2 chairmen reflect bipartisan panel


WASHINGTON - In naming Laurence H. Silberman, a senior federal appeals judge, and Charles S. Robb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia, to lead a bipartisan panel that will study pre-war U.S. intelligence on Iraq, President Bush chose a combative conservative along with a taciturn moderate Democrat.

Both men have operated on the periphery of the intelligence world that they, and the rest of the panel, will examine.

Silberman, 68, is remembered for a caustic remark he inserted in a 1998 ruling by the federal appellate court in Washington rejecting the Secret Service's bid to shield its agents from testifying about President Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.

In a blistering opinion, Silberman argued that "the president's agents" had decided to "declare war" on the independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr.

Two years ago, Silberman served on a special judicial panel that upheld the USA Patriot Act, which broadened the government's powers to use wiretaps and other means to combat terrorism.

Robb is a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, a son-in-law of former President Lyndon B. Johnson and a former member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. During his years on Capitol Hill and, earlier, as governor of Virginia, Robb was seldom known for rocking the established order.

Silberman, a 1961 Harvard Law School graduate, served as deputy attorney general in the Nixon and Ford administrations. From 1981 to 1985, he was a member of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament and the Department of Defense Policy Board.

President Ronald Reagan named him to the appeals court in 1985. A fellow judge on the D.C. appeals court, Abner Mikva, later recalled that once during the 1980s, Silberman became furious with Mikva over a case they had just heard.

"Silberman said to me, 'If you were 10 years younger, I'd punch you out!'" Mikva told a reporter.

The judge became well-known during the investigation of the Lewinsky affair by Starr, who had served on the D.C. appeals court with Silberman. In response to Silberman's accusation that Clinton's Secret Service agents had acted to "declare war" on Starr, Clinton said, "I think you have to consider the source of that comment."

Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist later sided with the unanimous appeals court ruling and ordered the agents to answer Starr's questions.

In 1990, Silberman was part of a three-judge panel that overturned Oliver North's convictions in the Iran-contra scandal. That year, Silberman was considered for a Supreme Court vacancy to replace the retiring William J. Brennan Jr.

"It could have been Silberman rather than Souter," C. Boyden Gray, a former White House counsel, later told The Boston Globe, referring to Justice David Souter. But Gray said the North decision "was just too hot," and Silberman was cut from the list of possible justices.

Robb, 64, served as Virginia's lieutenant governor and governor before being elected to the Senate in 1988. He was defeated in 2000 by a Republican, George Allen. Robb is married to the former Lynda Bird Johnson, daughter of the former president, and has been practicing law since leaving the Senate.

Besides serving on the Intelligence Committee during his Senate career, Robb was also a member of a special committee investigating charges that living American soldiers remained as prisoners in Vietnam. The panel found no evidence of U.S. soldiers still being held in Vietnam, which infuriated some families and veterans who still contend that American POWs remain in Southeast Asia.

The panel was chaired by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and frequent Bush critic who was also named yesterday to the panel investigating the U.S. intelligence on Iraq.

Robb supported the 1991 Persian Gulf war and was critical, as was McCain, of Clinton's decision to rule out ground troops during the 1999 conflict with Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo.

Clinton, Robb said at the time, miscalculated by ruling out ground forces from the beginning.

"You immediately convince Milosevic that we're not really serious and that we're not ready to stay the course," he said.

Milosevic capitulated after two months of withering airstrikes by U.S. and allied forces.

Milt Bearden, who was the CIA's chief of station in Pakistan and aided the mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s, remembers Robb from a visit to Pakistan he made as a senator.

"He's eminently able to handle the concept of intelligence," Bearden said, noting that intelligence is never either completely right or wrong, a point made by CIA Director George J. Tenet during a speech at Georgetown University on Thursday. "I think Chuck Robb will understand that kind of thing."

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