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Berger Probe Rekindles Committee Animosity

WASHINGTON — The House Government Reform Committee’s fledgling investigation of the Sandy Berger case has turned the panel into its old squabbling self, with Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) and ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) trading bitter accusations of partisanship.

The dispute comes as Government Reform prepares for an Aug. 3 hearing on the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. GOP leaders announced Wednesday evening that at least five other committees — Armed Services, Financial Services, Homeland Security, International Relations and Intelligence — also plan sessions in August on the subject.

The Berger trouble began last week when Davis announced that the committee would launch a probe into the former national security adviser’s removal of classified documents from the National Archives, which falls under the jurisdiction of Government Reform. The panel has begun assembling information for the investigation but has not scheduled any hearings.

On Tuesday morning, Waxman simultaneously sent to Davis and the media a seven-page, heavily footnoted letter accusing the chairman of seeking to investigate Berger for political reasons after repeatedly ignoring Democratic requests to probe the Bush administration’s alleged misdeeds.

Waxman frequently leveled similar charges against Davis’ predecessor as chairman, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.).

“When you became Chairman of the Committee in 2003, you promised a new approach, and in many respects, you have kept that commitment,” Waxman wrote to Davis. “Unfortunately, it now appears that the Committee is poised to repeat some of the abuses of the Burton years.”

Waxman went on to allege that the Bush administration has been “shielded from scrutiny under your chairmanship,” citing numerous examples that included the Abu Ghraib prison abuse case and the Valerie Plame leak case.

Tuesday evening, Davis wrote back to Waxman that he had “reached a new low in election-year hysteria.”

“While your letter pays lip service to the bipartisan cooperation we have enjoyed … the implications and insinuations it contains only serve to highlight the partisan myopia that now drives your agenda,” Davis wrote. “The fact that, rather than engage me in a dialogue of this matter, you sent this letter to the press simply highlights the blatantly political nature of your interest in the Committee’s oversight plan.”

Davis strongly dismissed the suggestion that he was investigating Berger because of his party affiliation.

“The fact is, I don’t care if it’s Sandy Berger or Warren Burger or Veggie Burger who walked off with ‘code word’ documents,” he wrote.

Davis also asserted that the committee had in fact looked into the Plame and Abu Ghraib cases, but just hadn’t held hearings on them. “Investigations are not the same as hearings,” the chairman wrote. “Sometimes they demand them, sometimes they do not.”