Also published at my new online magazine, The Public Record.
Congressman Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued a subpoena Monday morning to the Attorney General Michael Mukasey demanding he turn over the FBI’s interview transcripts of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney who were questioned in 2004 about the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Over the past few weeks, Waxman has stepped up his efforts to compel the Justice Department to release a wide-range of Plame-related leak documents obtained during Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s three-year investigation into the matter. 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 may have played a larger role in the controversy than both have acknowledged publicly.
The California congressman has been in discussions with Fitzgerald and the Justice Department for more than a year about the release of transcripts, emails, and other evidence regarding the role senior White House officials played in the leak of Plame’s identity.
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 leak, according to a letter the congressman sent to Attorney General Mukasey in December.
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.”
“Although these reports will not be made available to the committee, we remain open to any reasonable suggestions on how to provide information that the committee believes it may need,” wrote Keith Nelson, the Justice Department’s deputy assistant attorney general, in a letter to Waxman. “It continues to be our belief that the extensive interview reports for White House staff and other documents that have been and may be made available for review will satisfy the committee’s needs.”
Senior administration officials disclosed Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to several journalists in early summer 2003, leading to its publication in a July 14, 2003, article by right-wing columnist Robert Novak.
However, it was not until September 2003 that a CIA complaint to the Justice Department sparked a criminal investigation into the identity of the leakers. At first, however, the probe was under the control of Attorney General John Ashcroft and did not appear likely to lead to a major scandal.
On June 24, 2004, Bush was interviewed by Fitzgerald for about 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 given by McClellan the same day.
“The President met with Pat Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney in charge of the leak investigation, as well as members of his team,” McClellan told reporters. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. It lasted for a little more than an hour, probably about an hour and 10 minutes ... He also recently retained a lawyer, Jim Sharp, who you all have reported about before. I would just say that -- what I've said previously, and what the President has said: The leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with those in charge of the investigation. He was pleased to do his part to help the investigation move forward. No one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than the President of the United States, and he has said on more than one occasion that if anyone -- inside or outside the government -- has information that can help the investigators get to the bottom of this, they should provide that information to the officials in charge.”
A couple of weeks earlier, Cheney was 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. On Monday, neither O’Donnell nor Sharp returned calls for comment.
Two weeks ago, Waxman sent a letter to Mukasey indicating that Vice President Dick Cheney may have authorized his former deputy to leak the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.
In a June 3 letter to Mukasey, Waxman said the Justice Department has turned over to his committee redacted transcripts of interviews that federal investigators conducted with former White House political adviser Karl Rove and Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
According to those transcripts, Libby told federal investigators that Cheney might have told him to leak Plame's association with the CIA to reporters, Waxman said in the letter to Mukasey.
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