Reid said Thursday whoever was in charge of the invitations to a closed-door Iraq briefing “didn’t do a very good job.”
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Senate Democratic leaders complained Thursday that many of their members may have missed an important classified briefing at the Pentagon on Iraq because invitations were “blast faxed” to the publicly listed fax numbers in their Senate offices and many went unnoticed until it was too late to attend.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he doubted the foul up was “sinister” but said he thought the Bush administration was “just desperate to get their message out on Iraq and whoever put this together didn’t do a very good job.”
At issue are notifications for two back-to-back closed-circuit video conferences Thursday morning with Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to which lawmakers were bussed to the Pentagon to attend.
According to two administration sources, one at the White House and one at the Pentagon, faxes were sent to all 100 senators and a list of about 100 to 150 House members who sit on relevant committees – like Armed Services and Foreign Affairs.
But the sources couldn’t agree on who sent the faxes. The White House source said the Pentagon sent them. The Pentagon source said the White House did.
An administration official told CNN the “Democratic leadership certainly knew about it early in the week.”
CNN obtained a copy of the fax sent to Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a member of the Democratic leadership, which is stamped at the top with the initials of the legislative affairs office in the office of the secretary of defense at the pentagon.
The fax was sent and received last Friday about 5pm. An aide to Murray said by the time the fax – which was boldly labeled “short notice request, please pass to scheduler” - made it to the senator’s scheduler it was too late for her to attend.
Aides to Sen. Murray said they typically get emails or phone calls about key briefings like this and having it sent to the public fax machine doesn’t make sense.
50 House members and 40 Senators – evenly split between Democrats and Republicans - did show up for the classified briefings, a senior defense department official said.
It’s not known how many senators didn’t attend because their invitations were not received.
But three of the top four Democratic leaders in the Senate said they didn’t get their invitations or didn’t get them in time.
“No, I didn’t receive an invitation,” complained Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois who said the notification system from the Pentagon and White House is “usually very good.”
“I’m just going to write it off as poor staff work. I’m not going to make it anymore sinister than that,” Durbin said. “They should have gotten it right.”
The invitation for Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York was later found buried in faxes at the machine reserved for faxes from his constituents and the public, his office said.
Reid only found out about it after calling the White House two days ago after his staff heard rumors of a briefing, spokesman Jim Manley said.
Several Democrats said they were concerned the White House would blame Democrats for criticizing the war but not showing up to a key briefing.
“We’re happy to be briefed but this was a little unusual. I think this was put together very quickly because of the votes on Iraq,” Reid said referring to key Senate votes that were scheduled this week on the war.
Senate Republicans reported no similar problems getting their invitations although a senior aide acknowledged “there is some confusion about how it was noticed to offices.”
On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office said she received her invitation yesterday but no other problems were apparent. Pelosi did not attend but requested a briefing in person with Defense Secretary Robert Gates next week.
– CNN's Ted Barrett, Dana Bash, and Mike Mount