White House blocking congressional Plame probe, chairman says
President Bush is doing everything possible to delay, obfuscate and obstruct a congressional investigation of his possible role in exposing an undercover CIA agent, a Congressional chairman alleges.
Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the House Oversight Committee, has challenged new Attorney General Michael Mukasey to demonstrate his independence from the White House, just as Clinton-era AG Janet Reno did in handing over documents related to the president and vice president.
The California Democrat is asking for Mukasey's help in obtaining records of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's interviews with Bush, Cheney and other senior administration officials regarding the unmasking of former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.
Former administration spokesman Scott McClellan recently revealed that Bush and Cheney were among those "involved" in his passing along "false information" regarding the Plame scandal, making the committee's inquiry that much more pressing, Waxman says.
"I recognize that President Bush and his counsel may not want this information provided to Congress. But the role of the Attorney General is to administer the laws with impartiality," Waxman wrote Monday in a letter to Mukasey. "The Justice Department provided the exact same information to Congress during the Clinton Administration. There is no special standard for President Bush that exempts him and his senior advisors from responsible congressional oversight."
Waxman charged that the White House is blocking Fitzgerald from handing over copies of interview reports dealing with certain White House officials, especially Bush and Cheney, although he has handed over copies of reports on other administration officials, including CIA officers and State Department employees.
"There is no legitimate basis for the withholding of these documents. Mr. Fitzgerald has apparently determined that these documents can be produced to the Committee without infringing on his prosecutorial independence or violating the rules of grand jury secrecy," Waxman wrote. "As records of statements made by White House officials to federal investigators, outside the framework of presidential decision-making, the documents could not be subject to a valid claim of executive privilege."
The chairman notes that Janet Reno, who was attorney general in the Clinton administration, made an independent judgement to provide several FBI interview reports to the committee, including those of Bill Clinton and then-Vice President Al Gore.
Waxman's committee has spent months investigating Plame's exposure; he invited the outed spy and others to testify in March and requested copies of interview reports with Bush, Cheney, McClellan, chief of staff Andrew Card, political adviser Karl Rove and others in July.
Emptywheel notes the narrow parameters of Waxman's request should spare him from secrecy concerns that would permanently delay his ability to get ahold of the records he wants.
"Understand the scope of this," Emptywheel writes. "As Waxman explains, he's only asking for details of interviews not conducted in front of the grand jury. Anything conducted in front of the grand jury is protected by grand jury secrecy; anything before that (like early FBI interviews) or not conducted before the grand jury (like Dick and Bush's interviews in June 2004, after both had lawyered up) is "fair game." There's a delicious irony in this last bit, since it means that the deference Fitz showed to Bush and Dick--by letting them avoid the stress of a grand jury appearance--is precisely what would make their interview transcripts accessible here."