President Bush invoked executive privilege to keep Congress from seeing the FBI report of an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney and other records related to the administration's leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity in 2003.
The president's decision drew a sharp protest Wednesday from Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which had subpoenaed Attorney General Michael Mukasey to turn over the documents.
“This unfounded assertion of executive privilege does not protect a principle; it protects a person,” the California Democrat said. “If the vice president did nothing wrong, what is there to hide?”
Waxman left little doubt he would soon move for a committee vote to hold Mukasey in contempt of Congress.
Bush's assertion of privilege prevented Mukasey from complying with the House subpoena for records bearing on the unmasking of Plame at a time that the administration was trying to rebut criticism from her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, of Bush's rationale for going to war in Iraq.
Cheney's chief of staff in 2003, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was later convicted of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI about his role in leaking Plame's name and CIA affiliation to a reporter. Last July, Bush commuted Libby's 21/2-year sentence, sparing him from serving prison time.
Other records sought by the House committee include notes about Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, during which he made the case for invading Iraq in part by saying Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was pursuing uranium ore in Africa to make a nuclear weapon. That information not only turned out to be wrong, but in the spring of 2003, Wilson claimed publicly that he had gone to Africa for the CIA to investigate the report and advised the administration it was false months before Bush cited it in the speech.
Waxman held off an immediate contempt citation of Mukasey, but only as a courtesy to lawmakers not present Wednesday and to give all members a chance to read up on the matter.
In a Tuesday letter to Bush, Mukasey said the assertion of the privilege would not be about hiding anything but rather protecting the separation of powers, as well as the integrity of future Justice Department investigations of the White House. Several of the subpoenaed reports, Mukasey wrote, summarize conversations between Bush and advisers. “I am greatly concerned about the chilling effect that compliance with the committee's subpoena would have on future White House deliberations and White House cooperation with future Justice Department investigations,” Mukasey wrote.