WASHINGTON - As political scandals go, this one should have been Big News. It had all the makings: a leaked document, arrogant staff and a nefarious plot to exploit national security for partisan advantage.
But somehow, the media more or less ignored the story behind a memo advocating partisan guerrilla warfare on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week penned by some nameless Democratic staff member.
The committee is investigating whether intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq was faulty and whether the administration in any way attempted to skew intelligence to favor its own desire to wage war.
The issue is as sensitive and highly charged a topic imaginable in the increasingly politically polarized Congress. But the Intelligence Committee - with its 30-year history of bipartisan cooperation - was thought able to resist the partisan temptation. That is, until someone on the committee got the bright idea to craft an option paper to explore how best to turn the inquiry into a White House witch hunt.
Among other things, the memo urged Democratic members of the committee to "pull the majority [Republicans] along as far as we can," "castigate the majority" and "make our case to the public." Then, if all else failed, to "pull the trigger on an independent investigation," with "the best time to do so ... next year" - right in the middle of a presidential election.
You would think some enterprising investigative reporter for one of the major dailies or networks would be trying to track down the author. Doesn't anyone in the media want to know if the memo's author was directed by a member of the committee to lay out these options? If not, you'd think the Democratic committee members themselves would be screaming for the supercilious twit's head.
But, no, the Democrats are only concerned about who it is who might have leaked the memo to Sean Hannity, the conservative talk-show host who broke the story on his syndicated radio program last week. Caught with their hands in the cookie jar, Democrats want to punish the person who observed them in the act.
And as for the media, they'd rather focus on Republican outrage over the incident than get to the bottom of whether the Democrats are playing politics with national security. When the networks deigned to cover the story at all, their focus was almost entirely on the Republican response to the memo, not the incendiary document itself. For the most part, influential newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times buried stories on the memo deep inside their pages.
It's hard to imagine that these newspapers would have been so nonchalant had someone uncovered a Republican plot to use an intelligence inquiry to help win a presidential election. Why, that's the stuff of which Pulitzer Prizes are made.
Sadly, the Intelligence Committee's work probably cannot proceed now as it should. We need to know if there were intelligence failures in the lead-up to war. Clearly, reliable intelligence has been a major vulnerability for the United States for at least a decade - which makes us especially susceptible to terrorist attacks at home and abroad.
As strongly as I supported the war in Iraq, I want to feel confident that the administration based its arguments for war on sound intelligence about the threat Iraq posed to its neighbors and us. I don't believe that the president misled the American people, but I would like to be reassured that he got the best and most reliable information on which to base his decision.
If there was an intelligence failure, we need to know how it happened and how to fix it. The committee's work could have answered those questions - but only if the search was for the truth, not for Democratic talking points in next year's presidential debates.
Linda Chavez's syndicated column appears Thursdays in The Sun.