Obstruction of justice?

By Mark Follman
Published February 11, 2004 6:37PM (UTC)
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As the Justice Department continues its probe into the White House leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, two senior congressional Democrats want to know why some Bush staffers are hindering that process -- and defying the president's direct order to cooperate with investigators. In a letter sent to the White House on Tuesday, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., warn the president against any further actions that would compromise the investigation, and thereby U.S. national security. Noting that the Justice Department asked White House officials in January to sign waivers that would allow members of the media involved in the case to speak freely with investigators, Waxman and Conyers are troubled that most of those officials, according to a Washington Post report on Tuesday, declined to sign the form on the advice of their attorneys.

"These actions directly contradict your explicit direction to cooperate fully with the investigation," the congressmen wrote to President Bush. "When asked about this waiver issue on January 5, White House spokesman Scott McClellan affirmed eight different times that you instructed your staff to comply fully with the Justice Department requests."

While acknowledging an individual's Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, the two legislators remind the president that national security is a unique matter: "There is no constitutional right to have access to classified information or to be entrusted with the nation's most sensitive security secrets. Individuals who receive access to the country's most critical and highly-guarded secrets have an obligation to cooperate fully in investigations into security leaks."

And individuals who intentionally leak a covert agent's identity have an obligation to do jail time: Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, it's a felony to make such a disclosure.

For now, the Bush administration, with its penchant for secrecy, appears to be doing what it can to forestall a full uncovering of the Plame case -- just as it's scrambling to contain the Iraqi WMD scandal beginning to boil over. But the million-dollar question seems to be: To what degree does Bush's intelligence quagmire hurt his reelection prospects? While much anger has been aired over the administration's unethical if not illegal actions on the intelligence front -- much of it partisan criticism but plenty coming from Bush's own supporters -- polls consistently show that voters' biggest concerns, at least in the Democratic primaries, are domestic, with the economy and healthcare still topping the list.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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