By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
The chairman of a House investigative committee yesterday asked for copies of the FBI's interview of Vice President Cheney in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak investigation to determine whether Cheney instructed his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to leak the CIA officer's name to journalists in 2003.
"In his interview with the FBI, Mr. Libby stated that it was 'possible' that Vice President Cheney instructed him to disseminate information" about Wilson, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a letter sent yesterday to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and released by the congressman.
"This is a significant revelation and, if true, a serious matter," Waxman wrote.
Waxman also asked for the FBI's interview of President Bush.
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said that "the department will review Chairman Waxman's letter and respond as appropriate."
The FBI's interview of Cheney so far has been denied to the panel, which for more than a year has been investigating how Wilson's identity was revealed to the media by White House officials and what disciplinary actions followed the leak.
While the FBI has provided the committee with reports on interviews with Libby and current and former administration officials including Karl Rove, Condoleezza Rice, Scott McClellan and Cheney aide Cathie Martin, any references in those reports to conversations with either Cheney or President Bush were redacted, according to Waxman.
Citing a passage in McClellan's new book in which the former press secretary writes that "the president and vice president directed me to go out there and exonerate Scooter Libby," Waxman said he would like to see redacted passages in the FBI's interview of McClellan about his discussions with Bush and Cheney. Waxman also sought references to Bush and Cheney in FBI interviews of other officials.
"It would be a major breach of trust if the vice president personally directed Mr. McClellan to mislead the public," Waxman wrote.
In his letter, Waxman wrote that there are "no sound reasons" for withholding the full Bush and Cheney interviews or redacted references to them in other reports because the White House has not asserted executive privilege and the criminal investigation by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald has closed.
Waxman said that in 1997 and 1998, the FBI turned over reports to the committee, then controlled by Republicans, of interviews with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore during a campaign finance investigation. "These records were turned over to the committee by the Justice Department without any consultation with the White House," Waxman said.
Libby was convicted last year of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI in the leak investigation. In July, Bush commuted his 2 1/2 -year jail sentence. Libby dropped his appeal of the conviction in December.
The CIA sent Wilson's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, to the African nation of Niger in 2002 to assess reports that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material for weapons there. He concluded that the reports were groundless. Later, when Bush and his aides repeated them anyway, the former envoy accused the president of twisting his findings to justify the invasion.
Prosecutors maintained that administration officials, including Libby, leaked Valerie Wilson's identity and CIA position to insinuate that the agency had chosen Joseph Wilson for the Niger mission because of nepotism. Defense attorneys said Libby had not sought to deceive investigators but had innocently misremembered what he knew and said about Valerie Wilson because she was insignificant to him.
One of the counts was based on Libby telling the FBI and a federal grand jury that he did not learn that Wilson was a CIA officer until he was told in July 2003 by television journalist Tim Russert. Evidence produced at the trial showed that it was Cheney who told Libby of Wilson's CIA connection a month earlier and that Libby had discussed it with other White House officials before he spoke with Russert.