Bush officials reluctant to talk to British panel investigating Iraq war

By Al Kamen
Friday, March 19, 2010; A22

Senior Bush administration officials involved in the Iraq war have been asked by a British panel investigating that country's role in the conflict to chat about administration activities and policies from before the March 2003 invasion until 2009.

The government-commissioned panel, which has no subpoena power or legal status over there, much less here, has nonetheless gotten most every significant British government official and senior military officer involved in the war to give evidence, in public even.

The panel, expected to issue its report at the end of the year, recently grilled former prime minister Tony Blair for six hours on live television and has questioned the current prime minister, Gordon Brown.

But we're hearing that the response from Bush administration folks has been decidedly cool, even though the panel apparently is willing to do the interviews in private, specify the subject areas in advance and accept statements on background, without naming names.

Unclear how many officials got the panel's invites, e-mailed about three weeks ago. It would seem likely the list would include some of the usual top-tier suspects -- George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Donald Rumsfeld, and their deputies and senior assistants. Word is about 10 officials, most of them involved in the post-invasion period, have agreed to talk this spring. Unclear whether those in on the pre-invasion "mushroom cloud" campaign are going to participate.

The e-mails sent many former Bush aides scurrying about for advice and counsel. There were small meetings and conference calls to run through the issues.

"The general view," we were told, was that while everyone was free to talk, "it was not right for American officials to be subject to a foreign investigative body." Former national security adviser Hadley, for example, was said to have been among those voicing a strong disinclination to participate. A decidedly minority view was that talking to the panel made some sense, on the assumption that it might be worth the effort to get the administration's views into the official record.

Still plenty of time to sign up!

That busy black marker

Sunshine Week draws to a close on Friday. And while President Obama renewed his commitment to an "unmatched level of transparency" throughout his administration, sometimes news travels slowly up the Potomac to Langley.

Our former colleague Michael Isikoff, now at Newsweek, writes that the CIA, replying to a Freedom of Information Act request from the ACLU for documents on the treatment of terrorism detainees, redacts part of a letter to President George W. Bush from three congressmen -- a letter that the trio publicly released in 2007 and that is still available on one lawmaker's Web site. The agency changed its mind Thursday.

The Justice league

Senate Republicans are said to be lining up behind David Kris, now assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's national security division, for the still-vacant post of deputy AG, our colleague Carrie Johnson reports. Kris, confirmed in his current job by a 97 to 0 Senate vote, previously worked as a top national security official in the Clinton and Bush Justice Departments. A longtime strong advocate of the USA Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Kris received substantial national attention in 1996 for a blistering critique of the Bush administration's justifications for its warrantless wiretapping program.

The long-awaited announcement is not expected until later this year, long after the department announces a place that is not Manhattan for the 9/11 trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. In the meantime, acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler is putting together his staff from within the department, naming, among others, Lisa O. Monaco, a former Enron prosecutor, to be acting principal associate deputy attorney general -- she'll need to get a very big nameplate or use very small print -- and Matthew Olsen, former chief of the task force on Guantanamo Bay, be associate deputy attorney general.

Once a lawyer . . .

For a moment, the e-mail sounded like a new variant of the old "If you've got a phone, you've got a lawyer" ad. It began: "Recently, millions of Toyota vehicles have been recalled because of a sudden unintended acceleration problem," it noted, and "I need your help to ensure all Toyota products are safe. If you've experienced a similar problem with your Toyota vehicle, please share your story with me."

Well, turns out it was from Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who needs the information because he's on the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee, which is looking into response to the problem by Toyota and the government. And it seems there was some confusion back in the district as to which Toyota cars were affected by the defects.

Of course, he was president of the Iowa chapter of the American Trial Lawyers Association.

Aid at AID

The beleaguered Agency of International Development is awaiting the arrival of some assistant administrators to give the new boss, Rajiv Shah, some help in restoring the dysfunctional shop to at least some semblance of robust health (he is a doctor, after all). In the meantime, he's been filling the ranks of his inner circle, bringing in as his chief of staff Sean Carroll, former program director for the Club of Madrid, a nongovernmental group promoting democracy.

Now comes word that he's tapped veteran Hill foreign policy insider and media maven Lynne Weil to shore up the AID press shop as its director and to be the agency spokeswoman. Weil, who spent 15 years as a reporter, much of that time overseas, has worked on the Hill for nearly nine years , including stints for then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden and then for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and more recently for Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

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