Hastert request for investigation flouts House Intel Committee recommendation

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) contradicted the House Intelligence Committee when they called for an investigation into a specific leak case, the question of who divulged classified information about CIA-run prisons in Eastern Europe.

The House committee voted along party lines in September to deny a Democratic request that President Bush turn over documents relating to Valerie Plame, the CIA covert agent whose identity was exposed after her husband was publicly critical of the administration’s justification for the Iraq war. The committee report states that “the House must focus on the [leaking] problem broadly rather than focusing solely on any specific case” and that the discovery of criminal activity should be “dealt with by the proper investigative authorities without interference from the House.”

The Judiciary, Armed Services and International Affairs committees reached similar conclusions, according to House Report 109-228. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, disagreed.

“Legislation should not be developed by thinking ethereal thoughts,” he said yesterday. “It should be developed with attention to detail of actual occurrences.”

“The majority has been wrong up until now to limit inquiries to generalities and now to deal with one specific case,” he added.

Hastert and Frist on Monday called for an inquiry after Dana Priest of The Washington Post reported earlier this month that the CIA set up internment camps for terrorism suspects known as “black site” camps.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) plans to meet with his Senate counterpart, Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and other leaders before making a decision, said Hoekstra spokesman Jamal Ware. Ware also denied that there is a contradiction between the earlier report language and Hastert’s proposed investigation.

Some members of Congress say they have grown increasingly weary about the Bush administration’s propensity to declassify information to advance its political objectives but recalcitrance to share information that could reflect poorly on it.

“We should be investigating what ‘black sites’ means and the leak itself,” said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.).

In a 2003 letter to then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Shays asked whether the White House shared classified information with author Bob Woodward, who wrote that his book Bush at War was based on both classified and unclassified records.

Rice denied months later that Woodward was given any classified material, and Shays said Woodward was “nasty” when asked about the material.

“It’s sad. The issue is what happened, what was done,” Woodward said yesterday when asked about government inquiries into news reports based on classified information.

“If you want to shut down the First Amendment, we can stop being a democracy,” he continued. “It’s a misfocus or waste of energy. If someone did something or wrote something that really caused harm, then it would be an issue.”  

In two separate developments, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) supplied White House counsel Harriet Miers with material for her to review at this week’s ethics briefings for White House aides.

Waxman wrote that Miers should review several questions, such as whether officials can disclose classified information inadvertently and pass along or repeat classified information learned from one reporter to another reporter. He also asked Miers whether it is appropriate for Bush to let White House officials retain security clearances during an investigation.

The International Relations Committee considered a motion yesterday that would have required the White House to turn over documents related to its internal effort to build public support for the war in Iraq. The motion failed when 25 Republicans on the panel overcame the support of two Republicans and all 21 Democrats.