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.
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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.
"In his interview with the FBI, Mr. Libby stated that it was ‘possible’ that Vice President Cheney instructed him to disseminate information about Ambassador [Joseph] 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.
Waxman's office would not release copies of the Libby-Rove transcripts or describe the contents in any detail. Fitzgerald's investigative interviews with Bush and Cheney -- asking how much knowledge the President and Vice President had about the Plame leak -- have not been disclosed.
Last year, immediately following Libby’s conviction of four-counts of perjury and obstructions of justice, Waxman called on Fitzgerald to testify before his committee about the nuances of his investigation.
In a March 8, 2007 letter to the federal prosecutor, Waxman acknowledged that Fitzgerald was "constrained by the rules of grand jury secrecy.”
"But you undoubtedly recognize that Congress has a responsibility to examine the policy and accountability questions that your investigation has raised. As a result of your investigation, you have a singular understanding of the facts and their implications that bear directly on the issues before Congress.... Your investigation had a narrow legal focus: Were any federal criminal statutes violated by White House officials?"
Waxman said the Libby trial raised important questions about whether "senior White House officials, including the vice president and senior adviser to the president Karl Rove, complied with the requirements governing the handling of classified information" related to Plame's classified status within the CIA. "They also raise questions about whether the White House took appropriate remedial action following the leak, and whether the existing requirements are sufficient to protect against future leaks. Your perspective on these matters is important."
Three years ago, Waxman called for Congressional hearings to determine if there was a White House conspiracy to unmask Plame's covert status in retaliation for the criticism Wilson leveled against the administration's Iraq policy.
"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, it was unknown how involved Cheney was in the matter. But two weeks ago, during closing arguments, Cheney was implicated in the leak. It was the first time 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 the closing arguments of Libby’s trial that Fitzgerald and his deputy have been attempting to build a case of conspiracy against the vice president and Libby, and that the prosecution believes Libby may have lied to federal investigators and a grand jury to protect Cheney.
“Now, I think the government, through its questions, really tried to put a cloud over Vice President Cheney," Libby's attorney Theodore Wells told jurors Tuesday, according to a transcript of the closing arguments obtained by Truthout. "The prosecutors questioned Ms. Martin: 'Well, you weren't with Mr. Libby and the vice president all the time. Some things could have happened when you weren't there.' And the clear suggestions by the questions were, well, maybe there was some kind of skullduggery, some kind of scheme between Libby and the vice president going on in private, but that's unfair."
Rebutting Wells, Fitzgerald r 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 former 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."
"If you think that the vice president and the defendant 'Scooter' Libby weren't talking about [Plame] during the week where the vice president writes that [Plame] sent [Wilson] on a junket - in [Wilson's] July 6 column, the vice president moves the number one talking point, 'not clear who authorized [Wilson's Niger trip] - if you think that's a coincidence, well, that makes no sense."
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