White House Criticizes Justice for Publishing Memos
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Thursday lodged a rare complaint with the Justice Department for making public documents that blame a Democratic member of the panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for hampering terror investigations.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan, in a highly unusual move, said President Bush was disappointed Attorney General John Ashcroft's department had declassified and made public 29 pages of documents relating to Democratic commissioner Jamie Gorelick's time as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.
The department posted the documents on its Web site late on Wednesday as "supplementary material" to Ashcroft's testimony to the panel earlier this month.
"We were not involved in it," McClellan said. "The president was disappointed about that .... He's disappointed that that information was placed on their Web site like that."
The documents include instructions on separation of foreign counterintelligence and criminal investigations, reactions to the instructions and even hand-written notes from Gorelick regarding the so-called wall that governs intelligence uses.
The "wall," a key subject at hearings of the commission, has been cited by Ashcroft as a main obstacle to better sharing of information before the hijacked airliner attacks.
McClellan said Bush expressed his disappointment about the documents to the commission during more than three hours of questioning at the White House.
"The president does not believe we ought to be pointing fingers in this time period," McClellan said, in a rare public rebuke of a government agency.
Shortly after McClellan's public criticism, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas defended Ashcroft's agency and said the documents were released in response to a request by the senator on behalf of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Cornyn said the request for the documents was made because the Sept. 11 panel did not have Gorelick provide public testimony. However, Cornyn's spokesman said the senator did not ask for the documents to be posted on the Web site.
During his testimony two weeks ago, Ashcroft made public a different memo written by Gorelick in 1995 that established distinctions between intelligence that could be used for law enforcement and intelligence for national security purposes.
Just after Ashcroft blamed Gorelick for creating the walls that hindered terrorism investigations, a powerful Republican lawmaker called for her to step down from the panel due to a conflict of interest.
Gorelick and members of the commission dismissed the request. Gorelick, who was the deputy to former Attorney General Janet Reno, has recused herself from everything related to her previous role in the government.
Gorelick has said the "wall" was part of a law in place since the mid-1980s. The 1995 guidelines were kept in place by the Ashcroft Justice Department in a memo issued five weeks before the attacks.
A former Justice Department official from the Clinton administration expressed concern that in releasing the Gorelick documents the department was engaging in partisan, political activities. (Additional reporting by James Vicini)
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