more Democrats to oppose him when the full Senate votes, probably next week.

The debate over the nomination of Rice, Bush's high-profile national security advisor and close confidante, mirrored the political divisions of the past three years and of the presidential campaign.

Democrats argued that Rice, as a senior member of the Bush administration, had exaggerated, misled or lied in the prewar period by presenting as true or uncontested intelligence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, had ties to Al Qaeda, had purchased specialized aluminum tubes that were only suitable for uranium enrichment, and had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa for a possible nuclear weapon — all of which later proved false.

Several senators noted that Rice was the first such senior official to suggest that Hussein might soon have nuclear weapons, saying, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Under fierce questioning about her prewar statements by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings last week, Rice asked Boxer to "refrain from impugning my integrity."

"I don't like to impugn anyone's integrity, but I really don't like being lied to repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally," said Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) "It's wrong. It's undemocratic, it's un-American, and it's dangerous…. And it is occurring far too frequently in this administration. And this Congress, this Senate, must demand that it stop now."

Republicans lauded Rice as an experienced foreign policy official with the intelligence and integrity for the job, as well as the confidence of a president who should be permitted to choose his own foreign policy team. And they accused the Democrats of a sniping partisanship that focused on the political battles of the past rather than on the foreign policy challenges of the next four years.

"It is too easy to snipe from the sidelines at nominees like Dr. Rice, who are willing to sacrifice themselves to further the interests of our country," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Republican leaders, who had wanted to confirm Rice on inauguration day last Thursday, were irked that Democrats had delayed the confirmation.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), asked whether the additional days of debate demanded by Democrats were necessary after Rice's lengthy confirmation hearing, replied: "Absolutely not." He predicted that Rice would win confirmation on a "very strong bipartisan vote."

Times staff writer Richard Simon contributed to this report.