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House Democrats Cancel Wilson’s Visit

In a strategic decision to dodge a political bullet, House Democratic leaders made an 11th hour call to pull an invitation for former diplomat Joseph Wilson to address their weekly Wednesday Caucus.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) huddled on the floor late Tuesday night with several senior Members and Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) before reaching the last-minute decision to cancel Wilson’s Caucus appearance and press availability. Menendez, who had asked Wilson to speak to the Caucus, called the former Iraqi investigator to rescind the offer.

The move by the leadership came amid growing fears within the Caucus that Wilson — who sits at the heart of the White House leak scandal — would give Republicans additional ammunition to divert attention from their own political troubles and attack Democrats. Leaders also worried the GOP would gain fuel to attack Wilson himself, a person they believe is a credible critic of Bush’s foreign policies, as being overly partisan.

Menendez said the Caucus invited Wilson to speak based on “his enormous talent and experience” on Iraq. But given the “unique set of circumstances” he decided it was best to reschedule the session.

“There was a series of people who said, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t have him at this time,’” Menendez said. “And the result might have been to allow Republicans to paint him as a partisan. In the present context, I thought that was a valid point of view and we’ll have him at a later time.”

Wilson has captured national attention in recent days as it was revealed leaks from within the Bush administration exposed the fact that his wife was an undercover CIA operative. Wilson was also the man sent to Niger last year to investigate whether Saddam Hussein was trying to purchase nuclear materials in that country.

He was scheduled to talk to House Democrats on Wednesday about the Iraqi conflict, the pending $87 billion emergency supplemental and the Niger nuclear materials issue.

One senior House Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, was among the several Members who went to Pelosi on Tuesday with concerns about Wilson’s attendance at the Caucus.

“We didn’t want to put a political stamp” on the meeting, said the Member, adding that canceling it would create far less of a stir than going forward with it.

“It didn’t make sense to have him come to a political meeting of the Democratic Caucus,” added a leadership aide. “People thought about it. Particularly once the leader came out and called for special counsel [to investigate the leaks], it was group decision for him not to come at this point.”

One senior House Democratic aide said the minority party doesn’t need to sit down with Wilson right now, adding the story has its own legs and Democrats need not push it along.

“It was a classic example of some Members wanting to stick their noses into something regardless of whether it was smart or not,” said the staffer.

Pelosi joined several Congressional Democrats Tuesday in calling for a special counsel to investigate the White House leaks. The Justice Department has since announced a full criminal investigation into the matter, but didn’t rule out the future appointment of a special counsel.

“We’ve been on the receiving end of these investigations,” said another senior Democratic aide. “People understand how important it is to have an investigation that isn’t perceived to be political. We don’t want to be seen as impeding it or politicizing it.”