Kerry, Hagel to brief lawmakers on Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will hold an unclassified briefing for lawmakers on Thursday about Syria, according to congressional sources. 

The two cabinet members along with other officials will give lawmakers the latest on U.S. intelligence as the administration works to win congressional support for a military strike against Syria. 

The briefing will be unclassified, congressional aides said, due to difficulties arranging secure telephone lines for lawmakers who are away from Washington on recess. It was initially arranged as a classified briefing.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. James Winnefeld, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Adviser Susan Rice will also brief lawmakers on the call, according to aides.

The briefing is being held as the Obama administration faces pressure from lawmakers to properly consult with Congress as it considers military intervention.

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More than 100 lawmakers signed a letter to Obama Wednesday demanding that he receive authorization from Congress before taking any military action in Syria.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also wrote to the president Wednesday calling on him to make the case for military action to both Congress and the public.

“I have conferred with the chairmen of the national security committees who have received initial outreach from senior administration officials,” Boehner wrote, “and while the outreach has been appreciated, it is apparent from the questions above that the outreach has, to date, not reached the level of substantive consultation.”

Boehner and Obama spoke about Syria by phone on Thursday. 

A spokesman for Boehner said afterward: "It is clear that further dialogue and consultation with Congress, as well as communication with the American public, will be needed."

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), said on MSNBC Thursday that he wasn't sure whether Thursday's briefing would be "enough."

“I think you have to have a very robust, honest discussion, not just about a detailed unclassified version of what the information is, but also to have a classified discussion with a group of members, again broader than just a few chairmen, so that we can get again, broader buy-in in Congress,” Rogers said.

A House Armed Services Committee aide said that Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) had so far spoken with a senior Defense official about Syria and questioned whether Thursday’s call would be sufficient.

“The kind of substantive consultation the president is required to carry out, in the chairman’s mind, is not one call or two calls — it’s a more extended process than that,” the aide said.

The State Department has said it would share classified information with Congress before making unclassified details available to the public “sometime this week.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that the call was the "latest in a series of robust congressional consultations that everybody from the president on down has been engaged in over the past few days."

He said that the White House had been working to schedule the call for a number of days.

Earnest also said that the White House was still on track to publicly release a report detailing the intelligence assessment linking the Assad regime to the chemical weapons attack, although had not finished preparing the report by early Thursday afternoon.

"I'm not ruling out today," Earnest said at Thursday's White House press briefing.

Earnest said that even without the declassified report, there was "a preponderance of publicly available evidence" to link Assad to the attack.

He said that the publicly available report would be limited out of consideration for "protecting sources and methods." But, Earnest argued, lawmakers who had full access to classified intelligence materials — including Senate Intelligence Committee leaders Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) — were satisfied that the regime was responsible for the deployment of chemical weapons.

— Justin Sink contributed.

— This report was updated at 2:02 p.m. and 3:32 p.m.