The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has suspended a Democratic aide’s access to classified materials, citing concerns the staffer might have leaked parts of an intelligence assessment on terrorism to the media.
The highly unusual move drew sharp protest from the panel’s ranking Democrat, Jane Harman of Venice, who said in a statement Friday, “There is no evidence to suggest that the professional staff member in question did anything wrong.”
With an election in less than three weeks that could swing control of Congress, the exchange reflects a major deterioration in relations on a committee that traditionally has sought to avoid partisan clashes. One congressional official said the committee was in “meltdown.”
Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said he suspended the aide’s access to secret intelligence documents after learning that the employee had requested a copy of a high-level intelligence estimate days before details of the document showed up in the press.
In a letter to Harman released by Hoekstra’s office Friday, Hoekstra said, “I cannot assume that this was mere coincidence.”
The aide was identified by other congressional officials as Larry Hanauer. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a pending investigation into the leak, said Hanauer had held positions with the departments of Defense and Homeland Security before joining the professional staff of Democrats on the House intelligence panel about two years ago.
A spokesman for Harman said Hanauer was not available to comment. His attorney, Jonathan Turley, expressed anger that Hanauer was named in news reports Friday and said there was no evidence the aide leaked the intelligence report.
Turley wrote to committee leaders, “When a staffer can become fodder for politics in this way, it discourages qualified people from seeking to join public service.”
Other Democratic aides said Hanauer was familiar with rules surrounding classified materials and said they were skeptical he would leak information.
The document he requested -- on behalf of committee member John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), according to Turley -- was a National Intelligence Estimate on global terrorism trends that suggested the Iraq war had exacerbated terrorism. Disclosure of the analysis last month was a political embarrassment to the Bush administration.
The analysis was disseminated to government officials and multiple congressional committees months before some of its findings were reported Sept. 24 in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times.
Hoekstra’s suspension of Hanauer’s access was the latest in a series of showdowns between the committee’s senior members. Hoekstra was angered earlier this week when Harman publicly released an unclassified summary of an internal committee investigation into abuses by former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe), who served on the panel and is now in prison for taking bribes.
In his letter to Harman, dated Tuesday, Hoekstra alluded to the release of the Cunningham report and said he had suspended Hanauer’s access in part because he was concerned that “Democrats are not willing to protect committee information.” Hoekstra said Hanauer’s suspension would remain in effect until a panel investigation of the Iraq analysis’ leak was complete.
Writing to Hoekstra on Wednesday, Harman said the suspension of Hanauer was “in retaliation for my decision to release an unclassified summary” of the Cunningham probe.
“If you have a problem with me, why not deal with me directly?” she wrote.
A Democratic aide familiar with the Hanauer matter agreed: “He didn’t do anything. He is a pawn in a retribution.”
An aide to Harman said Hanauer remained on the committee payroll, working outside the main committee offices on unclassified matters.