Panel subpoenas Rice over Niger uranium claim

Panel subpoenas Rice over Niger uranium claim

A House committee Wednesday subpoenaed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to find out what she knew about the 2003 claim that Iraq sought uranium from the African country of Niger.

The uranium claim, which President Bush made in his 2003 State of the Union address, was a key element in the administration’s case for the invasion of Iraq.

Rice was President Bush’s national security adviser at the time.

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee vote was 21-10.

In July 2003 — two months into the Iraq war — the White House backed away from the uranium assertion after a former diplomat, Joseph Wilson, announced the CIA had sent him to Niger in 2002 to check out the report. Wilson said he found it unlikely to be true, and alleged the Bush administration had “twisted” the evidence for war.

Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Wednesday that the department “will be consulting with the White House on this matter.”

Casey also noted Rice has addressed “this four-year-old issue on many occasions, and the subject already has been exhaustively investigated.”

And even though Rice can legitimately be called upon to testify about the State Department, her testimony may be restricted by White House regulations, a State Department official said Wednesday.

The official said the White House will not allow current or former staff to testify about internal White House matters, and has categorized Niger uranium claim as an internal issue.

In addition, the official said the subpoena date conflicts with Rice’s travel schedule, so the State Department will attempt to negotiate an alternative to Rice’s testimony.

During Wednesday’s session, the committee also approved issuing a subpoena to Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan for testimony and documents related to use of RNC e-mails by White House officials for government purposes.

The committee also agreed to issue a separate subpoena to the RNC for copies of a political briefing that was distributed to the General Services Administration or other similar political briefings, or other information regarding the use of federal agencies to assist GOP candidates.

Since taking over as chairman of the House investigative committee, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, renewed his call to investigate what Rice knew about the Niger uranium claim.

He has said Rice has failed to adequately answer his questions in a series of letters he has sent the secretary.

In one letter, Waxman called on Rice to outline who at the White House “kept resuscitating” the disputed report after the CIA blocked its inclusion in an October 2002 Bush speech on Iraq.

He also asked her to lay out what steps the White House took after learning documents supporting the uranium claim were forgeries and what role presidential aides played in drafting a pre-war intelligence estimate on Iraq’s weapons programs.

Last month, Waxman announced he would turn the committee’s attention to the White House’s role in the public exposure of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, who was a CIA operative at the time the Niger uranium controversy erupted.

A three-year federal investigation of that leak led to last month’s conviction of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to investigators.

Libby was not charged with leaking Plame’s identity, but prosecutors accused him of lying to FBI agents and a grand jury investigating the disclosure.

In his trial, prosecutors argued the administration exposed Plame’s identity in an effort to counter Wilson’s allegations.

Libby’s attorney, Ted Wells, opened the trial by declaring his client was “set up” to protect Bush political adviser Karl Rove ahead of Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who first published Plame’s identity, attributed his information to “two senior administration officials” — later identified as Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Neither has been charged.

The White House declared in October 2003 that Rove and Libby had denied any role in the leak. It has largely refused to comment on the matter since then, citing the criminal investigation and Libby’s plan to appeal.

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