Thursday, September 15, 2005

House Intelligence committee votes down Plame "resolution of inquiry"

The House Intelligence Committee earlier today became the third congressional committee to derail a "resolution of inquiry" that would have required the Bush administration to turn over to Congress sensitive information and records relating to the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

The 11-9 vote by the committee earlier today to adversely report H. Res. 418 follows similar votes yesterday (see post immediately below) by the House Judiciary and House International Relations Committee.

Had the resolutions of inquiry been adopted, they would have lead to the first independent congressional inquiries of the Plame affair, and perhaps even the public testimony of senior Bush administration aides, such as Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff, and I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, about their personal roles.

Republicans argued that any vote in favor of the resolution might impair the ongoing federal grand jury probe by special prosecutor Fitzgerald. In the case of the House Intelligence Committee, they were aided, when at the very last minute, the Justice Department informed the committee that Fitzgerald himself opposed any independent inquiry at this time by Congress.

In a letter to the committee, dated Sept. 14, William E. Moschella, an assistant Attorney General for legislative affairs, wrote: "Mr. Fitzgerald has advised that production at this time of the documents responsive to H. Res.418 and the other resolutions, and any attendant hearings, would interfere with his investigation. According, we request that the committee report adversely H. Res. 418."

Democrats, however, 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, 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."

A senior congressional staffer told me last night that the refusal to turn over information regarding Plame also stands in stark contrast to the manner in which the Justice Department dealt with a recent criminal investigation of former Clinton NSC advisor Sandy Berger. During the course of the criminal probe of Berger, the staffer pointed out, both Intelligence Committee chairman Pete Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, and the ranking Democrat on the panel, Jane Harmon, of California, received regular briefings from the Department of Justice while the investigation was ongoing. (Berger pled guilty earlier this month to misdemeanor allegations that he illegally removed classified documents from the National Archives regarding his tenure as NSC advisor. He was sentenced to probation, community service, and a $50,000 fine.)

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