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Davis Moves Ahead With Berger Probe

WASHINGTON — House Members and aides may need to rethink their summer vacation plans, as what was expected to be a typically quiet August could instead feature a full docket of committee investigations, briefings and hearings.

With Democrats in Boston this week striving to outflank the GOP on national security issues, Republican leaders have ordered the chairmen of relevant House committees to begin examining the 9/11 commission’s recommendations for intelligence reform during the recess so the House can be ready for legislative action in September.

At the same time, Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) is moving forward with an investigation of former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger’s removal of classified documents from the National Archives.

Davis spokesman David Marin said that the panel’s staff has already begun scheduling meetings and briefings in connection with the Berger investigation, though he emphasized that, contrary to some press reports, there are no plans to hold hearings yet.

At the same time, Marin said, it is still possible that the committee could convene hearings in August. The panel has also not decided whether — or to whom — to issue subpoenas, though the committee would definitely like to hear from the main subject of the investigation at some point.

“We certainly hope to speak to Mr. Berger,” Marin said.

Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he was surprised by Davis’ eagerness to launch an investigation, given that he has rebuffed Democrats’ calls for probes into matters such as the Abu Ghraib prison abuse case.

“When I look at all the requests we’ve made for investigations, we were told we couldn’t do those ones because they were already under investigation,” Waxman said. “And now Sandy Berger … is an investigation Mr. Davis thinks we should duplicate.”

But Marin dismissed Waxman’s accusation that Davis was being hypocritical.

“That’s never been our litmus test, and he knows that,” Marin said. “We’ve never used a federal investigation as a reason not to do a hearing.”

While Davis is now eager to look into the Berger issue, the Virginian was less enthusiastic when the story first broke.

Asked last Tuesday whether he had any plans to look into the case, Davis was dismissive, saying, “No, not right now.”

But the next day he issued a statement announcing that his panel would in fact launch an investigation.

“These allegations are deeply troubling, and it’s our constitutional responsibility to find out what happened and why,” Davis said, adding, “The American people’s faith in our review of 9-11, in our war on terror, in our transparency, is literally at stake in this investigation.”

Davis’ change of heart came as Republican leaders, most notably Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) stridently denounced Berger and wondered aloud whether Berger’s actions were driven by sinister motives.

In a statement issued within minutes of Davis’ announcement, Hastert said he looked forward to the Government Reform investigation.

“Was Mr. Berger trying to cover-up key facts regarding intelligence failures during his watch?” Hastert asked. “What happened to those missing documents? Whose hands did they fall into? What kind of security risk does that pose to Americans today?”

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