As reported over the Memorial Day weekend, parts of the Leahy letter related to new charges that agents at FBI headquarters sat on intelligence that might have led to some additional arrests of U.S.-based al Qaeda terrorists planning the September 11 bombings.
But more interesting parts of the letter, which highlight growing unhappiness with Mueller on Capitol Hill, fell through the cracks. “It’s too soon to say that Mueller is in trouble, way too soon,” says a Republican Senate Judiciary Committee staffer. “Bush has made it abundantly clear that Mueller is his man, but the Judiciary Committee has lost all confidence that it can deal with Mueller and that Mueller will deal honorably with them.”
The focus of Leahy’s ire, and that of Republican Judiciary Committee members Arlen Specter and Charles Grassley, who signed on to the letter, was Mueller’s demand that no written transcript of his or any other FBI agent’s testimony be compiled at last week’s Judiciary Committee hearing. That hearing focused in the so-called “Phoenix memo.”
Leahy and Mueller locked horns over the FBI director’s demand that no transcript be kept, and finally, after a heated debate, Specter stepped in and persuaded Leahy to go along, if only to get the hearing moving.
“We prepared for that hearing for several weeks,” says a Democratic Judiciary Committee staffer. “We spoke with Mueller’s people. We negotiated the hearing time. At no point did they raise the issue of the transcript. He sandbagged us and put us in an embarrassing position. This is probably the first open hearing the committee has held in years where there is no written record. And it may be one of the most important hearings we’ve held in the past ten years.”
Yet when Mueller and his crew finished their hearing with Senate Judiciary, they next appeared at a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing, where the “Phoenix memo” was discussed and Mueller allowed a full transcript to be recorded.
Leahy’s letter demands that Mueller explain his reasoning for barring one and allowing another transcript. “Until the Minneapolis memo [charging FBI headquarters impeded the so called “20th terrorist” investigation] popped up over the weekend, the transcript issue was really what had made Leahy and Specter hot,” says another Democratic Judiciary staffer. “Now, we have a lot more to be hot about, like, why Mueller knowing about that letter didn’t bring it to us before his hearing. Even [former FBI director Louis] Freeh didn’t pull these kinds of stunts.”
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