The White House excoriated Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) on Thursday for politicizing the ongoing investigation into the Flight 253 terror plot.
Bond asserted earlier this week that top counterterrorism chief John Brennan ought to be fired, in part because he and other national security advisers were wrong to read suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights. He later added that Brennan was not "credible" and had thus become the "mouthpiece of the political arm" of the White House.
However, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs aggressively dismissed that line on Thursday, remarking: "I don't know whether Kit Bond was confused or whether he just doesn't want to admit the truth."
"I don't have the slightest idea what political party John Brennan is a member of; I've never had a political conversation with John," Gibbs said during his press briefing.
The press secretary later told reporters, "I'll let you ... just ask Kit Bond if he understands the protocols of how the FBI handles suspects ..."
The White House and Bond, the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have been at odds for weeks now, all in connection with the Justice Department's handling of the Flight 253 case.
Bond maintains the White House has wholly politicized the investigation, releasing allegedly classified information in order to defend its decision to Mirandize Abdulmutallab and treat him as a criminal, not an enemy combatant. But the White House completely disagrees, arguing the FBI had no choice but to read the suspect his Miranda rights, as legal protocol requires.
Gibbs in particular has since called on Bond to apologize for his comments, charging his assertion that intelligence officials released classified information for political gain is immensely offensive. But Bond says the White House is wrong, as it disregarded the FBI's own suggestion to remain quiet, and he has refused to make amends.
But the standoff intensified only Wednesday, following Brennan's decision to pen an op-ed for USA Today, defending the White House's handling of the Flight 253 case. That infuriated Bond, who said Brennan surrendered all credibility by advancing the Obama administration's political line.
Predictably, Gibbs disagreed, and he repeated on Thursday that the White House had full confidence in Brennan's leadership and ability to head up domestic counterterrorism efforts.
In a speech on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, Bond refused to back down and accused the White House of trying to quash Congressional oversight, referring to comments by a White House spokesman on MSNBC Thursday morning that “politicians in Congress” should keep their mouths shut when it comes to national security.
“I welcome administration comments on the substance of Congressional criticism, you’re not going to be able to silence the legislative branch,” Bond said. “Attempts to do so are unworthy of the democracy we are sworn to defend.”
Bond went on to attack the argument that the Obama administration is simply carrying on in the tradition of President Bush, who released more than 500 detainees overseas.
“One in five returned to the battlefield,” he said. “That was a big mistake and we’ve got to stop making the mistakes. We can learn from the mistakes we’ve made in the past.”
He also argued that the civilian trials of terrorists have hemorrhaged classified information that has damaged intelligence operations aimed at capturing Osam bin Laden and others.
“I have a right and a responsibility to shine a light on policies that need to be changed and I will continue to do so regardless of what is said about me.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) took to the floor to counter Bond’s statement, arguing that 195 terrorist suspects have been tried in civilian court under the Bush administration.
“My friend from Missouri has failed to mention one basic fact,” he said. “Since 9/11 195 terrorists have been convicted in article III courts in American. The decisions was made by George Bush to prosecute suspected terrorists in civilian court because they believed it was the most effective place to try them.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), another vocal critic of the administration’s counterterrorism policies and the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, then took to the podium to dispute Durbin’s claims.
President Bush and his staff, he said, did not want to try terrorism suspects in federal court. They only did so because the military commissions had not been created by Congress yet and even when they were a series of Supreme Court decisions made them virtually inoperable until Congress came back to change the laws so they could pass the high court’s muster.
He also impugned Brennan for comments suggesting there is little difference between civilian and military interrogation rules.
“That is absolutely false,” Sessions said.