Law

DOJ Refuses to Turn Over Bush/Cheney CIA Leak Transcripts to Congress

The Justice Department has said it will not comply with a subpoena demanding that FBI transcripts of interviews with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney regarding their possible roles in the exposure of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson be turned over to a congressional committee investigating the matter.

Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued the subpoena earlier this month in the latest chapter of a standoff over what Bush and Cheney told a special prosecutor about the case in 2004.

In a June 24 letter Deputy Attorney General Keith Nelson sent to Waxman, the agency said it was withholding the documents on grounds of executive privilege, despite the fact that in 1999 the DOJ had made available to the House Oversight Committee FBI reports of interviews with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore related to the Justice Department’s campaign finance probe.

Nelson said the DOJ considered that situation “to be fundamentally different from the present situation.”

Still, “as we have informed the Committee, we are not prepared to provide or make available any reports of interviews with the President or the Vice President from the leak investigation,” the letter to Waxman’s committee says.

“To do so would allow Congress to obtain through access to Justice Department investigative files information that it otherwise could not gather through its own inquiry because of separation of powers…The interview reports sought by the Committee deal directly with internal White House deliberations and communications relating to foreign policy and national security decisions faced by the President and his immediate advisers. Congressional access to those reports would intrude into one of the most sensitive and confidential areas of presidential decision-making,” Nelson wrote.

“Moreover, from the institutional perspective, the Committee’s request for copies of FBI reports of interviews with the President and the Vice President raises a very serious additional separation of powers concern relating to the integrity and effectiveness of future law enforcement investigations by the Department,” he added.

According to a statement on the committee’s website, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may have entered into some sort of pre-arranged agreement with the president and vice president stating that the transcripts would remain under seal. Waxman wrote a letter to Fitzgerald Friday seeking “information regarding the terms under which Fitzgerald interviewed President Bush and Vice President Cheney in the course of his investigation into the leak.”

Waxman said he received a letter from Fitzgerald on January 18 in which the special prosecutor said he “provided the White House and the other executive branch agencies with equities in the relevant documents an opportunity to review the materials we determined were not protected by Rule 6(e),” which is the rule governing grand jury material.”

“From discussions with the Justice Department, we understand that the FBI 302 interview reports of your interviews with the President and Vice President were included among those documents forwarded to the White House as not protected by grand jury rules,” Waxman’s June 27 letter to Fitzgerald says. “To assist the Committee in evaluating the Department’s position, I request that you produce the following information to the Committee no later than July 3, 2008:

  • Documents sufficient to show the date and terms of all agreements, conditions, and understandings between the Office of Special Counsel or the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the President of the United States, regarding the conduct and use of the interview or interviews of the President conducted as part of the Valerie Plame Wilson leak investigation.
  • Documents sufficient to show the date and terms of all agreements, conditions, and understandings between the Offrce of Special Counsel or the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Vice President of the United States, regarding the conduct and use of the interview or interviews of the Vice President conducted as part of the Valerie Plame Wilson leak investigation.

“If such agreements, conditions, and understandings were not memorialized in writing, I request that you submit a written description of the date and terms of any such agreements, conditions, and understandings,” the letter from Waxman says.

On Friday, House Judiciary Committee John Conyers also subpoenaed the Justice Department demanding the agency turn over to his committee Fitzgerald’s interview transcripts with Bush and Cheney, as well as documents related to other issues his committee has been probing, after the agency denied to voluntarily make the documents available.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department denied Waxman’s request for a voluntary release of the interview transcripts with Bush and Cheney on grounds that it “raises serious separation of powers and heightened confidentiality concerns.”

So far, Fitzgerald has turned over to Waxman’s committee “FBI 302 reports” of interviews with CIA and State Department officials and other individuals involved in the CIA leak, Waxman said in a letter to Mukasey last December.

But “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, Waxman said.

Senior Bush administration officials disclosed Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to several journalists in June and July of 2003 amid White House efforts to discredit her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for challenging Bush’s use of bogus intelligence to justify invading Iraq.

Plame Wilson’s CIA employment was revealed in a July 14, 2003, article by right-wing columnist Robert Novak, effectively destroying her career. Two months later, a CIA complaint to the Justice Department sparked a criminal probe into the identity of the leakers.

Initially, Bush professed not to know anything about the matter, and several of his senior aides, including political adviser Karl Rove and the vice president’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby, followed suit.

However, it later became clear that Rove and Libby had a hand in the Plame leak and that Bush and Cheney had helped organize a campaign to disparage Wilson by giving critical information to friendly journalists.

On June 24, 2004, Bush was interviewed by Fitzgerald for 70 minutes about the Plame leak. The only other member of the Bush team in the room during the meeting was Jim Sharp, the private lawyer that Bush hired, according to a press briefing by then-press secretary Scott McClellan.

“The President … was pleased to do his part to help the investigation move forward,” McClellan said. “No one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than the President of the United States.”

A couple of weeks earlier, Cheney had been interviewed by Fitzgerald.

According to sources knowledgeable about the vice president’s testimony, Cheney was specifically asked about conversations he had with senior aides, including Libby, and queried about whether he was aware of a campaign led by White House officials to leak Plame’s identity.

It is unknown how Cheney responded to those questions. Cheney retained a private attorney, Terrence O’Donnell. Neither O’Donnell nor Sharp returned calls for comment on Monday.

Long-Sought Evidence

Three years ago, Waxman called for congressional hearings to determine if there was a White House conspiracy to unmask Plame Wilson’s covert status in retaliation for the criticism Wilson leveled against the administration’s use of a bogus claim that Iraq had obtained uranium from Niger.

“I think that the Congress must hold hearings, bring Karl Rove in, put him under oath, and let him explain the situation from his point of view,” Waxman said during an interview with “Democracy Now” in July 2005.

“Let him tell us what happened. It’s ridiculous that Congress should stay out of all of this and not hold hearings.”

At the time of Waxman’s comments, Fitzgerald’s criminal investigation was still underway, leading to Libby’s indictment in October 2005 and his subsequent conviction in March 2007 on four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.

During closing arguments at Libby’s trial, Cheney was implicated in the leak, as Fitzgerald acknowledged that Cheney was intimately involved in the scandal and may have told Libby to leak Plame’s status to the media.

Fitzgerald told jurors that his investigation into the true nature of the vice president’s involvement was impeded because Libby obstructed justice.

Libby’s attorney, Theodore Wells, told jurors during his closing arguments that Fitzgerald had been trying to build a case of conspiracy against the vice president and Libby and that the prosecution believed Libby may have lied to federal investigators and to a grand jury to protect Cheney.

“Now, I think the government, through its questions, really tried to put a cloud over Vice President Cheney,” Wells said.

Rebutting Wells, Fitzgerald told jurors: “You know what? [Wells] said something here that we’re trying to put a cloud on the vice president. We’ll talk straight. There is a cloud over the vice president. He sent Libby off to [meet with New York Times reporter] Judith Miller at the St. Regis Hotel. At that meeting – the two-hour meeting – the defendant talked about the wife [Plame]. We didn’t put that cloud there. That cloud remains because the defendant obstructed justice and lied about what happened.”

Moreover, copies of Cheney’s handwritten notes also appeared to implicate Bush in the leak case.

Cheney’s notes, which were introduced as evidence during Libby’s trial, called into question the truthfulness of Bush’s vehement denials about having prior knowledge of the sub rosa campaign against Wilson.

In an October 2003 note to then-press secretary McClellan, Cheney demanded that the press office add Libby to a list of White House officials being cleared of any role in the Plame leak.

“Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of incompetence of others,” Cheney wrote. However, the note revealed that Cheney had originally written “this Pres” before crossing that out and using the passive tense, “that was.”

In other words, the original version suggested that Bush had asked Libby “to stick his head in the meat grinder,” an apparent reference to dealing with the Washington press corps.

Over the past month, interest in the CIA leak case was revived by former White House press secretary McClellan’s memoir which also suggests Bush and Cheney played a larger role than they have admitted publicly.

Waxman sent a letter to Mukasey in early June stating that, according to FBI transcripts given to the committee, Libby told federal investigators that Cheney might have told him to leak Plame’s CIA ties to reporters.

“In his interview with the FBI, Mr. Libby stated that it was ‘possible’ that Vice President Cheney instructed him to disseminate information about Ambassador Wilson’s wife to the press. This is a significant revelation and, if true, a serious matter. It cannot be responsibly investigated without access to the Vice President’s FBI interview,” Waxman wrote.

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