Thursday, May 25, 2006

More Bipartisanship in the House

Roll Call (subscription required) reports that both Pete Hoekstra and Jane Harman - the Chairman and Ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee - are unhappy with the desire of the FBI to interview lawmakers about leaks of NSA activities:

Hill Targeted on Leaks
May 25, 2006
By John Bresnahan and Paul Kane,
Roll Call Staff

The FBI is seeking interviews with top House Members from both parties to determine whether they leaked details of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program to The New York Times, further fanning the flames of an already tense relationship between Capitol Hill and the Bush administration.
Those being targeted for interviews include GOP and Democratic leaders, as well as the chairmen and ranking member of the Intelligence committee. Altogether, 15 senior Members and Senators were briefed about the existence of the NSA program before the Times first disclosed it in a Dec. 16 article, according to briefing records released last week by John Negroponte, director of the Office of National Intelligence.

It is unclear what level of interest the FBI has at this time in speaking with Senators who were briefed about the NSA program, although one senior Senate Republican said he expects that the FBI will interview current and former Senators about the leak as well.

The request for FBI interviews has angered some in Congress who see it as yet another example of the increasingly aggressive tactics being used by the Justice Department and federal investigators in their dealings with lawmakers. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has vehemently denounced an FBI raid last weekend on Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) office, and three House committees have objected to a request for documents and staffer interviews by the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Diego as part of the criminal probe into former Rep. Duke Cunningham’s (R-Calif.) activities.

When asked about her knowledge of the FBI inquiry into lawmakers’ contacts with the Times, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, would only say, “There is no credible claim that anyone in Congress leaked anything.”

“So far as I know, there has been no request in writing,” Harman added. “I urge the Justice Department to carefully consider separation-of-powers issues and the appearance of intimidation before proceeding any further.”

House Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who has retained his own personal lawyer in the case, said he was aware that the FBI wanted to talk to him about the NSA leak, but added he has not yet met with agents conducting the probe. Whether the interviews with lawmakers will actually occur, and what the ground rules for those sessions would be, is the subject of ongoing negotiations between the Justice Department and Congressional lawyers, said Hoekstra.

While acknowledging his support for rooting out those who leak classified information, Hoekstra expressed concerns over whether having the FBI question the lawmakers who oversee their agency would upset the balance of power between Congress and the administration.

“I am passionate about finding out who leaked what and who is breaking the law,” the Michigan Republican said. “With that in mind, we need to be very careful in protecting the prerogatives of the House.”

To their credit, both Mr. Hoekstra and Nancy Pelosi seem willing to be interviewed:

...“I’ve been interviewed before by [the FBI] on leak cases, so it’s not unprecedented,” said Hoekstra, who served on the 9/11 committee. “We have to make sure what is done now is in agreement with the privileges of the House.”

Hoekstra’s committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday on the “on the role and responsibilities of the media in national security reporting.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was one of the first lawmakers briefed on the existence of the NSA surveillance program back in October 2001, did not object to being interviewed by FBI agents.

“It’s not unusual that the investigation would extend to all who were aware of the [NSA] program,” Pelosi said in a statement from her office. “If an interview is requested, I intend to be interviewed.”

Whenever details of intelligence and national security programs appear in the papers, there is a hue and cry on the conservative side that the Justice Department should seek to enforce the laws against leaking. Now that they are trying to do that, I hope that the House will cooperate fully.

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