Democrats and Republicans have had more sharp exchanges over ongoing investigations
into who disclosed the identity of an undercover CIA officer to a newspaper columnist
last year. Democrats attempted to advance a special "resolution of inquiry" that
would require the Bush administration to release all documents relating to the
case of Valerie Plame.
Since the Bush administration announced, under pressure, its own investigation
into the leak of Valerie Plame's identity to a prominent newspaper columnist,
and to other journalists, Democrats have demanded an independent probe.
In the House, Democrats criticized a Justice Department investigation, saying
it is vulnerable to "interference" from the White House.
Attorney General John Ashcroft later removed himself from the Justice Department
probe, and appointed a U.S. Attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, to lead the investigation
which has now grown into a federal grand jury probe.
A Democrat-sponsored request asks the Bush administration to provide all
records related to the leak of Ms. Plame's identity.
On Wednesday, the resolution was being considered by three separate House
committees - Judiciary, International Relations, and Armed Services.
However, since Republicans control the committees, they were able to vote
down Democratic attempts to send the resolution to the full House with a "favorable" recommendation,
making passage unlikely.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner voiced the Republican
view that approving the resolution would amount to interference with the ongoing
Justice Department probe.
"The investigation is, by all accounts, proceeding quickly and the committee
has not received credible allegations that Mr. Fitzgerald or the grand jury
are in any way derelict in their duties," he said.
The sharpest Democratic response to that came from Congressman Jerrold Nadler.
"Mr. Chairman, we have every evidence that a cover-up is going on, plain
and simple. Someone high up in the Bush administration deliberately disclosed
the identify of a CIA operative. If the president really wanted to find out
who it was it would take him about five minutes to find out," he said.
Republicans respond by noting that U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald has been given
wide latitude to carry out his duties, and they dispute allegations that he
would be influenced by political considerations. Republican Congressman Henry
"I think it is safe to say that he is not in the least bit moved by political
considerations," he said. However, in an election year, Republicans are extremely
sensitive to any suggestion they are trying to place any constraints on an
investigation involving the CIA and national security.
Republican Congressman Douglas Bereuter says the process needs to be watched
"We need to watch very carefully. We need to insert ourselves in the process,
this committee and the intelligence committee, if there is any indication that
this is not going to pursued aggressively and in a timely fashion," he said.
But Democrats, such as Congressman Earl Blumenauer, insist a congressional
role is vital to bring out the full story of how Ms. Plame's identity was disclosed,
and send a strong signal.
"Our moving forward with a serious congressional inquiry is a solid signal
to the men and women who serve us and put their lives at risk," he said.
Ms. Plame is married to Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador who became
a prominent critic of administration justifications for military action in
Iraq, after he found no proof that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa.
Congressional aides say majority Republicans are determined to prevent the
CIA leak affair from being used, any more than it already has, as an election
year issue by Democrats against President Bush.
However, with a number of administration officials and aides, including an
assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney, already interviewed or giving testimony,
and former CIA analysts urging a separate congressional probe, Democrats have
plenty of fuel with which to keep the issue burning in coming months.