Taking a leak

Sure, News Hits is in the information business. But we don’t usually expect to be a conduit between congressmen. That, however, is exactly what happened when we began looking into a letter U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Detroit and other Democrats recently sent to House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner.

The letter asked Sensen-brenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, to hold “hearings and investigate the leaking of Valerie Plame’s name and CIA operative status to the press, compromising Ms. Plame’s safety and other national security assets.”

Plame is the wife of Joseph Wilson, who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq for Bush I during the Gulf War. More than a year before the leak, Wilson was asked by the CIA to investigate suspicions that Iraq was secretly obtaining weapons-grade uranium from Niger. Wilson concluded that the allegations weren’t true.

He wasn’t the only one. But that didn’t stop Bush Jr. from claiming that it was happening. He used the allegation in his State of the Union speech to help build a case for the invasion of Iraq.

Wilson subsequently challenged the validity of Bush’s assertion. Then, in July, syndicated right-wing columnist Robert Novak took a swipe at Wilson’s credibility, saying he’d only gotten the Niger assignment because of a recommendation made by his wife, an undercover CIA agent. Not content to stop there, Novak cited administration officials as his source when he revealed the name of Wilson’s wife. It is a crime for any government official to disclose such information.

Conyers and many others believe the leak was in retaliation for Wilson’s outspokenness.

“They were deliberately putting her in jeopardy by revealing to a political ally, Robert Novak, that she is an operative, which is a terrible way to pay back your own,” Conyers tells us.

News Hits called Sensen-brenner’s D.C. office to find out if he intends to hold hearings on the leak.

The answer was “no,” with his office saying it wants to let the Justice Department figure out whodunit.

“In general, while ongoing investigations are an issue, it is the chairman’s policy to not conduct any type of oversight, not to hold hearings that would interfere,” says Sensenbrenner spokesman Jeff Lungren.

It’s a good thing we asked, since Sensenbrenner had not bothered to tell Conyers.

Conyers, formerly chair of the House Judiciary Committee, agreed that it is “standard” policy to not hold hearings while investigations are under way. In this case, however, there are grave questions about the Justice Department’s zeal to uncover the leaker or leakers.

“It has been nearly a month since the Department of Justice began its criminal investigation and little headway has been made,” wrote Conyers and 15 other Democrats in the Oct. 30 letter. “In fact, the publicly available information demonstrates that the investigation is not being conducted in a thorough or unbiased manner.”

Among other things, the DOJ gave the White House 11 hours notice before officially launching its investigation, “leaving ample time for the destruction of evidence,” the letter claimed.

At the very least, Sensen-brenner should have notified Conyers of his decision to deny the request.

“It’s just courtesy,” says Conyers.

Instead, he had to get that word from News Hits.

Conyers accuses the GOP of hypocrisy, noting that the party that would stop at nothing to launch multiple investigations of President Bill Clinton is now taking cover.

“They made huge issues of no issues,” says Conyers of the GOP’s conduct during Clinton’s tenure. “Here is a matter that could be criminal. If what we think happened is true, there is a lot of accounting to be done.”

Just don’t count on the Bush administration or a Republican-controlled Congress to do it.

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