By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 21, 2006
The Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence suspended a mid-level Democratic staffer Tuesday based on a suspicion that he may have been connected to the leak of a politically damaging intelligence report almost a month ago, according to Republican and Democratic congressional sources.
The action by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), which has drawn sharp criticism from Democratic panel members, was described by legislators of both parties as another example of the increased partisan infighting that has damaged the workings of the intelligence panel during this election year.
"The chairman's unilateral action is without basis and an abuse of his power to provide security accesses," Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the panel, said yesterday. "There is no evidence to suggest that the professional staff member in question did anything wrong," she added.
Late yesterday, Washington lawyer Jonathan Turley sent a letter to Hoekstra and Harman saying he represented the staff member involved, Larry Hanauer, whose name had been leaked to the media. Turley wrote that he wanted an expedited review of his client's role "to clear his name at the earliest possible date." He said there was "not a single scintilla of evidence suggesting that Mr. Hanauer had any role in the leaking of the NIE," or National Intelligence Estimate, and that he was drafting a sworn statement to that effect.
Adding to the political overtones, several Republican lawmakers issued news releases yesterday condemning leaks and praising Hoekstra -- including House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio), House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.).
The initial accusation against Hanauer was made to Hoekstra more than three weeks ago in a letter from Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a committee member. The charge was based on a "coincidence" that the Democratic staffer obtained the document, at the request of a member, two days before stories about its contents were published. "I have no credible information to say any classified information was leaked from the committee's minority staff. . . . This may in fact be only coincidence and simply 'look bad,' " LaHood said in his letter, but he requested a formal inquiry.
LaHood defended his letter in a telephone interview yesterday. "Why was there this coincidence? . . . That's what the investigation should be about," he said.
LaHood also linked Hoekstra's decision to suspend the staff member on Tuesday to Harman's unilateral release that day of the summary of a special counsel's report about how former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) manipulated the committee to benefit contractors who had bribed him.
"We are in the political season. . . . If the ranking member wants to play politics," LaHood told Fox News yesterday, referring to Harman, "there are some of us on the other side that can play politics, and I'm not afraid to do it."
Yesterday, Hoekstra sent a letter to Harman saying he thought the suspension was necessary "given the current 'zero tolerance' atmosphere for any indication . . . that suggests the potential for wrongdoing." He also referred to the coincidence of timing as a "red flag" suggesting a leak of classified information. The special counsel's report criticized the committee for failing to act on "red flags" about Cunningham.
Three days earlier, on the day of the suspension, Hoekstra wrote Harman that he had "thought carefully about this and have come to the conclusion that I cannot assume that this was mere coincidence." Hoekstra added that the staffer "could have been involved in, or confirmed the leak of, the classified NIE information."
At issue is the leak of selected contents, harmful to the Bush administration, from a classified April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate titled "Trends of Global Terrorism." The New York Times first published a story about the NIE, with the headline "Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat," on Sept. 23 on its Web site and again in its Sept. 24 print edition.
Intelligence community sources, speaking anonymously because the NIE remains classified, have told The Washington Post that Times reporters were asking questions about the contents of that NIE weeks before publication of the story. In his story, Times reporter Mark Mazzetti wrote that over the weeks he had interviewed "a dozen United States government officials and outside experts . . . for this article." He added that all "had either seen the final version of the document or participated in the creation of earlier drafts."
Three days before publication of the Times story, on Sept. 20, Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), a member of the intelligence panel, received a media inquiry about the NIE, according to a statement his office released yesterday. Tierney said yesterday that he knew nothing about it but called over to the Democratic staff and asked whether such a report had been received. The staff member talked to the committee security officer, who said such reports had not been put on an internal, secure Web site because of technical problems, according to a committee staff member who asked not to be identified.
Hanauer and the security officer called the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which had produced the NIE, and a copy of the secret document was delivered the next day, Sept. 21. The staff member took a hard copy to Tierney, and the committee security officer scanned it into the panel's classified Web site, making it available to all committee members. Tierney said that after he read it and saw it was classified he refused to discuss it with reporters.
"I don't know why they came down on this fellow," Tierney said.