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Friday, February 6

McCain seen as legitimizing presence on panel

By Sergio Bustos | GNS

WASHINGTON - Sen. John McCain's presence on a panel charged with investigating U.S. intelligence gathering will give the group immediate credibility because of his willingness to criticize the Bush administration, key lawmakers say.

The outspoken Arizona senator was one of seven individuals named by President Bush on Friday to serve on the independent commission that will evaluate the effectiveness of intelligence agencies in assessing which countries have weapons of mass destruction.

The nine-member commission - two members have yet to be appointed - will focus primarily on intelligence collected before the war with Iraq. It also will look into intelligence gathered on other countries, including North Korea.

McCain strongly supported Bush's decision last year to go to war with Iraq, but he has been critical of the administration's postwar strategy.

He was among several lawmakers who urged Bush to form the independent commission after David Kay, former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, told Congress that, contrary to intelligence reports, the Iraqi government did not have weapons of mass destruction prior to the U.S. invasion.

The Bush administration has tried to repair the damage caused by Kay's conclusions. The commission is seen as a way for the White House to answer the chorus of criticism on Capitol Hill.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers agreed McCain's appointment to the commission is a positive step.

They say McCain's willingness to openly challenge Bush - the two waged a bitter contest for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000 - will validate the commission's work.

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called McCain ``a straight shooter.''

``I don't know anybody more independent than John McCain,'' he told CNN. ``He'll certainly tell it like it is.''

Another committee member, Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, told PBS' NewsHour that McCain's appointment ``shows this is going to be truly an independent commission.''

However, other Democrats remain skeptical that the commission will accomplish its goals.

``The chief question now hanging over the commission's credibility is whether the White House will fully cooperate, or will they repeat the pattern of stonewalling they have shown with the 9-11 commission?'' said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

In a statement released immediately following Bush's announcement, McCain said the president made ``a wise decision'' in forming the commission.

``I am pleased to be able to share in the great responsibility of examining this critical issue for our national security,'' he said. ``In our war against terrorism, it is imperative that we guarantee the credibility and effectiveness of our intelligence capabilities.''

McCain was attending an international security conference in Munich, Germany, on Friday.

He told reporters there that he does not believe Bush misrepresented the intelligence gathered on Iraq to justify the war.

"The president of the United States, I believe, would not manipulate any kind of information for political gain or otherwise,'' said McCain. ``Perhaps mistakes were made and those are what we have to look at in a broad variety of areas. There's no massive conspiracy that I've seen.''