House Democrats are seeking copies of two classified State Department memos from mid-2003 that were circulated within the White House and reportedly name CIA operative Valerie Plame, as well as other information related to the case.
Plame’s identity — and who disclosed it to reporters — is at the heart of a federal investigation that has ensnared senior Bush administration officials, including Karl Rove, the powerful White House deputy chief of staff.
On Thursday, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) introduced a resolution of inquiry ordering the White House, the departments of State and Defense and the CIA to turn over any documents they have on Plame to Congress.
Roughly 50 Democrats have signed onto the resolution, which has been referred to the House Intelligence Committee for action. Armed Services, International Relations and Judiciary also have to right to consider the legislation.
The two classified memos, dated June 10, 2003, and July 7, 2003, were produced by the State Department and included details on how Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was tapped to head a CIA-backed mission to the African nation of Niger the year before.
Wilson was asked at the time to look into reports that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain uranium from Niger for use in a nuclear-weapon program. Plame worked at the CIA, and her responsibilities included tracking the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Wilson has denied GOP claims that his wife unilaterally selected him for the mission.
Wilson reported back to U.S. officials that he was unable to verify the Niger claims, although President Bush and other administration officials later used the charge to help buttress the U.S. case to invade Iraq.
Plame’s job as a CIA operative was first reported by conservative columnist Robert Novak on July 14, 2003, just eight days after Wilson had written an op-ed column that criticized the Bush administration’s handling of intelligence information in the run-up to the Iraq war.
While Holt’s resolution doesn’t specifically mention the two State Department memos, Patrick Eddington, communications director for the New Jersey Democrat, confirmed that they fall within the purview of Holt’s proposal.
“Mr. Holt is very determined to see that this issue gets addressed,” said Eddington, a former CIA employee himself.
A copy of the July 7, 2003, memo, believed to be very similar to the earlier document, was given to former Secretary of State Colin Powell just before he left with Bush and other White House aides on a trip to Africa, according to The New York Times.
Rove has told the federal grand jury that he learned of Plame’s role in the Niger trip from journalists, according to published reports.
Eddington suggested that Holt, the ranking member of the intelligence policy subcommittee of the Intelligence Committee, would be willing to hold closed hearings by that panel on the Plame affair if the House GOP leadership favored that option.
“It would be favorable to see this issue addressed in a committee setting, classified if necessary, closed if necessary,” said Eddington. “Are [Republicans] going to do what needs to be done to get to the bottom of this?”
Other senior Democrats are also expected to push this week to get the State Department to release the two classified memos to Capitol Hill.
But House GOP leadership staffers predict that Holt’s resolution of inquiry will be derailed in the Intelligence panel, and they added that Congress should abstain from any Plame investigation while special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is pursuing his own investigation. Rove and several other senior Bush aides have been called before a federal grand jury to testify on whether they leaked Plame’s name and identity as a CIA operative to Novak or other reporters.
“Fitzgerald is doing a good, thorough job. Why can’t Democrats just let him go ahead with that and see what happens?” asked a senior Republican staffer.
Fitzgerald is reportedly looking into whether White House officials learned of Plame’s identity from the State Department memos and then leaked it to the press as part of a campaign to retaliate against Wilson.
While their minority status in both chambers prevents them from mounting full-scale investigations, both House and Senate Democrats have sought to exploit the political furor over the Plame affair.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) plans to hold a hearing of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on Friday to review incidents where CIA agents and operatives have their cover blown. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) plans a similar session on the House side on Thursday.