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The Associated Press December 13, 2006

Roberts leaving, Bond to be ranking member on Intelligence panel

By Sam Hananel

WASHINGTON - Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri was named vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday after fellow Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas announced he was leaving the panel.

Roberts chaired the committee for the past four years, during a time of bitter public squabbling with Democrats about its investigation into prewar intelligence on Iraq. Had he stayed on, Roberts would have become vice chairman of the panel in January after Democrats take control of the Senate.

Instead, Roberts is gaining a seat on the Senate Finance Committee, which he said would allow him to work on issues "important to the daily lives and pocketbooks" of his constituents."

"I just think it will allow me to have more influence and a strong voice on such a wide range of issues that affect everybody, from your taxes to your health care to medicare or Social Security and trade," Roberts said in an interview.

Bond has taken on an increasingly public role on the Intelligence Committee since he joined the panel nearly four years ago. Earlier this year, Republicans chose Bond to carry the party's message on national security and terrorism issues leading up to the midterm elections.

"Intelligence is the most effective tool we have to protect the safety of American citizens," Bond said in a statement.

Bond said he looks forward to working with Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., "to advance our national security interests by strengthening the Intelligence Community."

Senate officials have said Roberts grew tired of the infighting on the Intelligence Committee and did not look forward to Democrats taking control following their November election victories.

Democrats repeatedly accused Roberts of stalling for political reasons the investigation into prewar intelligence assessments on Iraq's program to develop weapons of mass destruction. Roberts responded that it was Democrats who were trying to politicize the inquiry.

Roberts downplayed speculation that he made the move with an eye toward his re-election campaign in 2008.

"I don't think that measures up very well," Roberts said. "I think that most people in Kansas, or for that matter elsewhere, were pointing out positive achievements while I was chairman."

Roberts spent 10 years on the Intelligence Committee. The normal expiration date for serving is eight years, but he was able to serve an extra two years.

"I was working 24/7 as chairman, night and day to improve our intelligence gathering capabilities," Roberts said. "Bottom line - we have not had a successful terrorist attack on our country in five and a half years and that's been no accident."

Kansas has not had a seat on the Finance Committee since Bob Dole left the Senate more than 10 years ago. The panel is responsible for tax legislation and bills affecting trade, Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs.

John Pike, director of Washington-based think tank GlobalSecurity.org, said it's hard to gauge Bond's likely impact in his new position.

"I think he's going to carry his party's water," Pike said. "To the extent that there are partisan fights to be picked, that's his job."

Since most of the committee's work is classified, the public feuding in recent months over prewar intelligence was considered highly unusual.

"It remains to be seen whether these partisan intelligence controversies have run their course or whether there's more where that came from," Pike said.

Roberts said he is proud of the Intelligence Committee's achievements while he led the panel. The committee issued a report in July 2004 that focused on the CIA's failings in its estimates of Iraq's weapons program.

A second report earlier this year faulted intelligence gathering in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. More reports from the second phase of the investigation are expected to be released next year.

Roberts played an important role in formulating the historic 2004 intelligence reform bill that created the office of director of national intelligence. Under his leadership, the committee was involved in revising and updating the Patriot Act when it was reauthorized in 2005.

Roberts is also leaving the Senate Armed Services Committee after 10 years as a member.


Copyright 2006, The Assocaited Press