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GOP Leaders Urge Prison Leak Inquiry

Times Staff Writer

With pressure mounting on the Bush administration over its detainee policies, Republican House and Senate leaders asked Tuesday for an investigation into who leaked information to the Washington Post about CIA-run secret prisons abroad.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) requested that the Senate and House intelligence committees “immediately initiate a joint investigation into the possible release of classified information to the media” about the existence of the prisons.

“Such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences,” the pair said in a letter to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees.

Responding to reports of the leaders’ request for an investigation, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the matter “ought to be taken seriously.... This is a congressional prerogative, and it was a decision that was made by those leaders.”

On Nov. 2, the Post revealed the existence of a network of clandestine prisons, some in Eastern Europe, where the CIA is holding suspected terrorists. The administration has not confirmed or denied the report, one that has intensified the debate on Capitol Hill about the administration’s detainee policies.

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A U.S. official said Tuesday evening that the CIA had filed a report with the Department of Justice indicating that the Post’s article might have included classified information.

Such referrals often prompt leak investigations by the Justice Department, but few lead to criminal charges. The recent indictment of former senior White House official I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was a rare exception. And even in that instance, Libby was charged with perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice, not the release of classified information in the leak of a covert CIA official’s name.

Tuesday afternoon, a senior Republican aide on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue, said he could not recall an instance in which the panel had investigated an alleged leak of classified information, except when there was suspicion that someone on the panel’s staff had been involved.

“If the Justice Department gets engaged, it becomes very problematic to cross paths with them,” the aide said.

Democratic congressional leaders welcomed the call for an investigation, but said it should be broader than the possible leak about the prison system.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) condemned leaking as unacceptable, but added: “While Republicans have been quick to call for an investigation of this matter, they have repeatedly and regularly resisted any real oversight of this administration’s flawed policies.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said that “if Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader Frist are finally ready to join Democrats’ demands for an investigation of possible abuses of classified information, they must direct the House and Senate intelligence committees to investigate all aspects of that issue.”

At least one Senate Republican agreed. Asked whether he thought there should be a probe of the existence of the prisons, or of the leak of classified information about them, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina rolled his eyes and replied: “How about both? I’d like to know why we’ve got secret prisons and what oversight precautions we have.”

It is “imperative we regain the moral high ground,” he said. “And having secret prisons come out in the Washington Post is not a good way to regain it.”

Another Republican, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, said that senators from his party might have given information to the Post. Lott told reporters that the existence of the prison system was discussed last week at the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill, which was attended by Vice President Dick Cheney and held the day before the Post published its report.

“Information that was said in there, given out in there, did get into the newspaper,” Lott said. “I don’t know where else it came from.... It looked to me that at least one of those reports came right out of that room.”

In their letter, Frist and Hastert said the panels should determine whether the Post’s information was accurate, who leaked it and “what is the actual and potential damage done to the national security of the United States and our partners in the global war on terror.”

“The leaking of classified information by employees of the United States government appears to have increased in recent years,” they said, “establishing a dangerous trend that, if not addressed swiftly and firmly, likely will worsen.”

Times staff writers Greg Miller and Maura Reynolds contributed to this report.


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