A House subcommittee abruptly called off a public hearing yesterday on the administration's proposed new rules for intelligence activities after the CIA refused to provide a copy of the plan and the Justice Department declined to send a witness.
Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on constitutional rights, said it was the first time in his 19 years in Congress "that the Justice Department has refused to send a witness to testify on matters of importance to the Justice Department."
Edwards had other witnesses on tap, and an unofficial copy of the order in hand. But he said he had decided to postpone the hearing anyway, primarily because of signs the administration is willing to modify some of the more controversial aspects of the order.
As it stands, the draft proposal would give the CIA authority to conduct covert operations in this country, allow it to infiltrate and influence domestic groups, and reduce its reliance on the FBI. The proposed executive order would also diminish the role of the attorney general in overseeing intelligence activities and determining their propriety.
Edwards said he had reason to believe "there will be a new draft" reflecting at least some of the changes being proposed at secret meetings of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
At the same time, he was sharply critical of the "pressures" that he said have been exerted to avert public discussion of the order.
"The public is also entitled to know that pressure has been placed on this committee to withdraw from this debate altogether," Edwards said. He said that "the CIA has refused to provide a copy of the proposed order and the Justice Department has declined an invitation from the committee to appear here today."
Beyond that, he asserted, "prospective witnesses have been pressured not to appear."
Edwards said he had planned to call Birch Bayh, former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Kenneth C. Bass III, who was the Justice Department's counsel for intelligence policy during the Carter administration.
Edwards declined to identify anyone who had brought "pressure" to bear, but indicated it came from other lawmakers and administration officials.
Calling the scheduling of the hearing "politics of a raw sort," Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) said "we're talking about national security," and "this committee has only peripheral jurisdiction."