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Bush Won't Give Congress Papers in CIA Leak Probe

Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush, asserting executive privilege, has rejected Congress' request for documents on FBI interviews with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney from a probe to find who leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.0717 03 1

The Bush administration said on Wednesday that turning over such records would violate the president's rights to counsel from his staff.

In a letter to the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Keith Nelson wrote, "The attorney general has requested that the president assert executive privilege with respect to these documents and the president has done so."

The letter was delivered on the same day the committee was scheduled to vote on a possible contempt resolution against Attorney General Michael Mukasey for failing to provide the requested information.

Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who chairs the committee, called the executive privilege claim "ludicrous," but postponed committee action against Mukasey, saying lawmakers needed time to review Bush's claim.

In 2003, as the Bush administration was preparing for war with Iraq, media reports surfaced discussing Wilson's work at the CIA. She is married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who at the time accused the Bush administration of tailoring intelligence information to justify the Iraq war.

Following the federal probe into the matter, Cheney aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted on obstruction and perjury charges. Bush subsequently commuted Libby's 2 1/2-year sentence.

Waxman said the probe did not get to the bottom of Cheney's possible role in the leak, prompting his committee to seek the FBI documents.

"There is a key document that could explain what the vice president knew and what he did," Waxman said, referring to Libby's statement to the FBI that it was "possible" Cheney instructed him to blow Wilson's CIA undercover identity.

Waxman also noted that a letter from Mukasey to Bush dated Wednesday regarding the executive privilege stance "also raises questions about the president's involvement ... the documents being withheld summarize conversations held directly with the president."

Both Mukasey and Nelson wrote that the White House has attempted to accommodate Waxman's probe of the scandal by making available some FBI reports of interviews with senior White House staff and agency officials.

"We are not prepared to make the same accommodation for reports of interviews with the president and the vice president," Nelson said.

Editing by David Alexander and Vicki Allen

© 2008 Copyright Reuters

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