Law

Conyers Subpoenas DOJ for Plame-Leak Documents

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers issued a subpoena to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Friday demanding a wide-range of documents related to several issues the committee has been probing, including unredacted transcripts of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney’s interviews with Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the leak covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Earlier this week, the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law voted to authorize Conyers to issue the subpoena.

Conyers and Subcommittee Chairwoman Linda Sánchez, (D-Calif.), sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Keith Nelson June 5 seeking various documents Fitzgerald obtained during the course of his probe into the disclosure of Plame’s identity to the media. Their committees are investigating whether Bush, Cheney, and White House officials obstructed justice or broke other federal laws in an attempt to cover-up the roles of senior administration officials who unmasked Plame’s identity to the media.

Nelson responded to Conyers and Sanchez in writing last Wednesday stating that the DOJ would not honor the request despite the threat of a subpoena.

The subpoena seeks “all documents from the office of former Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald described below for which the former Special Counsel has not determined that disclosure would be barred by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) governing grand jury secrecy:

a) Complete and unredacted versions of transcripts, reports, notes, and other documents relating to any interviews outside the presence of the grand jury of President George W. Bush.

b) Complete and unredacted versions of transcripts, reports, notes, and other documents relating to any interviews outside the presence of the grand jury of Vice President Richard Cheney.

c) Complete and unredacted versions of 302 interview reports relating to interviews of the following witnesses in the investigation: Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Scott McClellan, Dan Bartlett, and Andrew Card.

In addition, Conyers subpoenaed documents related to the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat, documents regarding the replacement of the U.S. attorney for Minnesota Tom Heffelfinger, memorandums from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, including an Oct. 23, 2001, memo about the use of American military forces to combat terrorism within the United States, and documents related to the 2002 election in which Republican operatives jammed the telephone lines of a Democratic initiative to encourage New Hampshire residents to vote.

Additionally, Conyers wants documents from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division related to redistricting in the state of Mississippi, and a photo identification law implemented in Georgia to combat claims of voter fraud.

Conyers set a July 7 deadline for the Justice Department to turn over the materials.

In denying to voluntarily turn over documents to Conyers and Sanchez’s related to the Plame leak, Nelson, the deputy attorney general, explained in a June 18 letter that the Judiciary Committee does not have “government-wide oversight jurisdiction and it does not have jurisdiction over the White House.”

“While we appreciate that the Committee has oversight authority over the Department of Justice, we do not understand how the Committee’s jurisdiction could extend to the alleged conduct at the White House,” Nelson wrote in a letter sent to Conyers and Sanchez. “The executive branch has substantial confidentiality interests in these documents, which have been created and maintained by the Department but consist of White House information.”

“Additionally, we note that it is the responsibility of this Department to investigate possible violations of the criminal law, not the responsibility of any committee of Congress. Moreover, this theory of oversight jurisdiction would suggest that the Judiciary Committee could investigate allegations of this kind anywhere in the executive branch. We are not aware that the Committee has exercised this kind of jurisdiction in the past,” Nelson wrote.

Conyers and Sanchez fired off a response to Nelson last Wednesday saying the DOJ’s position is “patently absurd” and “an affront to the entire Congress.”

“Both the rules and our previous oversight activity concerning the Fitzgerald investigation plainly encompass the current inquiry, and the notion that our oversight concerning criminal law enforcement should somehow stop at the gates of the White House has no proper basis,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote.

Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has also been trying to obtain the Plame-related documents from the DOJ.

So far, Waxman’s committee has “FBI 302 reports” of interviews with CIA and State Department officials and other individuals involved in the leak. But the congressman is interested in obtaining unredacted copies of Bush and Cheney’s interview transcripts.

However, Waxman said “the White House has been blocking Mr. Fitzgerald from providing key documents to the Committee,” including transcripts of Fitzgerald’s interviews with Bush and Cheney about the leak.

The Justice Department denied Waxman’s request earlier this month to voluntarily to turn over the materials on grounds that it “raises serious separation of powers and heightened confidentiality concerns.”

Waxman issued a subpoena Monday morning to Mukasey demanding he turn over the same documents Conyers and Sanchez are seeking: FBI’s interview transcripts of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, both of who were questioned in 2004 about the Plame leak.

The interest in the Plame leak resurfaced following the publication a few weeks ago of former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s memoir, which suggests Bush and Cheney might have played a larger role in the controversy than both have acknowledged publicly.

McClellan testified before Conyers committee last Friday.

In an opening statement, Conyers said the Bush administration may have committed an “impeachable offense” by launching a “propaganda campaign” to win support for a U.S. led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

“What Scott McClellan wrote in his new book about the administration’s propaganda campaign to promote and defend the occupation of Iraq was not a revelation,” Conyers said. “It was confirmation that the White House has played fast and loose with the truth in a time of war. Depending on how one reads the Constitution, that may or may not be an impeachable offense.”

The Michigan Democrat had been scheduled to meet with Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Congressman and former 2008 Democratic presidential candidatewho introduced 35 articles of impeachment against President Bush earlier this month. The House voted to send the impeachment articles to Conyers’ committee. Kucinich said in an interview with The Public Record he has given Conyers 30 days to review the articles of impeachment and he fully expects Conyers to bring it up in his committee for a vote.

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