WASHINGTON -- Oregonians called Peter DeFazio's office, worried there was a conspiracy buried in the classified portion of a White House plan for operating the government after a terrorist attack.
As a member of the U.S. House on the Homeland Security Committee, DeFazio, D-Ore., is permitted to enter a secure "bubbleroom" in the Capitol and examine classified material. So he asked the White House to see the secret documents.
On Wednesday, DeFazio got his answer: DENIED.
"I just can't believe they're going to deny a member of Congress the right of reviewing how they plan to conduct the government of the United States after a significant terrorist attack," DeFazio says.
Homeland Security Committee staffers told his office that the White House initially approved his request, but it was later quashed. DeFazio doesn't know who did it or why.
"We're talking about the continuity of the government of the United States of America," DeFazio says. "I would think that would be relevant to any member of Congress, let alone a member of the Homeland Security Committee."
Bush administration spokesman Trey Bohn declined to say why DeFazio was denied access: "We do not comment through the press on the process that this access entails. It is important to keep in mind that much of the information related to the continuity of government is highly sensitive."
Norm Ornstein, a legal scholar who studies government continuity at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said he "cannot think of one good reason" to deny access to a member of Congress who serves on the Homeland Security Committee.
"I find it inexplicable and probably reflective of the usual, knee-jerk overextension of executive power that we see from this White House," Ornstein said.
This is the first time DeFazio has been denied access to documents. DeFazio has asked Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., to help him access the documents.
"Maybe the people who think there's a conspiracy out there are right," DeFazio said.