New questions on CIA leak

Times Staff Writer

House investigators pressed their case Tuesday for access to interviews that a special counsel conducted with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the CIA leak case.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) said in a letter to the Justice Department that the transcripts were needed to address what he described as troubling new questions about the role of the White House in divulging the identity of then-CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003.

Waxman cited passages from the recent memoir of former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. McClellan wrote that he thought he had been deceived into telling reporters that then-White House aides I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Karl Rove were not involved in the episode. Aside from receiving assurances from the two men, McClellan described a meeting in which Bush and Cheney decided to have McClellan issue a special statement saying that Libby had no involvement.


Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the case. Rove was not charged, but he told investigators that he had spoken with reporters about Plame.

Plame’s identity became public as the administration was scrambling to rebut criticism from her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former U.S. envoy in Baghdad, about the decision to invade Iraq. He had taken a CIA-backed trip to the African nation of Niger that he said had disproved an administration claim that Iraq was seeking material there to make nuclear weapons. That claim was one of the grounds used to justify the invasion.

McClellan wrote in his memoir that he did not believe that Bush knew that Libby or Rove were involved in the leaks. But he said that he could not be certain what Cheney knew; at the time, Libby was the chief of staff to the vice president.

Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a letter to Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey on Tuesday that “it would be a major breach of trust if the vice president personally directed Mr. McClellan to mislead the public.”

Waxman first asked for access to White House interviews with special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald in December as part of an investigation into how the White House handled and investigated the leak. The Justice Department made available some, but not all, of the information, including redacted versions of interviews with Rove, Libby and other senior officials.

Waxman said those transcripts revealed other information that needed to be pursued. One question, he said, was whether Cheney directed Libby to circulate the fact that Plame was employed by the CIA as part of a campaign to discredit Wilson and insinuate that his trip to Africa was the product of nepotism.

The White House referred calls for comment to the Justice Department.

“The Justice Department will review Chairman Waxman’s letter and respond as appropriate,” spokesman Peter A. Carr said Tuesday.

William Jeffress Jr., a lawyer for Libby, whose 30-month prison sentence for the perjury-and-obstruction conviction last year was commuted by Bush, criticized the congressional request.

McClellan, he said, testified before the grand jury and was interviewed by Fitzgerald more than once.

“You can be certain that if he had evidence that Scooter or Rove obstructed justice, Fitzgerald would have called him as a witness at trial,” Jeffress said. It is “unbelievable that Rep. Waxman thinks there is something to be learned or accomplished by continuing this farce.”