Bush Eases Restrictions on Congress

Times Staff Writer

The White House said Wednesday it was easing its new effort to restrict information available to Congress on military operations, investigations and law enforcement.

One day after members of the House and Senate from both parties objected to limitations the White House had imposed on briefing Congress, an administration spokesman said President Bush had modified the policy so that key committees on Capitol Hill will also be brought into the informed circle.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said that under the new procedures, such Cabinet members as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would brief the House and Senate Armed Services committees on classified information, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell would fill in the Foreign Relations panels.

“The president is going to make sure that the appropriate committees get the information they need and that the members are going to be briefed on what has been going on, how it’s worked,” Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said after a breakfast meeting with Bush.

Friday, Bush sent a memo to Rumsfeld, Powell, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, and the heads of the FBI and CIA telling them to restrict classified or sensitive information to the four top House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders and the four top officials of the two chambers’ intelligence panels.

Wednesday, Fleischer indicated the briefings would remain guarded.

“Operational secrecy will be maintained,” he said, emphasizing that congressional leadership recognizes the need to protect secrecy.

“I think it’s fair to say: Message received,” he said. “The importance of keeping classified information classified has been stressed, and the president hopes that it will be closely, exactly, adhered to.”

At the same time, he said, members of Congress need to be informed to oversee the work of the executive branch and its agencies.

In one step intended to relay some information to Congress, a representative of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other Pentagon officials gave the full House a private briefing Wednesday afternoon.