Peoria Journal Star

October 21, 2006

LaHood letter fuels partisan dispute

By Paul M. Krawzak
And Marcus Stern
Copley News Service

 WASHINGTON, D.C. - Rep. Ray LaHood's call for an investigation into the leaking of a secret intelligence report has led to the suspension of a Democratic staff member and sparked the latest partisan squabble to divide the normally cooperative panel.

Top Republicans and Democrats hurled charges back and forth on Friday, accusing each other of jockeying for political advantage and abusing their authority with less than three weeks to go before the Nov. 7 election.

The brouhaha arose from a letter the Peoria Republican, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, made public this week. In it, he asked for an investigation into what he said was a "politically motivated" leak of portions of a secret National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to the New York Times.

The Times published a story on the report Sept. 23, touching off a partisan firestorm. The April 2006 report, later partially released by President Bush, said the war in Iraq had the unintended consequence of helping terrorist groups recruit fighters. It also said a victory over terrorists would discourage their recruitment efforts.

"I stand by what I said in my letter," LaHood said Friday. "People are fed up with these leaks and we need to find out if somebody on the committee, from the committee staff or someone else leaked this information to the New York Times."

LaHood, the vice chairman of the committee, cast suspicion on a Democratic staff member, who has been identified as Larry Hanauer. LaHood said Hanauer requested a copy of the report a few days before the Times published its story.

On Tuesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., stripped Hanauer of his access to classified material, pending an investigation.

Hanauer, whose identity was leaked to Fox News, hired attorney Jonathon Turley, who immediately fired off a letter to Hoekstra.

Turley, denying Hanauer was or even could have been the source of the leak, called it "an outrage that he and his family have been pulled into this political vortex."

Hoekstra's action also drew a rebuke from Democrats on the committee.

"I am appalled," Rep. Jane Harman, the committee's top Democrat, said in a letter to Hoekstra. "There is no evidence to support your judgment that the staffer gave information gleaned" from the report.

Harman added that two days before the Times story ran, the report was posted on an internal computer network accessible to about 40 committee staff members. Several other congressional committees and administration officials also had access to the report, raising the possibility someone else could have leaked it.

Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., a member of the committee, said he had asked Hanauer to provide him with a copy of the report for his review and that after completing his review, he gave it back to Hanauer to be re-filed. He decried Hoekstra's action against Hanauer as an "injustice."

LaHood wrote that while he did not have "credible information" that intelligence was leaked from the committee, "the implications of such would be dramatic."

"This may, in fact, be only coincidence, and simply 'look bad,"' he wrote. "But coincidence, in this town, is rare."

Hoekstra defended his action in a letter to Harman, saying that while it was uncertain that wrongdoing had occurred, it was "necessary to act swiftly" on a potential unauthorized disclosure.

LaHood said leaks have increased during the eight years he has served on the committee, compromising the nation's security.

"When information is leaked it hurts the ability of the - CIA and other intelligence-gathering agencies of our government to have credibility with sources," he said.

Earlier this week, LaHood asked for permission to make his Sept. 29 letter public when he became angry after Harman released an unclassified summary of the panel's inquiry into the corruption scandal of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif.

"I'm sick and tired of her (Harman's) politicizing the Intelligence Committee, particularly 21 days before the election," he said.

LaHood charged that Harman has become confrontational because she is worried about being tossed off the committee if Democrats take control of the House and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., becomes speaker.

"I mean, that's what this is all about," he said.

The Intelligence Committee is one of the most sensitive, bipartisan and secretive in Congress.

Fractious public behavior has been rare until recent weeks, when it erupted around what Harman said was a Republican delay in releasing the results of an inquiry into whether staffers were culpable in Cunningham's efforts to steer up to $80 million in contracts through the Intelligence Committee to friends who were bribing him.