In testimony given today before the house oversight committee, James Knodell, Director of the Office of Security at the White House, revealed that the the administration had never launched an internal probe to determine the source for the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003. In addition to revealing a deep reluctance on the part of the administration in determining the party responsible for the leak, Knodell's testimony directly contradicted a prior statement from President Bush promising a full internal probe.
Ms. Plame Wilson, who in testimony earlier today confirmed her status at the time of the scandal as a covert CIA official and struck down assertions that she designed her husband's 2002 mission to Niger, told the committee, "My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior officials in the White House and State Department. I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained."
Asked about an obligation of federal officials to report on any knowledge of a leak to a security officer, Knodell confirmed the requirement and admitted that not a single member of the administration had come to speak to him.
Committee chair Henry Waxman, who in his opening statement described the the panel's duty to "determine what went wrong and insist on accountability," was taken aback by the implications of Knodell's testimony, describing it as "a breach within a breach."
"Rep. Waxman at one point said that he regretted not being able to put up a video of the president promising a full probe but added, 'I guess we will leave that to The Daily Show,'" Editor and Publisher reported.
At Firedoglake, in a post entitled "Well that was interesting...," Jane Hamsher called Knodell's admission that there had "been absolutely no investigation into the leaking of Plame's identity by employee Karl Rove" the "big news of the day."
"To say the response from the committee was shock would be an understatement," Hamsher added.
At BradBlog, Brad Friedman also noted that the Congressional members were "flabbergasted" at the admission.
"Also, [the] third panel featuring Victoria Toensing, apologist for White House leaks, was fascinating as her previous claims that 'Plame was not covert' and that 'she didn't serve overseas with five years prior to the leak' had been demolished by Plame-Wilson's earlier testimony," Friedman added. "She attempted to mitigate throughout her testimony that Plame-Wilson was not covert 'under the provisions of the statute.'"
But, over at Free Republic, a user named "mass55th" complained about the lack of Republicans in attendance at the hearing, and took offense at Waxman's exchange with Toensing.
Mass55th wrote, "Thanks for posting the number for the Minority of the Committee. I just called and told the woman who answered about my disappointment with there not being more representatives from the Republicans sitting in on the hearing today. I said the least they could have done was to have individuals there, especially when Victoria Toensing testified, and that when Henry Waxman called Ms. Toensing a liar, there was no Republican making any kind of objection to it on record. I said a few other things, but I won't go into detail."
At her blog, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi posted the following seven-minute video from the hearing, which includes questions from Waxman and Rep. Elijah Cummings to Knodell and the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives and Records Administration, Bill Leonard.
Excerpts from transcript:
REP. WAXMAN: Thank you very much. The chair will recognize himself to start off the questions.
Mr. Knodell, you're the one in charge at the White House for safeguarding classified information, isn't that correct?
MR. KNODELL: That's correct.
REP. WAXMAN: And in -- in doing so, you have an executive order, 12958, that implements the regulations for protection of this information. I want to ask you about that and, of course, we're looking at it in the context of Mrs. Wilson's identity being disclosed. Federal regulations require that any person who has knowledge of the loss or compromise of classified information has an obligation to report to the White House security officer. I'm going to read from 5 CFR Section 1312.30, "Any White House employee who has knowledge of the loss or possible compromise of classified information should report the circumstances to the EOP security officer," end quote. Is that accurate, Mr. Knodell?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, it is.
REP. WAXMAN: And do White House officials who know about the disclosure of classified information have an obligation to report what they know to you?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, sir.
REP. WAXMAN: And Mr. Leonard, you're one of the nation's experts on protection of classified information.
Do federal officials who learn of the possible breach of classified information have an obligation to report it to the security officer at the White House?
MR. LEONARD: Any individual who becomes aware of a security violation, especially one which may involve an unauthorized disclosure, has the obligation to promptly report that matter to the designated official to receive it.
REP. WAXMAN: And that's whether it was intentionally disclosed or unintentionally disclosed.
MR. LEONARD: Yes, sir. That's correct.
REP. WAXMAN: Mr. Knodell, I want to ask you about whether the White House officials complied with this requirement after the disclosure of Mrs. Wilson's identity. Let me start with the former White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer.
Mr. Fleischer had conversations with Walter Pincus of The Washington Post and David Gregory of "NBC News" about Ms. Wilson's identity. These conversations took place in July 2003. Almost immediately it was clear that Ms. Wilson's identity was classified information. Mr. Knodell, the regulations require Mr. Fleischer to report what he knew about this disclosure to you. Did he do that?
MR. KNODELL: Mr. Chairman, I thought the agreement here for me today was I would not discuss specific investigations.
REP. WAXMAN: Well, as I understood it, we wouldn't discuss the Libby case. That was the concern that we were going to go rehash the Libby case. But this is the Valerie Plame Wilson case, and it's a question that Congress is exploring to find out whether our security laws and regulations are working. And one way to find that out is to find out whether you were told that there was a violation and the rules were upheld and followed in the requirements and obligations to report it to you.
MR. KNODELL: Mr. Chairman, that happened before my tenure in this current position. I began this position in August of 2004.
REP. WAXMAN: Mm-hmm. Well, do you -- are you aware of whether the report was made by Mr. Fleischer to your predecessor?
MR. KNODELL: No sir, I'm not, Mr. Chairman.
REP. WAXMAN: Are you aware if there's any investigation that ever took place in the White House about the release of this classified information?
MR. KNODELL: I am not.
REP. WAXMAN: Do you know whether Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser, came forward and reported what he knew about the breach of Mrs. Wilson's identity? After all, we learned that Mr. Rove talked about her identity with at least two journalists, Robert Novak and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine.
MR. KNODELL: Mr. Chairman, I have no knowledge of any investigation within my office.
REP. WAXMAN: Okay. How long have you been in that office?
MR. KNODELL: Since August of 2004.
REP. WAXMAN: Since August of 2004 -- two-and-a-half years. And were you aware in the last two-and-a-half years that this was an issue for which there was a lot of concern?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, Mr. Chairman. I was.
REP. WAXMAN: Did you learn that from people in the White House?
MR. KNODELL: Through the press.
REP. WAXMAN: Through the press.
Mr. Leonard, the regulations seem clear. It says that officials like Mr. Rove have an obligation to report security violations. Mr. Knodell, wouldn't there have to be a report that would have been filed in your office?
MR. KNODELL: If we were notified there would be, sir. Yes.
REP. WAXMAN: Okay. So if you were notified, a report would be on file. Is that right?
MR. KNODELL: Correct.
REP. WAXMAN: And you don't know if there's one on file?
MR. KNODELL: That's correct.
REP. WAXMAN: Is that correct -- you don't even know if there's one on file?
MR. KNODELL: There is not one on file.
REP. WAXMAN: There is not one on file.
MR. KNODELL: That's correct.
REP. WAXMAN: You know that there is no report on file that classified information was disclosed and that report was about Fleischer or Rove or all the other names?
MR. KNODELL: Mr. Chairman, not within the Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness.
REP. WAXMAN: Okay.
Mr. Leonard, just to clarify the point, isn't there an obligation under the law to have that information filed by the person who learns that he disclosed classified information -- even inadvertently?
MR. LEONARD: Again, Mr. Chairman, the requirement is for anyone who becomes aware of a violation, the person who may be involved in committing it or someone who is otherwise aware of it should properly report that to the designated official so that an appropriate inquiry and investigation can be conducted.
REP. WAXMAN: Well, these people may not have known at the time they disclosed this information to the press, but they certainly learned afterwards. Do they have an obligation, even then, to report?
MR. LEONARD: Yes, Mr. Chairman. Again, the purpose of the notification is to allow for the conduct of an investigation or an inquiry in order to, at the very least, determine what the causes were so as to provide for corrective action to assess the possibility of damage to national security.
REP. WAXMAN: Last question to Mr. Knodell: Was any corrective action taken -- was any disciplinary action taken against Mr. Rove failing to report his knowledge of the breach of Mrs. Wilson's identity?
MR. KNODELL: No, Mr. Chairman.
REP. WAXMAN: No, no action was taken or no, you don't know?
MR. KNODELL: No action was taken.
REP. WAXMAN: Okay. Thank you.
REP. TOM DAVIS (R-VA): Mr. Chairman, let me just -- I think -- Mr. Knodell, you just found out you were coming here yesterday. Is that correct?
MR. KNODELL: I actually had word of it earlier in the week, but found out definitively yesterday. Yes, sir.
REP. DAVIS: Okay. Generally, committee rules about advance notice and consultation to protect both the majority and minority rights we get notice on these. And it requires that members be informed in writing of witnesses and the likely scope of their testimony three days prior to a hearing. We were informed only yesterday of the addition of two witnesses to today's -- which doesn't generally allow us the time to prepare that we would ordinarily like.
Do you know, was the possibility of a subpoena discussed with you or with Mr. Fielding in terms of your coming here today?
MR. KNODELL: I understand that there was talk of a subpoena.
REP. DAVIS: Just for the record, the minority was not consulted on that at all.
REP. WAXMAN: Gentleman yield, please.
REP. DAVIS: Yes.
REP. WAXMAN: As I understand it, Mr. Knodell was expected to come here and that information was out there a week prior to today and it was shared with the minority staff.
We found out yesterday that Mr. Knodell was not going to be permitted to testify. I called the White House counsel and suggested that we might have to issue a subpoena unless Mr. Knodell was made available. I was told a subpoena would not be necessary and Mr. Knodell is here. So I'd like to clarify that.
REP. DAVIS: My understanding was that the invitation had come to offer, but we weren't notified until yesterday that you'd appear. But let me just start.
When an agency creates classified material -- let's say the CIA or -- and then shares it with another agency, what obligations and responsibilities does the originator have to convey the classification status to the recipient?
MR. KNODELL: Well, if it's a document it would be clearly marked on that document.
REP. DAVIS: How about an individual?
MR. KNODELL: They should be told that it's classified material that's being passed.
REP. DAVIS: To your knowledge -- and this predates you -- there was no knowledge at the White House of Mrs. Plame's covert status? Have you been able -- or can you not comment on that?
MR. KNODELL: I can't comment. I don't have any knowledge of it.
REP. DAVIS: You have no knowledge of it.
Mr. Leonard, let me just ask this: Does the burden generally fall on the agency that has the classification or that would have an employee in a covert status to convey that? How else would another agency know?
MR. LEONARD: With respect to preparing classification status, the burden is or the responsibility -- clearly the preferred way is immediate notice to the recipient of classified information. That can happen either by markings on a document if it's written notification; or if it's oral notification it would be something along the lines --
REP. DAVIS: Well, in this case there were briefings. There were briefings from individuals and names on briefing. But there would not be any documentation, would there, to say this person's covert or not covert, would there, as a general rule?
MR. LEONARD: When the disclosure is oral, normally it would be proceeded by something along the lines "What I'm about to tell you is classified at such-and-such a level." Another way to disclose or to provide classification guidance is to again to have a written classification guide that would provide specifics as to what's classified at what level, or to convey the substance of a classification guide through the course of briefings and whatever.
And then lastly, all cleared individuals have an affirmative responsibility, by virtue of signing a nondisclosure agreement, that if there is any question in their mind as to the true classification status of information they are provided, they are obligated to seek clarification before they further disclose.
REP. DAVIS: But is there an obligation to ask on the part of the recipient?
MR. LEONARD: If there is uncertainty in the mind of the recipient by virtue of the nondisclosure agreement, or --
REP. DAVIS: I mean, the difficulty we have in this situation is -- I mean, there are a lot of people who work for the CIA and are not undercover or in a covert operation. And in fact, they fill it out on applications publicly. Everybody knows they work there. And there's a difficulty -- I'm just wondering: What is the obligation of a recipient agency at that point to ask appropriate questions, or should the obligation be on the CIA affirmatively to protect their employees? That's really the question here.
MR. LEONARD: There is --
REP. DAVIS: Because we've heard no testimony in the first panel that there was any knowledge on the part of anybody who was passing this information that Mrs. Plame was in a covert status.
Had there been, I think, we would have seen the investigation turn out differently at this point.
MR. KNODELL: There is an affirmative obligation on the part of the party who's disclosing the information, if there is uncertainty in the mind of the recipient, there is likewise an affirmative responsibility to separate --
REP. DAVIS: Let me ask you both this. This was the situation, I think it's clear Mrs. Plame appeared to have handled this appropriately, but if a newspaper's getting ready to out an operative, or say, out, in the case -- a top secret memo or something, and there are penalties attached, what do you do at that point to let them know they are violating the law, to let them know that they are going out with top secret information, or in this case, outing an agent? What would be the obligation, at that point, of the CIA to go forward and notify the individuals that are suspected of outing this or that are on the verge of doing this, that are exploring this?
MR. KNODELL: Well, I think clearly if they know that classified information is going to be leaked, at least it's incumbent upon them to contact --
REP. DAVIS: But how would they do it? I mean, how would they do it? Do they, "Oh, don't do this," because when you don't do this, the press, that's a --
MR. KNODELL: Well, if they can contact them, and because they have the classified information, they can have them sign a non- disclosure agreement barring them from discussing any further --
REP. DAVIS: Would it be appropriate to say this is classified information and will hurt national security?
MR. KNODELL: Absolutely.
REP. DAVIS: Which they should do that, shouldn't they?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, they should.
REP. DAVIS: We don't know what the facts were in this, and I hope to work with Mr. Waxman to get the facts in this particular case. And we -- Mr. Leonard, would you agree with that?
MR. LEONARD: It's a judgment call, Mr. Davis. There certainly will be circumstances where it is prudent to intercede along those lines. There'll be other circumstances where it may not be because it could serve to confirm something we don't want to confirm. And, quite frankly, just because something is in the media, it doesn't mean it's accurate.
REP. DAVIS: No, they're not. But if you're the CIA or with an agency that has that, and you know they have the information, and they're going to come out with it --
MR. LEONARD: Again --
REP. DAVIS: -- at that point, that argument goes out the window.
MR. LEONARD: Again, it depends upon what the nature of the information is, sir.
REP. DAVIS: If it's true. If it's true.
MR. LEONARD: Right, it depends upon what's the nature of the information. In your example of the identity of a covert officer, that would be prudent information.
REP. DAVIS: I think one of the issues here, aside from all the political sideshow, is the fact that, once the agency knew one of their operatives, covert operatives were going to be outed, what steps did they take at that point? They knew a story was pending. Mrs. Plame was testifying here under oath that they knew this story was coming. In fact, her husband said, "He did it."
Obviously, there were some conversations. And exactly what did the CIA do to protect their operative? At that point, the obligation doesn't go to the White House, who, we aren't even sure was in that particular chain with the outing of that story.
But what do they or should they have done. And I hope that we can explain that further. Thank you.
REP. WAXMAN: Thank you, Mr. Davis. Mr. Cummings.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And I want to thank you gentlemen for testifying. Mr. Knodell, let me -- is it Knodell?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, it is. Knodell.
REP. CUMMINGS: Let me ask you a few questions, because you -- in answering some of the chairman's questions, you left me shocked. And I want to sure I heard you right. Are you saying, with regard to this case, that is, the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson, there is no report?
MR. KNODELL: Not in my office. There is none.
REP. CUMMINGS: And, are you also saying that there was no investigation?
MR. KNODELL: Not by my office.
REP. CUMMINGS: Not by your office. And so you -- I could conclude then that there were no sanctions. Is that correct?
MR. KNODELL: There were --
REP. CUMMINGS: No sanctions within your office. I mean -- is it one of your jobs -- is part of your job to recommend sanctions where you find that there has been a breach?
MR. KNODELL: Correct. But there was already an outside investigation that was taking place, a criminal investigation.
REP. CUMMINGS: So you --
MR. KNODELL: So that's why we took no action.
REP. CUMMINGS: Now, one of your main objectives for being in the White House, to make sure that you -- to make sure that these kinds of things don't happen. Is that right?
MR. KNODELL: Correct.
REP. CUMMINGS: And I would assume that if anyone were to take the job that you took, that one of their -- in considering what happened before you got there, that this would be something that would be on the minds of everybody, because again, this is like, bells ringing, alarms going off. This is the kind of thing that you don't want to do because this is could end up in your lap. Is that right?
MR. KNODELL: It's a -- in this particular case, you're absolutely right. This started long before my tenure in this position. By the time I took this position, the criminal investigation was already underway.
REP. CUMMINGS: But did you look into it at all? You didn't look into it at all? I mean --
MR. KNODELL: No.
REP. CUMMINGS: -- just so that you could make sure that you did your job right and didn't allow this to happen again.
MR. KNODELL: We didn't want to have collateral investigations going on at the same time, sir.
REP. CUMMINGS: So, when -- if there's a criminal investigation, and you have got to -- and you're trying to make sure it doesn't happen again, so you don't even look into it at all. In other words, you as the guy -- you're the guy who is responsible for guarding all of this and making sure that everything goes right. So it sounds to me like we had a breach on top of a breach. We had one situation where Ms. Valerie Plame-Wilson's identity and covert status was disclosed, and then, within the very office within the White House, there's no report, there's no investigation and there are no sanctions.
MR. KNODELL: Sir, again, the -- any reporting would have place prior to my arriving into the office.
REP. CUMMINGS: Now the criminal case --
REP. WAXMAN: Will the gentleman yield to me --
REP. CUMMINGS: Of course.
REP. WAXMAN: -- because I just want to pin this point down. Do you know whether there was an investigation at the White House after the leaks came out?
MR. KNODELL: I don't have any knowledge of an investigation within my office.
REP. WAXMAN: Ever?
MR. KNODELL: I do not.
REP. WAXMAN: Because the president said he was investigating this matter, and was going to get to the bottom of it. You're not familiar that any -- you're not aware that any investigation took place?
MR. KNODELL: Not within my office, sir.
REP. WAXMAN: And if there was an investigation, what were you referring to? Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation?
MR. KNODELL: Yes. The outside investigation.
REP. WAXMAN: Okay. That didn't take -- that didn't start until months and months later. And that had the purpose of narrowly looking to see whether there was a criminal law violated. But there was an obligation for the White House to investigate whether classified information was being leaked inappropriately, wasn't there?
MR. KNODELL: If that was the case, yes.
REP. WAXMAN: Okay, thank you.
REP. TOM DAVIS (R-VA): Could I just ask the gentleman for one very quick question --
REP. WAXMAN: I yield.
REP. DAVIS: -- (cross talk.) Would the initiative of a criminal investigation relieve those who made those disclosures of the obligation to report to you by forcing them to disclose could violate their Fifth Amendment rights?
MR. KNODELL: Actually, in regards to the security violation, we encourage self-reporting. And we would encourage them to contact our office.
REP. CUMMINGS: Reclaiming my time, if Mr. Rove, for example, the number one advisor to the president of the United States, received this information, or had anything to do with the disclosing of a covert agent's identity, and let's -- now we have a situation where it appears that the criminal trial is over, do -- would your agency have anything -- I mean, your office have anything to do now, or do you just close the books and say it's over?
MR. KNODELL: I've got no indication from the Department of Justice or any other agency --
REP. CUMMINGS: Would he -- would Mr. Rove have had a duty to report any kind of breach?
MR. KNODELL: Yes.
REP. CUMMINGS: Even today?
MR. KNODELL: At the time of the occurrence.
REP. CUMMINGS: I'm sorry?
MR. KNODELL: At the time of the occurrence, when the violation took place.
REP. CUMMINGS: All right. Thank you.
REP. WAXMAN: Thank you.
Before I recognize the next witness, I just want to clarify this point. The investigation by Mr. Fitzgerald didn't take place for months and months and months after it was well-known that there had been a leak of the identity of a covert CIA agent. Now, as I understand it, there's an obligation for the White House to conduct an immediate investigation to find out whether they needed to suspend security clearances of somebody who had leaked this information, to maybe take disciplinary action against an individual who might have been involved, and thirdly, to find out who divulged it.
And the White House had that obligation, because this was a matter of important, highest-order national security. Am I stating things correctly, Mr. Leonard?
MR. LEONARD: Mr. Chairman, as you point out, whenever there is suspected unauthorized disclosure or compromise, there is an affirmative responsibility to do an inquiry. At the very least to determine -- to implement corrective action. So that -- subsequent and additional and similar violations do not continue to occur, and also to be able to ensure that any potential damage to national security is assessed.
And part of the assessment of corrective action is also the assessment of the need for sanctions.
REP. WAXMAN: Right after the Novak column appeared, there was an outrage that this was disclosing a covert agent. And not only that, the CIA was so angered by it that they wrote a letter to the Justice Department demanding an investigation. And in light of this, which took place immediately after the information of the leak was disclosed, the White House still has not initiated an investigation. Am I correct in that statement, Mr. Knodell?
MR. KNODELL: That's correct. My office does not.
REP. WAXMAN: Thank you.
REP. DIANE WATSON (D-CA): Thank you.
Mr. Knodell, are you the Director of the Office of Security?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, ma'am. I'm the Chief Security --
REP. WATSON: Executive Office of the President?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, ma'am.
REP. WATSON: The White House?
MR. KNODELL: I work for the Office of Administration, but yes.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Impeach Cheney first.
REP. WATSON: How long have you been on the job?
MR. KNODELL: I started this position in August of 2004.
REP. WATSON: 2004 -- and this is March of 2007. I just want to establish that for the record. The investigation that was led by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald revealed that a number of White House officials -- including former Chief of Staff of the Vice President, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, senior adviser to the president, Karl Rove and the White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer -- discussed and disclosed information concerning Ms. Wilson's CIA employment status.
With respect to some of these officials, the Fitzgerald proceedings and how they obtained the information was discussed, and Mr. Libby, for example, received information about Ms. Plame's CIA employment from the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the vice president, and another aide to the vice president. What is not publicly known, however, is how Mr. Karl Rove learned of Ms. Wilson's employment status.
So, Mr. -- it is Knodell?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, ma'am.
REP. WATSON: Under the requirements governing classified information, the White House should have conducted an investigation -- would that be you?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, ma'am. It would be my office.
REP. WATSON: Of the breach regarding Ms. Wilson's CIA employment status, can you tell us how Mr. Rove learned about Ms. Wilson's employment status at the CIA?
MR. KNODELL: I cannot.
REP. WATSON: And you've been on since when?
MR. KNODELL: August of 2004.
REP. WATSON: And you cannot tell us, if you investigated, how that information was leaked? Loudly, for the record please.
MR. KNODELL: Yes. There was no investigation from the Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness. That's correct.
REP. WATSON: Isn't that unusual, and you -- that's why I wanted you to establish your position. You're the Director of the Office of Security, and you did no investigation of how this information was out there?
MR. KNODELL: That's correct.
REP. WATSON: Okay. Has there been any investigation by your office into how Mr. Rove would have obtained the information? Apparently, your answer is no.
MR. KNODELL: That's correct.
REP. WATSON: It seems to me that there is some dereliction of duty. If you are the Director, and you are to oversee the security from the White House, and you're telling me there was no investigation.
MR. KNODELL: That's correct.
REP. WATSON: Mr. Chairman, I think we ought to further investigate why the director's office, whether it was the person who preceded him, and now he falls into this -- and he is the witness here -- but I want us to get to the truth as to why the Office of Security did not do an investigation.
This goes to the core of the security in this country and our operatives abroad. And I think the reason why the intelligence was so faulty, and we went to war against a sovereign nation, was because of the failure in your office and the CIA to have accurate information.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this time.
REP. WAXMAN: (Off mike.) -- gentlelady.
Mr. Van Hollen.
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thank the witnesses for their testimony. I think you can hear that the members of the committee are pretty stunned that no investigation was undertaken into these breaches.
My question, Mr. Knodell -- I just want to understand. Is it now -- it is a matter of White House security policy, that if there's a criminal investigation into a leak out of the White House, that the Security office does not undertake its own investigation or administrative action?
MR. KNODELL: We would not run a collateral investigation.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: So let me just make sure I understand this. You have somebody who's accused of leaking -- there's a court proceeding that may go on for years and years and years; the alleged leaker continues to be in the White House, continues to be potentially there to leak information, and it's the policy of the White House to take no action, to ask any question of the alleged leaker to determine whether or not that person's security clearance, at the very least, should be revoked.
MR. KNODELL: No, that's -- that is not the case.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: Well, what is -- what is the case?
MR. KNODELL: The -- an investigation should be done --
REP. VAN HOLLEN: So an investigation should be done, right?
MR. KNODELL: Correct.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: But an investigation was not done.
MR. KNODELL: That's correct.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: Okay. And clearly the standard in the criminal investigation like this one, one of the questions was whether people had knowledge of whether there was a covert -- that someone was a covert operative. But the standard, as I understand, for your purposes, is simply a question of whether classified information was disclosed. Isn't that right?
MR. KNODELL: Could you rephrase that for me, please?
REP. VAN HOLLEN: In other words, as I understand the regulations, your office has an obligation to undertake an investigation when classified information has been disclosed.
MR. KNODELL: Correct.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: There's not, as a preliminary matter, any question of whether it was an intentional disclosure, you're supposed to look into any disclosure, isn't that right?
MR. KNODELL: That's correct.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: So now what my question is, I don't understand why -- I mean, I understand a little time has elapsed, but given what you've just testified to, why aren't you undertaking an investigation today? These are -- these are all now publicly disclosed information, publicly disclosed classified information, by officials in the White House. You have said it is not the policy to suspend an administration proceeding pending a criminal investigation. It's very possible that people -- and it looks very likely that people's -- clearly leaked classified information - why aren't we taking an investigation today?
MR. KNODELL: Mr. Congressman, I will take this back, we'll review this -- when I get back to the office, I'll review this with senior management. We need to ensure that the -- all criminal investigations have been concluded, and we will certainly look into it.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: Well, if I could just -- just stop you on that. I understand that the criminal is being concluded, but I understood your testimony a minute ago to say that you would conduct an administrative investigation, even during a pending criminal investigation.
MR. KNODELL: No, sir.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: So it is the policy -- so then it is the policy of the White House not to undertake any administrative investigation as long as there are criminal investigations going. Is that written down somewhere?
MR. KNODELL: (D.S.C 6.8 ?), I believe -- is in there, where there will not be a collateral investigation, I believe. I believe that's the case.
MR. LEONARD: Can I clarify something, Mr. Congressman? Clearly, when there are -- is a need for an administrative inquiry in a criminal investigation, if you have a situation where there are, in fact, competing priorities, competing national interest priorities, or whatever -- and so at the very least, it can be awkward. And so I'm not too sure we can say that there's a hard fast rule one way or the other because, quite frankly, there could be situations where someone could make a case that an administrative inquiry, while there's a criminal investigation going on, can amount to obstruction of justice.
So those types of things have to be sorted out and there is no clear-cut issue. From a classification point of view, I would submit that the immediate concern should, first and foremost, be -- let's make sure that we're not going to have any additional security violations that would result in additional compromises. And that should not wait.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: Let, me -- if I may, Mr. Chairman. I mean, the GAO has looked into this issue, and it's clear that -- as I understand the rules in the White House are supposed to be similar to the rules that apply in any agency, isn't that right -- with respect to how you treat these, is that right?
MR. LEONARD: Yes, that's right.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: And I know other federal officials have routinely lost their security clearances pending investigations into potential leaks of classified information, and without -- even in the case when criminal charges were not filed.
For example, Sergeant Samuel Provance had his security clearance revoked after he talked to several media outlets about the mistreatment of a 16-year-old boy and other abuses by interrogators at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. He was not indicted or accused of criminal wrongdoing. Here's someone who made a statement - public statement about abuses at Abu Ghraib, and his security clearance was temporarily suspended. And yet, you've got clear evidence of top officials in the White House having disclosed classified information, and no action's taken.
I have to ask you to go back and take a look at whether or not there's really a prohibition on moving forward. Clearly, now that the criminal investigation is over, it seems that one should be launched, even if that did in fact prohibit an investigation from going forward before.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. WAXMAN: Thank you, Mr. Van Hollen. That certainly appears to be a double standard.
MR. LEONARD: Let me just - I'd like to clarify this - to clarify. My understanding is the leak occurred on July 13th. And within the month - I don't know if it was July 14th, the next day, or -- but certainly in July, we know the CIA made their referral to the Justice Department. So it was immediately under investigation by the Justice Department.
Now, it took Attorney General Ashcroft several months before he recused himself and got a -- someone else on board. But there was an immediate criminal investigation. Isn't that correct?
MR. LEONARD: That's my understanding.
REP. DAVIS (?): You understanding at that point. I don't -- Mr. Leonard, if you can - and that would change the dimensions in terms of whether you would do your own investigation, or leave it to the professionals at the Justice Department.
MR. LEONARD: That's correct.
REP. DAVIS: And let me just ask this. In terms of an individual who may have inadvertently outed an operative or a memorandum or something during that time, once the criminal side has kicked in, at that point they have the right to allow that to move forward, protect themselves and at that point -- I don't know if it relieves them of the obligation, but they have Fifth Amendment rights at that point that could in any way lead them to not go forward with that. Is that correct?
MR. LEONARD: That would be correct.
REP. DAVIS (?): Okay, thank you.
REP. WAXMAN: Before I recognize Mr. Hodes -- but the president of the United States made statements when this hit the press that he was outraged and he was going to be conduct an investigation, and head would roll. He said if anybody in the White House disclosed this information about a covert agent, that person would be fired. Then later he modified it and said, well, they have to be convicted of a crime. But it turns out that the president didn't even ask anybody to do an investigation. If he wanted to get the truth, all he had to do was call Karl Rove and Ari Fleischer and Scooter Libby and all these people that work for him into his office and say, hey, how'd this information get out? Who did it? And if he thought it was a problem, he could have said you're not going to get access to other security information.
Isn't that why the White House can do it contemporaneously with any criminal investigation, Mr. Leonard?
MR. LEONARD: As I indicated, Mr. Chairman, when you have those competing priorities or competing interests, it can make an awkward situation. But those are the types of things that would have to be worked out.
REP. WAXMAN: Sounds like the competing priority was not to allow his administration and top personnel to be embarrassed by the truth.
REP. PAUL W. HODES (D-NH): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Gentlemen, you've both agreed that the national security of the United States is the most important thing we've got to consider, notwithstanding competing priorities. Did you both agree to that?
MR. LOENARD: Yes, sir.
MR. KNODELL: Yes, sir.
REP. HODES: Mr. Knodell, you came in in August 2004 to the White House. Is that correct?
MR. KNODELL: Correct.
REP. HODES: You serve -- how, sir? At the pleasure of the president?
MR. KNODELL: No, sir. I'm a career employee.
REP. HODES: I'm sorry?
MR. KNODELL: I'm a career employee.
REP. HODES: Are you an attorney?
MR. KNODELL: No, sir. I'm not.
REP. HODES: Who was your predecessor at the White House?
MR. KNODELL: Jeffrey Thompson (ph).
REP. HODES: Jeffrey Thompson (ph)?
MR. KNODELL: Yes.
REP. HODES: Where is he now?
MR. KNODELL: I don't know. Last I heard, he was -- he had moved down to Georgia.
REP. HODES: When you came in to your position, did Mr. Thompson (ph) brief you on the situation in the White House and what had or had not occurred with respect to investigations into the potential breach of classified information?
MR. KNODELL: No, sir.
REP. HODES: Have you -- let me ask you this. What discussions, if any, have you had with the president of the United States about initiating an investigation into the now-clear, obvious security breaches that have occurred?
MR. KNODELL: None.
REP. HODES: What discussions, if any, have you had with the vice-president of the United States?
MR. KNODELL: None.
REP. HODES: What discussions, if any, have you had with Karl Rove?
MR. KNODELL: None.
REP. HODES: What discussions, if any, have you had with anyone about whether or not you should or should not institute an investigation into the security breaches that are the subject of this hearing today?
MR. KNODELL: I've had no conversations.
REP. HODES: You haven't talked to anybody?
MR. KNODELL: That's correct.
REP. HODES: So when you say you're going to go back to the White House and take it up with senior management, you're senior management, aren't you?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, sir. I am.
REP. HODES: So you're going to go back and talk to yourself about whether or not you're going to conduct an investigation? Is that what you want this panel to believe?
MR. KNODELL: I will -- I report to several people.
REP. HODES: Who do you report to, sir?
MR. KNODELL: I report to Tom Schrier (ph).
REP. HODES: Who is he?
MR. KNODELL: He's the deputy chief operations officer.
REP. HODES: For what?
MR. KNODELL: For the Office of Administration.
REP. HODES: Do you report to anybody else?
MR. KNODELL: He's my direct report.
REP. HODES: Does he -- and who does he report to?
MR. KNODELL: He reports to Sandra Evans.
REP. HODES: And who does Sandra Evans --
MR. KNODELL: Chief operations officer.
REP. HODES: And who does that person --
MR. KNODELL: Her OA.
REP. HODES: Excuse me?
MR. KNODELL: I'm sorry. Within OA, and then the COO reports to Mr. Alan Swendiman. He's the director of OA.
REP HODES: Does anybody report back to the White House?
MR. KNODELL: Mr. Swendiman is our director.
REP. HODES: And he reports to the White House?
MR. KNODELL: He is a political appointee.
REP. HODES: Do you agree with me, Mr. Knodell, that the NIE's a classified document?
MR. KNODELL: Pardon me?
REP. HODES: Do you agree with me that the National Intelligence Estimate, before it is declassified, is a classified document?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, sir.
REP. HODES: Are there procedures for declassifying the National Intelligence Estimate?
MR. KNODELL: I'm not familiar with specific declassifications of that document.
REP. HODES: Mr. Leonard, are there procedures in place for declassifying the National Intelligence Estimate?
MR. LEONARD: If they're -- as with any classified information, it can become declassified pursuant to the original decisions as to when it becomes declassified. It can become declassified on the authorization of an authorized official, and then it can also become declassified just by the mere passage of time.
REP. HODES: If classified information is revealed without having been properly declassified, that's considered a leak, correct, Mr. Leonard?
MR. LEONARD: It's an unauthorized disclosure. Yes, sir.
REP. HODES: And Mr. Knodell, do you agree with that? That it's considered a leak if it's not properly declassified and revealed?
MR. KNODELL: Yes.
REP. HODES: And leaking classified information is a crime, is it not, Mr. Knodell?
MR. KNODELL: Yes.
REP. HODES: And if two or more persons agree to leak classified information, one of those persons takes affirmative steps to do something. And pursuant to that agreement, that could be considered a criminal conspiracy. Is that correct?
MR. KNODELL: It could be, certainly.
REP. HODES: Now it's my understanding that Mr. Libby testified that he was specifically authorized in advance to disclose key judgments of the classified National Intelligence Estimate to reporter Judy Miller because Vice-President Cheney believed it important to do so. Mr. Libby also testified that the vice-president had told him that the president has given the authorization to disclose portions of the National Intelligence Estimate.
In your experience, gentlemen, in government, have you ever seen such selective declassification before?
MR. LEONARD: I'm not aware of any similar type of actions such as that. No, sir.
REP. HODES: Do you know of any legal basis for there to be selective declassification to a few reporters of the National Intelligence Estimate? And I want to tell you that on the date that this was supposedly disclosed by Mr. Libby -- July 8th, in the following 10 days administration officials told folks that the NIE was still classified and it was formally declassified on July 18th. Can you explain to this panel how, if Mr. Libby had authority from the president and the vice-president to declassify the NIE on July 8th, the administration continued to claim that it was classified for 10 days and then apparently declassified it again on July 18th?
MR. LEONARD: I don't have any firsthand knowledge to address any of that, sir.
MR. KNODELL: Neither do I.
REP. HODES: Does it raise any questions for you?
MR. LEONARD: The provisions of the executive order, as I had indicated, clearly provide, for instance -- instances where classified information can be declassified even when it otherwise meets the standards for continued classification.
And then ultimately, the exercise of classification and declassification authority is the president's absolute authority not derived from any law or regulation or executive order. It's his Article Two constitutional authority to be used absolutely.
REP. HODES: Assuming that to be the case, is it your testimony that the president could choose to selectively declassify the National Intelligence Estimate and give directions that it could be declassified to be used with three reporters, but then still retain -- and that document then still is classified?
REP. WAXMAN: The gentleman's time is expired, but we do want an answer.
MR. LEONARD: Sir, it's my testimony that it is the president's absolute authority when it comes to the classification and declassification of information.
REP. WAXMAN: Ms. Norton.
DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D-DC): Mr. Knodell, I'm looking at your title, Director, Office of Security. And I'm trying to establish whether you have any authority.
Do you regard yourself as having any independence or independent authority apart from others who report directly to the president of the United States? Do you have any ability to initiate investigations or other action on your own?
MR. KNODELL: I would coordinate that through our legal counsel within the Office of Administration and the director of the Office of Administration.
DEL. NORTON: So you're testifying that you would not initiate any action on your own without, in fact, reporting up through some chain of command? This is not in anyway an independent office. You essentially are someone who makes recommendations to somebody else about investigationS.
MR. KNODELL: In essence, yes.
DEL. NORTON: Do you have to get the sign-off of someone to do an investigation?
MR. KNODELL: Not initially. No, not initially. I mean, we can start an investigation. We start security violations if security violations come in that report to the office.
DEL. NORTON: Without reporting that that's what you're doing.
MR. KNODELL: Well, I would report it once we started the investigation.
DEL. NORTON: And you could be stopped from doing that?
MR. KNODELL: That's never been the case in the past.
DEL. NORTON: Well, you haven't apparently done such -- at least with respect to this controversy.
Let me ask you a question about what we do know. We do know that Mr. Rove spoke to two reporters and we know who they were -- Robert Novak and Matthew Cooper. We do know that he denied he had spoken with any employers -- excuse me, with any reporters. Indeed, he claimed he wasn't involved at all.
I'm going to ask that a video clip be rolled from a press conference -- White House press conference involving the spokesman, Scott McClellan, addressing the press corps.
(A video clip was shown.)
DEL. NORTON: Mr. Knodell, can you explain why Mr. Rove still has a security clearance today, or does he?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, he does.
DEL. NORTON: Given the admissions that apparently are clear, why does he have that security clearance today?
MR. KNODELL: It's my understanding that the criminal investigations didn't find any criminal wrongdoing.
DEL. NORTON: I'm very disturbed by what's -- back and forth on criminal and administrative responsibilities here, because you seem to testify that even if a matter that could risk the security of the United States or of a covert agent is involved, that the administrative process ought to stand back until a process with a much higher level or standard of proof is required has finished its course.
Wouldn't that risk security, not to even begin an investigation to see whether there's anything that can be done to protect whatever might be the security breach, quite apart from whether there's been a criminal violation?
MR. KNODELL: I think as a result of the criminal investigation, it clearly didn't show -- that I have seen in the press. I have not seen the criminal investigative reports -- that there was no criminal wrongdoing.
DEL. NORTON: Mr. Knodell, you know, my question is does the security of the United States depend upon the outcome of a criminal proceeding, or is there not in your office, a duty to proceed as far as you can to protect security using the administrative or civil process?
MR. KNODELL: Yes, ma'am. Absolutely. And it's not that we're just not protecting the White House complex and the classified materials in the White House complex.
DEL. NORTON: I'm sorry. I really can't hear.
MR. KNODELL: We are protecting the classified --
DEL. NORTON: Even without an investigation so that you might even plug the leak while the U.S. attorney is trying to find out -- using his processes -- who done it?
Mr. Knodell, I'm suggesting that at your level you could plug leaks even while the criminal process is under way and under investigation. And I want you to look at the very same set of employees. If I could have up the White House chart --
REP. WAXMAN: Ms. Norton, your time has expired.
Members have said they want a second round. We do have another panel waiting to testify. I don't want to deny members opportunities to ask questions. What I would like my colleagues to do is I will recognize members for a second round. Could we limit it to three minutes second round? Does anybody find a problem with that? So then we'll do that. Members will now be recognized for further questioning.
And Mr. Cummings, I want to start with you if you have other questions.
REP. CUMMINGS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
You know, we up here, Mr. Knodell, we have an obligation to try to make sure that we uphold the laws of this country and try to make sure those laws are enforced. And protecting the identity of a covert agent is very important to us and I hope you understand that -- and protecting classified information. We're trying to help you do your job.
During Ms. Wilson's testimony, the ranking member, Mr. Davis, kept making a point that a key issue in whether Mr. Rove and other White House officials knew Ms. Wilson was a covert agent. I do agree that this is relevant. If the White House knowingly disclosed a covert agent that would obviously be a very serious matter. But my understanding is that the regulations do not prohibit only intentional disclosures. They also prohibit negligent disclosures.
Mr. Leonard, is my understanding accurate that the executive order governing the handling of classified information prohibits knowing, willful or negligent disclosures of classified information. Is that right?
MR. LEONARD: Yes, sir, that's absolutely right. I mean, regardless of the intent, the damage is still the same. Again, the first objective would be to make sure we don't have recurrences. And if just people are ignorant, we would like to brief them and what have you. And then if there is intent or culpability, that could be taken up by means of sanctions.
REP. CUMMINGS: By the way, Mr. Knodell, has there been any briefing -- as referred to here by Mr. Leonard -- with regard to Mr. Rove or anybody else in the White House since this happened -- since this disclosure took place?
MR. KNODELL: A briefing in regards to -- ?
REP. CUMMINGS: He just said that one of the things that you want to do is brief people about the rules and regulations so it doesn't happen again! Did you brief anybody?
MR. KNODELL: Congressman, yes, we did. We supply all new -- we supply an indoctrination security briefing for people when they first come on board. And then their first anniversary date every year thereafter we have annual refresher briefings.
REP. CUMMINGS: Did you use this as an example, by the way?
I mean, this is one of the -- I mean, this is like out there. I mean, it's here!
MR. KNODELL: No, sir.
REP. CUMMINGS: You didn't say, look, this is what happened and we don't want this to happen again? You never did that?
MR. KNODELL: No, sir.
MR. LEONARD: I can tell you, Mr. Congressman, that in November or December of '05 -- and maybe even a little bit of '06 -- there were a series of special briefings for all cleared personnel in the executive office of the president. Mandatory briefings for senior management on down and these types of issues were in fact covered during the course of those briefings. And this was publicly -- the public was made aware of these when they occurred.
REP. CUMMINGS: So even if Karl Rove or any other White House official did not know that Ms. Wilson's employment status was classified, the disclosure of such information to an individual not authorized to receive it could have been a violation of the executive order? And that is an executive order of the president of the United States. Is that right?
MR. LEONARD: That's right.
REP. CUMMINGS: So, basically the president set up some rules and then he said, I'm going to make sure that if anybody violated these rules, they're going to have major problems, and they're going to have to go. And then the next thing you know, there is apparently a violation, but there has been no action. Is that right?
MR. KNODELL: Other than the criminal proceedings, no action from my office.
REP. WAXMAN: Thank you, Mr. Cummings.
I'm sorry we don't have clips of the president making the statements about how he was going to do an investigation and heads would roll. But I guess we'll have to leave the "Daily Show" to dig that up for their presentation.
Ms. Watson, I want to call on you next if you have additional questions.
REP. WATSON: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Knodell, this oversight hearing is called "The White House Procedures for Safeguarding Classified Information."
In the first round I asked you what your position was. You clearly said that you have not held any investigation and your role is the director of Office of Security. Have you or do you feel that you have carried out your duties?
REP. WAXMAN: Could I ask the gentlelady not to ask a harsh question of Mr. Knodell? He's here -- and I think he's been asked some tough questions, but let's not make -- let's try to keep them a little bit less personal.
REP. WATSON: No. I just want to know -- I want to have some clarity as to what the responsibility of your position in your office is. There's a gap for me that you have this position, but there's been no investigation.
MR. KNODELL: Congresswoman, itÂs like I said at the outset -- and I say it with all due respect -- the reason we did not initiate the investigation is because there was a criminal proceeding that was already underway. There was already an investigation under way.
REP. WATSON: But the criminal procedure is over.
MR. KNODELL: I have not been notified that it is officially over.
REP. WATSON: Thank you. I have -- (audio break).
REP. WAXMAN: Thank you, Ms. Watson.
I'm going to recognize myself, because I want to point out that there seems to be interesting other examples where we've had disclosures of leaks. This is not the only time questions have arisen about the Bush administration White House, handles classified information.
For example, journalist and author Bob Woodward wrote in the introduction of his 2002 book, "Bush at War" that the book was based in part on, quote, "contemporaneous notes taken during more than 50 National Security Council and other meetings where the most important decisions were discussed and made." End quote. And the, quote, "written record both classified and unclassified." End quote. And Mr. Woodward also stated, "War planning and war making involves secret information. I have used a good deal of it trying to provide new specific details without harming sensitive operations or relationships with foreign governments. This is not a sanitized version. And the sense is, if we had them in the United States -- thank God we don't -- we'd no doubt draw the line at a different, more restrictive place than I have." End quote.
Mr. Knodell, Mr. Woodward's statements indicate he had remarkable access to classified information of the most sensitive nature. Were Mr. Woodward's circumstances unique, or were White House disclosures of classified information to him and to journalists, in the case of Mrs. Wilson, part of a broader pattern of White House disclosures or of classified information to selected journalists and authors? I mean, we see now this is not unique to give classified information to people.
It's noteworthy that the administration has taken -- well, let me ask you to respond to that. It looks like Mr. Woodward had information that was classified. He seems to admit it.
MR. KNODELL: I have no knowledge of that.
REP. WAXMAN: Okay. Well, when the administration, however, is concerned that there are questions about the disclosure of sensitive information by administration critics there seems to be different results. For example, in January 2004, within one day of former Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neill's television interview in which he voiced criticism of the Bush administration, the administration publicly announced it was investigating whether Secretary O'Neill had improperly disclosed confidential information. Okay. They didn't like what he had to say, but they're going to immediately investigate him.
And on June 20th, 2002 an irate Vice President Cheney reportedly told congressional leaders that the president had deep concerns about media accounts from just one day earlier when it got out that the National Security Agency had on September 10th, 2001 communication intercepts with cryptic references to possible attacks the next day. The report cited congressional sources and congressional leaders. He immediately requested a Justice Department investigation of the matter.
The administration seems to be inconsistent in their approach in these cases and it's troubling. They raise serious questions about whether White House policies on sensitive information is driven by political considerations. If it's a critic, they're going to go investigate. They're going to really stop it. When it comes to people in-house, people they like, people they trust -- well, the investigation hasn't even started with regard to those people.
I'm not asking a question. I'm just making this part of the record.
REP. TOM DAVIS (R-VA): Well, Mr. Chairman, I think it goes both ways in terms of selective oversight and selective investigations. This committee also ought to be looking at the NIE leaks on the Iraq war -- the National Intelligence Estimates which were leaked. It does -- it can do damage. The NSA collection and monitoring of certain phone information, which was leaked -- classified, secret information. The East European CIA detention facility leaks. The intelligence activities toward Iran leaks.
We can all be selective on this and we all understand the partisanship and everything else that goes on with this, which has been thoroughly vetted and investigated. We do, of course, have a responsibility to take a look at what the procedures are so that these things don't occur again. That's really the purpose of oversight. Not as much a look back for criticism as to look forward and make sure these things do not happen again.
Mr. Leonard, let me ask does the president or vice president have authority to declassify on the spot?
MR. LEONARD: As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Davis, the president's authority in this area is absolute pursuant to the constitution.
REP. DAVIS: So they can do it on the spot? Can they declassify for limited purposes?
MR. LEONARD: Absolutely. It's absolute, sir.
REP. DAVIS: And once again, the leak to Novak -- which is, I think, what started this whole thing -- is there any evidence that anyone in the White House had any knowledge that Valerie Plame was a covert operative? Does anybody have any evidence of that?
MR. LEONARD: I have no firsthand information one way or the other.
REP. DAVIS: Ms. Plame didn't have it. Do you have it, Mr. Knodell?
MR. KNODELL: No. I do not.
REP. DAVIS: And in terms of the obligation to disclose, once it became apparent that she was a covert operative, a criminal investigation was initiated almost immediately by the CIA with a referral to the Justice Department. Is that correct?
MR. KNODELL: That's my understanding. Yes.
REP. DAVIS: That's my understanding as well. Within the month -- it might have been within a day. It might have been -- I don't know what that time period was. I hope the committee can find out.
Once that criminal investigation is under way with the referral that sent it to Justice -- now, Mr. Fitzpatrick didn't come until the attorney general recused himself sometime later, but an investigation was already under way. What does that do to the obligations to disclose at that point? Does that put employees in a position of trying to -- of having to decide if they're going to exercise Fifth Amendment rights and the like? And is the purpose of the executive order at that point really become pointless if you have an investigation on this?
You haven't thought that through?
MR. KNODELL: Yes.
MR. LEONARD: I have, sir. And I would submit that the executive order is not pointless at that point in time.
Again, this is an instance where you have competing national interests. I had over 30 years in the Department of Defense and there were many times where senior leadership in the Department of Defense did battle with the Department of Justice and the FBI where there were instances where the national security issues at risk far outweighed whatever criminal investigative authorities at the bureau or the Justice Department had.
These are things that have to be worked out on a case-by-case basis. There isn't -- this is one instance where there is no absolute.
REP. DAVIS: Okay. There we're in some gray areas at this point.
MR. LEONARD: Yes, sir.
REP. DAVIS: Okay, Thank you very much.
REP. WAXMAN: Thank you, Mr. Davis. Mr. Van Hollen.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Leonard, on the -- let me just note that after this information was first disclosed in the Novak column on or about July 26, 2003, White House Press Spokesman McClellan stated, "Let me make it very clear, that's not the way this White House operates." Two months later, and still before they'd even called for an investigation by the Justice Department, on September 29, 2003, Mr. McClellan addressed the White House Press Corps, and over 30 times stated that there was -- they had no information regarding the involvement of any White House officials.
I think we understand today why there was no information -- no investigation was done. You talked about competing national priorities, clearly in this two-month period there weren't competing priorities, were there? In other words, before the -- before the criminal investigation was authorized, there were no competing priorities in --
MR. LEONARD: To my knowledge, that's correct, sir. Yes.