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Bush Nails Kerry's Poor Attendance at Intelligence Committee Hearings

Bush says Kerry missed 76% of public hearings. He could have missed even more.

August 17, 2004

Modified: August 25, 2004

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Summary

 

A Bush-Cheney '04 ad released Aug. 13 accuses Kerry of being absent for 76% of the Senate Intelligence Committee's public hearings during the time he served there. The Kerry campaign calls the ad "misleading," so we checked, and Bush is right.

Official records show Kerry not present for at least 76% of public hearings held during his eight years on the panel, and possibly 78% (the record of one hearing is ambiguous).

Kerry points out that most meetings of the Intelligence Committee are closed and  attendance records of those meetings aren't public, hinting that his attendance might have been better at the non-public proceedings. But Kerry could ask that his attendance records be made public, and hasn't.

Aides also claimed repeatedly that Kerry had been vice chairman of the intelligence committee, but that was Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, not John Kerry.

Analysis

 

Kerry often touts his eight years on the Senate Intelligence Committee as a prime qualification for office. The Bush ad takes that on, describing Kerry as a no-show for most of the committee's public meetings. If anything, the ad understates Kerry's lack of attendance.

 Bush - Cheney '04 Ad

"Intel"

Announcer: John Kerry promises...

Kerry: I will immediately reform the intelligence system.

Announcer : Oh really...as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Kerry was absent for 76 percent of the committee's hearings.

(graphic: John Kerry...Absent 76% of public Senate Intelligence Committee Hearings)

In the year after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Kerry was absent for every single one.

That same year he proposed slashing America's intelligence budget by 6 billion dollars.

There's what Kerry says and then there's what Kerry does.

Public Hearings

The Bush ad shows Kerry promising to "immediately reform the intelligence system," then counters with an announcer saying "as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Kerry was absent for 76 percent of the committee's public hearings." As support for that statement, the Bush campaign states that Kerry is listed as present at only 11 of the 49 public meetings of the committee while he was a member, from 1993 through January, 2001, when Kerry left the committee.

FactCheck.org examined the official, published records of those hearings. And indeed, Kerry is listed as attending only 11 of those hearings.

Kerry's apparent absence from 38 of the hearings actually figures out to an absentee rate of 77.6%.

However, the Bush ad's lower figure plays it safe -- giving Kerry credit for attending one hearing for which the record is a bit ambiguous. The record of that hearing, on June 22, 1999, lacks the usual list of the senators and staff members who attended. We checked the full transcript for any sign that Kerry had been there, and found no record of Kerry speaking, or anyone else noting his presence. If Kerry is counted as absent from that hearing as well as the others, he missed nearly 78%. But if he attended and didn't speak, then he would have missed only 37 of the 49, for a no-show rate of 75.5%, which the ad properly rounds up to 76%.

In a  rebuttal to the ad, the Kerry camp accused Bush of "fuzzy math and bad stats," saying "They rely only on whether Sen... Kerry made statements in one of a small number of open hearings." That's not true. Records list senators and staff members as being present whether or not they spoke, and -- to repeat -- the 76 percent figure actually gives Kerry credit for attending one hearing for which there's no evidence of his participation.

What About the Closed Meetings?

The Kerry rebuttal also noted that most of the Intelligence Committee meetings are closed and attendance figures for closed meetings aren't public, which is true. But Kerry offered nothing to show that his attendance at closed meetings was better or worse than his attendance at open hearings. He also has passed up a chance to have the full record of his attendance made public.

Over the weekend, the Republican chairman of the committee, Pat Roberts of Kansas, refused to say how often Kerry had attended closed meetings. But Roberts said Kerry could, if he wished, ask that his attendance at closed meetings be made public. Roberts spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press" Aug 15:

Q: Did he (Kerry) attend private sessions or was he not present?

Sen... Roberts: Well, I'm not going to get into whether he was there or not. Senator (Jay) Rockefeller (the Democratic Vice chairman of the committee) and I and the committee would have to agree to release the attendance records for...

Q: Well, it should be a matter of record, though, if you can...

Roberts: Well, it's in a closed hearing. . . . The easiest way out of this is for John Kerry and John Edwards to request of Senator Rockefeller and myself to release the attendance hearings; not only the public hearings, which they have rebutted, but the closed hearings. . . .
Q: Well, has he been a hard-working member?

Roberts:  They should request it. They should...

Q: Because that's one of the credentials he cites in his campaign.

Roberts: Well, hard-working member is in the eyes of the beholder. I'm just saying that John Kerry and John Edwards could ask Jay and myself to release the attendance records. It is important because you have to be in attendance to learn the job.

A Kerry campaign official responded to Roberts statement by saying "there's nothing to clear up" through releasing records of closed hearings. Stephanie Cutter, communications director of the Kerry campaign, said Aug 15 on CNN's Inside Politics Sunday:

Cutter:  Well, there's nothing to clear up. . . .  John Kerry has had a consistent record of improving intelligence over the past 20 years. He joined with many Republicans, including one of the chairs of the Republican campaign, Arlen Specter, to improve intelligence in a post-Cold War era. So this is -- this is just another distorted attack by George Bush, because he can't defend his own record.

As of 6:30pm Aug. 17 the Kerry campaign had made no request of the Senate Intelligence Committee to release records of the closed meetings, a committee spokesman told FactCheck.org.

"Vice Chairman?" Oops!

In their eagerness to dismiss the Bush ad's charges, Kerry campaign aides claimed that the senator had been vice chairman of the intelligence committee, which isn't true. In fact, former Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska was vice chairman of the panel for several years while Kerry was a more junior member of the panel. John Kerry left the committee in January 2001. He never served as vice chairman, a committee spokesman confirmed to us.

The erroneous claim appeared in several places on the Kerry website, one dating back to January, 2004, and another in a posting Aug. 13 to rebut the Bush ad. It said, "Kerry is an Experienced Leader in the Intelligence Field – John Kerry served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for eight years and is the former Vice Chairman of the Committee."Kerry senior adviser Tad Devine told Fox News, which first reported the discrepancy, that the campaign would be "happy to correct the record" if needed:

Devine: I'll have to check with the issues people. It was my understanding he was. But if that's, you know -- but if that's not a factual case, I'm sure we will be happy to correct the record.

Two days later the erroneous claim was still appearing on the Kerry website, however. On Aug. 17 The Associated Press quoted campaign spokesman Michael Meehan conceding the error, adding: "John Kerry, Bob Kerrey -- similar names."

Listen Carefully

The  Bush ad also says Kerry was absent for every single Intelligence Committee meeting during the year "after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center." That's true. The official records list four public hearings in 1994 -- the year after terrorists set off a truck bomb in the Trade Center's underground garage -- and Kerry is listed as attending none of them. However, those  who don't listen carefully to the exact wording of the ad might get the impression that Kerry skipped Intelligence Committee hearings even after the second terrorist attacks -- on September 11, 2001. That would create a false impression. In fact, Kerry left the committee months before the 9/11 attacks.

The ad also says Kerry "proposed slashing America's intelligence budget by 6 billion dollars," but fails to mention that figure was spread over six years. It would have represented a 3.7% cut in overall intelligence spending, estimated then at $27 billion per year. Kerry's proposal was part of a large deficit-reduction package that was defeated soundly. For further details on that, see our earlier article on Bush's charge last March that Kerry tried to "gut" intelligence spending.

Sources

 

Bush Cheney '04, "Bush-Cheney Ad Facts: 'Intel'" News Release, 13 Aug 2004.
John Kerry for President, "Bush-Cheney Ad Fact Check - 'Intel'" News Release, 13 Aug 2004.

Lolita C. Baldor, "Kerry-Kerrey confusion trips up campaign," The Associated Press, 17 Aug 2004.
NBC News, "Meet the Press," 15 Aug 2004
CNN, "Inside Politics Sunday," 15 Aug 2004

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