Friday, September 16, 2005

CIA leak investigator warns against document release

CIA leak investigator warns against document release

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Justice Department and the special counsel investigating the leak of a CIA operative's identity pressed Congress to block legislation that would compel the administration to turn over documents related to the case, the department said in a letter released on Thursday.

The Justice Department, in a letter dated September 14, said special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald had advised that producing documents and holding hearings would interfere with his investigation. The letter was sent to the House Intelligence Committee's Republican chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan.

Congressional Democrats have so far failed in their attempts to pass legislation that would force President George W. Bush and the departments of state, justice and defense to provide Congress with documents relating to CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday rejected the legislation on a party-line vote. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee and International Relations Committee rejected similar resolutions on Wednesday.

Republican say Congress should await the outcome of Fitzgerald's investigation.

Democrats countered that Republicans were trying to protect Bush and his top political adviser, Karl Rove.

"We have an oversight responsibility regardless of what criminal investigations may or may not be under way," said Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat.

Lawyers close to the Plame investigation say there are signs that the 20-month-long inquiry could be wrapped up within weeks. The outcome could have major political implications for Bush, whose current approval ratings are the lowest of his presidency.

Plame's husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, said the leak was meant to discredit him for criticizing Bush's Iraq policy in 2003 after a CIA-funded trip to investigate whether Niger helped supply nuclear materials to Baghdad.

A reporter for Time magazine has said that the first person to tell him about Plame was Rove. Rove's attorney says Rove did nothing wrong and has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of Fitzgerald's investigation.

Democrats have urged Bush to fire Rove or revoke his access to classified information. It is against the law in some cases to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA officer.