The country has a new guardian for its national security secrets: Rep. Michele Bachmann.
The outspoken Minnesota Republican and Tea Party favorite has been tapped by House Speaker John Boehner for a coveted slot on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, giving her a new role as overseer of the CIA, the National Security Agency and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community.
The move comes as Bachmann is seeking to burnish her national security credentials as she weighs a possible run for higher office.
Her spokesman, Doug Sachtleben, confirmed this week that she is planning to speak at an Iowans for Tax Relief fundraiser in Waterloo, Iowa, later this month, a move that has fueled speculation that she may be planning to carry the Tea Party banner into the GOP presidential primaries. "She's not taking anything off the table as far as her political future," he said.
Sachtleben said there was "no connection" between Bachmann's possible future plans and her recent request to Boehner to serve on the intelligence committee. Bachmann, who until now has not served on any committee that deals with foreign policy issues, wanted to serve on the intelligence committee because "she was concerned as a mother" about the threat of terrorism and other national security issues, he said. He did, acknowledge, however that the new position will be "helpful" in giving her "further credentials in the international area."
The selection of Bachmann to serve on the intelligence committee has already created a buzz among her House colleagues, especially among Democrats who noted her penchant for provocative and sometimes unsubstantiated statements on a range of issues.
Bachmann, for example, was one of a number of conservatives who fueled false claims that President Barack Obama's trip to India after the election was costing taxpayers $200 million a day. (When challenged, Bachmann told the BBC she was only "quoting a newspaper out of India.")
In a 2007 interview, Bachmann told a St. Cloud, Minn., newspaper that she had learned of a secret plan by Iran to partition Iraq and turn a part of it into a "terrorist free safe haven zone" and asked why the news media wasn't reporting it.
The Iranians "have already decided to partition Iraq. And half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called, um, the Iraq State of Islam something like that,” she was quoted as saying. “And I'm sorry, I don’t have the official name, but it’s meant to be the training ground for the terrorists. There's already an agreement made. … Has anyone else out here heard of the new Iraq State of Islam? Can anyone shed some light on this new development? How can this have gone unreported?"
It is unclear where Bachmann got her information, but no evidence has ever surfaced to support her assertion.
One House Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the real issue about Bachmann is "will she able to keep quiet" about everything she gets briefed on in the committee, almost all of which will be classified information.
Sachtleben, Bachmann's spokesman, said the congresswoman has already discussed this with her staff and "she understands the terms."