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Bush's hidden trap in CIA nomination

Page 2 of 2 -- What changed was that Kerry's status as a potential commander in chief improved after the Democratic Convention. The White House started looking for actions Bush could take to shore up his own position, and naming a new CIA boss made it to the short list, especially if it could provoke Democratic opposition. By restricting themselves to asking embarrassing questions, the trap has been avoided.

This way, Goss can be asked about his disinterest in consolidating authority over foreign and domestic intelligence work in one, responsible official. He can be asked about his one proposal in this area that would only and marginally expand the budgetary authority of the CIA director.

He can be asked about his steadfast refusal on Bush's behalf to have his committee investigate the colossal intelligence failure where Saddam Hussein's alleged cache of unconventional weapons was concerned before last year's invasion.

He can also be asked to explain his position as an integral part of the pre-9/11 establishment that failed to anticipate or even recognize the rise of Al Qaeda. He can also be asked to explain his abrupt transformation from protector of the agency where he worked as a young man (he's 65 now and already one of this year's announced congressional retirees) to sharp critic just when it served Bush's interests to shift blame to Tenet's tenure and off himself.

For icing, he can be asked to explain a string of statements and writings questioning Kerry's national security credentials -- one in pseudo-dramatic form on the House floor two months ago -- that he has issued as one of the Bush-Cheney campaign's designated hitters.

The ranking Democrat on Goss's committee, Jane Harman of California, has consistently had the perfect nominee in mind since Tenet resigned: nobody. Anything else would inevitably introduce politics and complicate the vital task of reform.

She was correct. For a change, it's encouraging to see the Democrats pass up a fight not worth the effort or the pitfalls. Correction: My thanks to constitutional experts who pointed out that I recently erred while noting that conservatives were ignoring their states rights principles on social issues. They are embodied in the 10th, not the 11th, amendment to the Constitution. Thomas Oliphant's e-mail address is oliphant@globe.com. 

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