August 2, 2006

Rumsfeld, in reversal, to attend public hearing

By Will Dunham and Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a reversal, the Pentagon on
Wednesday said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will testify
publicly on the Iraq war to a key Senate committee after
Democrats blasted him for planning to bypass it because of a
busy schedule.

Earlier in the day, Rumsfeld told reporters he would not
attend a morning Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing,
but would have a closed briefing for all senators along with
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and two generals later on

Sen. Hillary Clinton, a New York Democrat who led the
charge against Rumsfeld, called his "11th hour decision to
reverse course ... the right one."

She said senators and the American people "should hear
directly from the top civilian leader at the Pentagon, the
person most responsible for implementing the President's
military policy in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Rumsfeld, known for frosty relations with some lawmakers,
had denied he was reluctant to face senators in public, and
suggested critics were playing politics.

Democrats, trying to regain control of Congress from
Republicans in elections in November, have made Rumsfeld a
prime target of criticism over the handling of the
three-year-old Iraq war.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada fired off a
letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee urging him to
call on Rumsfeld to appear in the open hearing.

Rumsfeld has not testified publicly to the Armed Services
Committee since February. Instead of Rumsfeld, Army Gen. John
Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, and Marine Corps Gen.
Peter Pace, the top U.S. military officer, were set to testify.

Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, the committee's
chairman, and the panel's top Democrat wrote Rumsfeld on July
26 "to confirm your invitation to testify" at the hearing on
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Warner said on Wednesday "at no time did he refuse to come
up here," adding the Senate Republican leadership preferred
having Rumsfeld, Rice, Pace and Abizaid brief in private.

At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld said that "my calendar was such
that to do it in the morning ... would have been difficult."

Without mentioning anyone by name, Rumsfeld added, "Let's
be honest. Politics enters into these things. And maybe the
person raising the question is interested in that." Clinton is
a possible 2008 Democratic presidential candidate.

Democrats have used these committee hearings to savage
Rumsfeld. At a 2005 hearing, Sen. Edward Kennedy of
Massachusetts asked Rumsfeld, "Isn't it time for you to