White House asserts executive privilege on Cheney

The White House asserted executive privilege Wednesday and refused to turn over FBI reports of its interviews with Vice President Dick Cheney on the leaking of a covert CIA operative’s identity to the media.

As a result, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held off on a previously scheduled vote to hold Attorney General Michael Mukasey in contempt.

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“Rather than go to a vote on contempt, I thought we ought to have to step back, have a look at his arguments, evaluate them, and want to talk to Ranking Member [Tom] Davis and other members of the committee to decide what our next step will be,” Waxman said. “But we’re not going to end it today.  We’re going to move forward.  We are not going to accept this answer that he’s given to us.”

In a letter dated Wednesday to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the panel’s chairman, a deputy assistant attorney general said Mukasey had advised Bush to assert executive privilege on the FBI interview reports on Cheney.

The letter noted that Justice has permitted the panel’s staff to look at FBI reports, with limited redactions, of interviews agents conducted with senior White House staff.

“We are not prepared to make the same accommodation for reports of interviews with the president and vice president because the confidentiality interest relating to those documents are of a greater constitutional magnitude,” wrote Keith Nelson, principle deputy assistant attorney general.

“We are disappointed by the committee’s actions given our ooperation,” Nelson wrote of the scheduled contempt vote.

At issue are reports on interviews the FBI conducted with Vice President Cheney during its investigation of who leaked former CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name to the media.

Waxman had argued his committee could not pursue its own investigation into the leaking of Plame’s name without the Cheney documents. He had imposed a July 16 deadline for Justice to comply with a subpoena for the documents, or for Justice to assert executive rivilege.

Waxman previously has said he does not believe the privilege could apply to the Cheney interview documents.

“It is now clear that the vice president knew when the interview was conducted that its contents could be made public in a criminal trial,” he said in the July 8 letter, adding that “executive privilege cannot be asserted over the contents of communications voluntarily disclosed outside the White House.”