Not too surprisingly, Republicans today beat back formal "resolutions of inquiry" by Democrats on the House Judiciary and House International Relations Committees that would have required the Bush administration to turn over to Congress information and records relating to the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Votes in both committees were along party lines. The House Judiciary Committee voted 15-11 to adversely report H. Res. 420 to open a formal congressional inquiry into the Plame affair. The House International Relations Committee voted 26-21 against the resolution of inquiry. The House Intelligence Committee is to scheduled to hold a vote tomorrow in a closed door session. But it also appears doubtful that any Republican on that committee will vote to open an inquiry.
Republicans argued today that any vote in favor of the resolution might impair the ongoing federal grand jury probe by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Democrats pointed out that Congress engaged in its own extensive formal investigations of Watergate and Whitewater while special prosecutors conducted criminal inquiries.
Rep. John Conyers, of Michigan, the ranking Democrat, and former chairman, of the Judiciary committee made just that point during the debate today, telling his colleagues:
"Let us not forget the endless hearings in this Committee and others on alleged Clinton-Gore campaign finance violations, the Whitewater claims, and Clinton White House Travel Office firings. These were matters all under Justice Department review at the time of our hearings.
"Finally, I must remind my colleagues of the numerous House and Senate hearings on Watergate that were simultaneous with the Justice Department's own investigation."
The House Armed Services Committee will be the fourth congressional committee to consider the matter. Their vote is scheduled for Sept. 20. But it's similarly unlikely that any Republicans will break ranks and vote for an inquiry.
Interestingly, the House Intelligence Committee is going to meet in closed session tomorrow for its consideration of the resolution of inquiry, as well as for the vote itself. Since there is no classified information to consider (the committee has received no classified briefings from the Bush administration or Fitzgerald regarding Plame), Democrats are privately charging that Republicans are conducting the session in secret to diminish press attention. With Katrina, the Roberts confirmation hearings (and the hearings' jaw dropping disclosures-- Roberts has told the Senators which are his favorite movies, and that he favors the Windsor knot while tying his tie!), and Brittany Spears having given birth, the closing of the session appears to be overkill.
A senior Democratic aide told me tonight, regarding the closing of the House Intelligence Committee hearing: "That they [the Republicans] are going to do the mark up in a closed session just reflects that this is another effort to bury this thing."
A spokesman for the Republican majority did not return a phone call tonight, but if he does, I will update my post with his comments at that time. (Additionally, if any committee Republican comments for the record anywhere, I will update this post with their comments as well.)
Some comments: Republicans have largely made the argument in opposing the resolutions of inquiry that they do not want to impede Fitzgerald's probe. But it is quite possible that at some point-- perhaps not that far off in the distant future-- his criminal investigation will come to some conclusion. It also should be interesting to see what the same Republicans who voted against the resolution say or do when Fitzgerald is done, and Democrats introduce the resolutions of inquiry once again.
I am going to update this post later tonight with some more original reporting, or later posts.
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