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Democrats, Republicans at Odds Over Inquiry Into CIA Leak - 2004-02-25


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 Hyde.

"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 closely.

"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.