Kucinich Walks Out Of Homeland Security Hearing In Protest

WASHINGTON (AP) - Rep. Dennis Kucinich (pictured, right) walked out of a committee briefing with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge on Thursday to protest that the hearing was closed to the public.

"In a Democracy, secret government is not an acceptable substitute for self-government," said Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat. "There is really a problem here with the administration refusing to testify about what it plans to do with the taxpayer's money."

Kucinich, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, veterans' affairs and international regulations, asked at the hearing that it be made open.

When told it would stay closed, Kucinich asked for an interpretation of congressional rules and left, his spokeswoman said.

Earlier in the week, Kucinich and fellow Democrats on the committee had sent a letter to Chairman Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, asking that the hearing be public.

Kucinich will keep asking Ridge to testify before an open committee hearing, he said.

Last week Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, objected to Ridge's refusal to testify publicly before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The White House has argued that because Ridge has no operational or budgetary authority as a presidential adviser, he cannot be compelled to testify, unlike Cabinet secretaries and other top administration officials.

Lawmakers and White House officials have expressed an interest in making Ridge's position a Cabinet-level department.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)