By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
An ongoing battle between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a House committee investigating Iraqi government corruption and the activities of the Blackwater security firm erupted into another skirmish yesterday as Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) accused Rice of interfering with the committee's work and preventing administration and Blackwater officials from providing pertinent information.
In the latest of a series of exchanges, Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote Rice to urge that she "reconsider the unusual positions you are taking." Congress has a "constitutional prerogative" to look into the issues, he wrote, and she is "wrong to interfere with the Committee's inquiry."
State Department spokesman Tom Casey cited a "misunderstanding" on Waxman's part. "All information requested by the committee has been or is in the process of being provided," he said.
The dispute began late last month when the Nation magazine published an account of an internal memo by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The 82-page draft document, which was subsequently widely leaked, said the Iraqi government was "not capable of even rudimentary enforcement" of its own anticorruption laws and would not meet "any reasonable timeline" for improvement.
On Sept. 10, Waxman requested copies of all State Department reports on the subject and interviews with "knowledgeable" department officials. Saying it received no response, the committee then issued subpoenas on Sept. 20 for the documents and three officials.
Interviews with the officials were finally scheduled for yesterday, but on Monday night, Waxman's letter said, the State Department sent an e-mail warning the committee of "redlines" that should not be crossed in the unclassified sessions. They included: "broad statements/assessments which judge or characterize the quality of Iraqi governance or the ability/determination of the Iraqi government to deal with corruption, including allegations that investigations were thwarted/stifled for political reasons; [and] statements/allegations concerning actions by specific individuals, such as the Prime Minister or other [Government of Iraq] officials, or regarding investigations of such officials."
"The scope of this prohibition is breathtaking," Waxman wrote to Rice, describing yesterday's staff interview with Vincent Foulk of the State Department's Office of Accountability and Transparency as "virtually worthless." The committee has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow on Iraqi government corruption.
A separate hearing, on Blackwater, is scheduled for next Tuesday. After reports last week that Blackwater employees guarding a U.S. diplomatic convoy in Baghdad had killed 11 Iraqi civilians, the committee asked the company for documents and requested the testimony of Erik Prince, chairman of Blackwater's parent company.
In a Monday letter, Blackwater attorney Stephen M. Ryan told the committee that the State Department had directed the company "not to disclose any information" regarding its Iraq security contract without prior department authorization in writing. "This contractual direction from the DOS is unambiguous," Ryan wrote.
Ryan enclosed a Sept. 20 State Department letter to Blackwater reminding that "all documents and information generated in the course of performance" of its contract "are fully subject to the control of the State Department."
Calling the department's position "wholly inappropriate," Waxman wrote that "unless the President is prepared to make an assertion of executive privilege over the Blackwater documents, the State Department has no authority to prevent their transmission to Congress."
A subsequent department letter to Blackwater, dated yesterday and sent to the committee, clarified that only "classified" company documents are subject to prior review, after which the State Department "will . . . provide authorization, as appropriate, for disclosure to the Committee, consistent with Executive Branch responsibilities to safeguard national security information."