WASHINGTON — A House intelligence committee meeting was abruptly terminated when Justice Department officials refused to be sworn in before briefing the lawmakers.
The officials had been expected to brief the committee Wednesday on the department’s review of an internal CIA report on the 2001 shootdown of a plane over Peru that was carrying American missionaries. Two of the passengers were killed.
Officials are routinely sworn in before giving testimony at formal congressional hearings, but the meeting was billed as an informal briefing — which normally does not require taking an oath.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said Justice employees “have previously briefed committee staff on this matter and were prepared to provide a similar informal briefing to committee members.”
“We are unaware of any precedent for Department officials providing informal briefings to be placed under oath,” she said.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., the top Republican on the committee, questioned Wednesday why the Justice officials refused to be sworn in. “Why is Attorney General Eric Holder afraid of having Justice Department employees be required to tell the truth?” Hoekstra said.
Hoekstra said Justice’s refusal to brief under oath is part of a “disturbing pattern that has emerged of the Obama administration refusing or finding reasons to refuse to share information with Congress.”
Both the House and the Senate intelligence committees have advanced legislation that would require more intelligence disclosures to Congress, though the details of the bills differ. The Obama administration has threatened to veto the House legislation if it is passed.
Hoekstra has raised concerns about the CIA’s handling of the Peru incident, saying the classified CIA report identified the names of personnel who misled Congress and obstructed a Justice Department investigation into whether criminal charges should have been filed in the case. The Justice Department in 2005 decided against filing charges.