Friday, April 15, 2005

Identity Theft: The Plame Game

Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence tonight sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez seeking an explanation as to why no criminal charges have been brought in the Valerie Plame case.

All nine Democrats on the committee expressed "grave concern" that whoever leaked Plame's identity as a clandestine CIA operative to conservative columnist Robert D. Novak might not be held accountable. As I first reported on the American Prospect Online, the special counsel leading the investigation, Patrick Fitzgerald, had informed a federal court late last month that he had completed most of his investigation six months ago.

"Nearly two years have elapsed, and nobody has been held accountable for this serious violation of federal law," wrote the nine congressmen.

"Given that Mr. Fitzgerald has publicly acknowledged that the factual investigation of the Novak disclosure is complete, we request that you brief the committee on the matter and provide an explanation as to why no charges have been brought," the nine Democrats said.

On CNN, Gonzalez commented that he was confident that Fitzgerald was "proceeding on a basis that he thinks is appropriate and that at the appropriate time the matter will come to a head."

Gonzalez, however, knows no specifics as to what Fitzgerald might or might not have uncovered: During his Senate confirmation hearings, Gonzalez agreed to recuse himself from having anything to do with the Plame investigation. While White House counsel, Gonzalez had advised senior Bush administration officials how to respond to initial requests from the Justice Department.

A senior Justice Department official told me tonight that Fitzgerarld's investigation was still "an ongoing pursuit" and it was unlikely that any information he has unearthed would be turned over to Capitol Hill until the special prosecutor was completely finished with his work. The official also said it was unclear as to whether Fitzgerald, even if he wanted to, could turn over information to Congress obtained as a result of testimony before a federal grand jury. But the same Justice Department official asserted that there was nothing stopping members of Congress from pursuing their own inquiry of the Plame matter. Moreover, once Fitzgerald had completed his work, this same official said, Congress would be able to seek non-grand jury material from the special prosecutor.

A Justice Department spokesman did not return a phone call Friday. (However, if a spokesman does call back, or the Department makes any public statement regarding the congressional request, I will update this post at that time.)

Meanwhile, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, derided the letter as both partisan and a publicity stunt, telling reporters: "To me, what this smacks of is a purely partisan statement where they're not focused on getting a result. It's about getting a hit in the media." Hoekstra said that he was miffed that Democrats had not even sent him a copy of the letter, and that he had only learned of it through the media.