Bush Blocking Fitzgerald Cooperation

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, December 3, 2007; 2:00 PM

The White House is refusing to let special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald turn over to congressional investigators key documents from his investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative, including reports of interviews with President Bush, Vice President Cheney and five top White House aides.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman disclosed this morning that Fitzgerald is cooperating with the congressional investigation and had agreed to turn over the documents -- until the White House intervened.

Describing a renewed sense of urgency in the wake of former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's recent assertion that "five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved" in the public disclosure of false information about the leak, Waxman today appealed to newly installed Attorney General Michael Mukasey to overrule his White House masters and release the documents.

"I hope you will not accede to the White House objections," Waxman wrote in his letter to Mukasey. "During the Clinton Administration, your predecessor, Janet Reno, made an independent judgment and provided numerous FBI interview reports to the Committee, including reports of interviews with President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and three White House Chiefs of Staff. I have been informed that Attorney General Reno neither sought nor obtained White House consent before providing these interview records to the Committee. I believe the Justice Department should exercise the same independence in this case."

Waxman's request puts Mukasey in an unenviable spot: He can either defy the president who just appointed him, or be decried as a lickspittle like his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales. It also represents an ingenious way to learn the extent to which Bush and Cheney were involved in the criminality Fitzgerald uncovered in his investigation.

Fitzgerald investigated the leak for more than three years but ended up charging only one person: Vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was found guilty last year of perjury and obstruction of justice. The veteran prosecutor evidently concluded that he couldn't prove anybody else's criminal behavior beyond a reasonable doubt.

But the standard for legitimate political scandal is lower than that for a successful criminal prosecution, and the widespread belief is that Fitzgerald's investigation dug up information the Bush administration would rather keep secret.

In fact, even since Fitzgerald announced the end of his criminal investigation -- and even after Bush commuted Libby's prison sentence -- the White House, from the president on down, has refused to provide basic information about what happened, who knew about it and when.

During the Libby trial, witnesses testified that contrary to fervent White House denials, both Libby and top presidential adviser Karl Rove had indeed told reporters about Plame's identity. Fitzgerald repeatedly indicated that there had been a coordinated campaign to out Plame in an attempt to discredit her husband, an administration critic -- and that he had been hot on Cheney's trail until that line of investigation was cut off by Libby's repeated lies.

Libby's defense team initially promised to call not only their client but also Cheney to the stand, but chose not to do so at the last minute, a massive bummer for those of us who had been looking forward to Cheney and his top aide finally facing some questions they couldn't duck.

Unlike special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who was appointed under different rules, Fitzgerald was not empowered to write a report to Congress about his investigation. And in a letter to Waxman in March, Fitzgerald declined to testify before the committee, saying that grand jury secrecy rules limited what he could say, and noting that prosecutors "traditionally refrain from commenting outside of the judicial process on the actions of persons not charged with criminal offenses."

So until this morning, it looked like whatever other secrets Fitzgerald uncovered would remain out of public sight.

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