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Chairmen Write to AG Gonzales on Vice President’s Office’s Handling of Classified Information

Posted on by Jesse Lee

Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, and Oversight and Government Reform Information Policy Subcommittee Chairman Wm. Lacy Clay today called upon Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to explain his role in the Vice President's extraordinary attempt to remove his office from executive branch oversight and the subsequent refusal to comply with procedures to protect classified information in the Office of the Vice President (OVP). The Chairmen specifically called on Gonzales to report on the status of his long-overdue response to the National Archives' request to rule on the legality of VP Cheney's actions.

Full letter (pdf):

June 27, 2007

The Honorable Alberto Gonzales
Attorney General
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

We are writing to request information about a legal review that the Department of Justice is currently conducting concerning whether the Office of the Vice President is required to comply with procedures to safeguard classified information that apply to other White House offices, such as the National Security Council.

The Oversight and Judiciary Committees have learned that the Vice President unilaterally exempted his office from Executive Order 12958, “Classified National Security Information,” which establishes a uniform, government-wide system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information. The executive order gives important responsibilities to the Information Security Oversight Office within the National Archives to ensure compliance with classified information safeguards. Although the Office of the Vice President initially complied with this executive order, it then refused to make required reports of classification activity covering 2003 and refused to permit a 2004 inspection based on the argument that the office is not an “entity within the executive branch.”

On January 9, 2007, J. William Leonard, Director of the Information Security Oversight Office, wrote to you requesting an interpretation as to whether the Office of the Vice President is bound by the executive order. Mr. Leonard’s request was made pursuant to a provision in the executive order that requires the Attorney General to resolve legal questions in response to such inquiries.

Due to conflicting statements from your department, the status of your review of this matter is unclear. More than six months have passed since Mr. Leonard’s letter to you, and the Information Security Oversight Office has received no response to its inquiry. In response to a FOIA request, the department’s Office of Legal Counsel stated on June 4, 2007, that no documents exist relating to your department’s response to Mr. Leonard’s letter. A department spokesperson confirmed that no “substantive work product” has been generated by the department in this matter. Last week, however, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice stated that this matter is under review in the department.

To help our Committees understand your actions in response to the request from the Archives, as well as the Department’s views on the legal status of the Office of the Vice President, we ask that you provide written answers and documents in response to the following questions:

(1) What is the status of your department’s response to the January 2007 request from the Archives?

a. When did the review commence?
b. Which individuals at the department have been assigned to review this matter?
c. Please produce all documents relating to your department’s review of this matter, including without limitation all communications, analyses, memoranda, or other documents.

(2) Have officials from the Department of Justice ever communicated with officials from the White House, including the Office of the Vice President, concerning the request from the Archives or the issue of whether the executive order does or should apply to the Office of the Vice President?

a. If so, please identify and explain the substance of any such communication.
b. Please produce all documents relating to any such communication.

(3) Has the Department of Justice ever taken a position on or analyzed the issue of the status or existence of the Vice President or the Office of the Vice President within the executive branch, the legislative branch, both, or neither?

a. If so, please identify all instances in which the department has addressed this issue and explain the position, if any, taken by the department.
b. Please produce all documents relating to this issue, including memoranda, legal briefs, communications, and any other documents.

(4) Have officials from the White House, including the Office of the Vice President, ever communicated with officials from the Department of Justice concerning the status or existence of the Vice President or the Office of the Vice President within the executive branch, the legislative branch, both, or neither?

a. If so, please identify and explain the substance of any such communication.
b. Please produce all documents relating to any such communication.

(5) When you were serving as White House Counsel, were you or anyone in your office involved in any way with drafting, assessing, or otherwise reviewing proposed revisions to the Executive Order in 2003?

a. If so, please explain whether you have considered recusing yourself from consideration of this issue.
b. If you have elected not to recuse yourself, please explain the basis for your decision.

As set forth in House Rule X, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee in the House of Representatives and has broad oversight jurisdiction, and the Committee on Judiciary has primary jurisdiction over the Department of Justice. An attachment to this letter provides additional information about how to respond to the Committees’ request.

We would appreciate your cooperation in this important matter. Please provide answers to the questions above and the requested materials by July 12, 2007. If you have any questions regarding this letter, please contact Michael Gordon at (202) 225-5420 or Elliot Mincberg at (202) 226-7687.

Sincerely,

Henry A. Waxman
Chairman
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

John Conyers, Jr.
Chairman
House Committee on Judiciary

Wm. Lacy Clay
Chairman
Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Enclosure

cc:

Tom Davis
Ranking Minority Member
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Lamar Smith
Ranking Minority Member
House Committee on Judiciary

Michael Turner
Ranking Minority Member
Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives

Full footnotes and citations in pdf copy >>

Read previous coverage of this issue from the Gavel >>

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