Published February 25, 2005
WASHINGTON – Two lawmakers have sent a letter to the U.S. attorney saying a White House reporter who recently resigned following questions about his identity and background may have information vital to the investigation into who leaked a CIA operative's name to the press.
Reps. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking Democrats on the House Rules Committee and House Judiciary Committee, respectively, wrote a letter to Patrick Fitzgerald (search), the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, saying the Chicago attorney's office may need to subpoena the journal of reporter James Guckert (search ).
The journal recounts Guckert's days covering the White House. According to Conyers and Slaughter's letter, Guckert had access to a memo revealing the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame (search).
In addition, Editor and Publisher has confirmed an online report that Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is circulating a letter among his colleagues that asks President Bush to launch an investigation into how Guckert gained access to White House press briefings over two years despite having no journalism background and using a false name.
Both letters are just the latest in a string of inquiries by congressional leaders, including a request by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., for documents related to Guckert's continued White House access.
Guckert, who wrote under the name "Jeff Gannon" and was the Washington bureau chief for Talon News, recently resigned amid questions about his identity and background. He said on his Web site that he was leaving "because of the attention being paid to me." Talon News is a conservative online news outlet associated with the Web site, GOPUSA.
Guckert, saying his family was being harassed, quit earlier this month after online critics began digging into his background.
Guckert became a target of liberal bloggers after he asked Bush during a news conference how he could deal with Senate Democrats "who seem to have divorced themselves from reality."
Guckert also was linked with online domain addresses suggestive of gay pornography. A former resident of Wilmington, Del., Guckert told The (Wilmington) News Journal that he had registered the domain names for a client while he was working to set up a Web-hosting business. Liberal bloggers also pointed to articles Gannon wrote that they called "anti-gay"; Guckert denied writing such material.
Fitzgerald is investigating whether a crime was committed when someone leaked Plame's identity. Her name was published in a 2003 column by Robert Novak (search), who cited two senior Bush administration officials as his sources.
The column appeared after Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson (search), wrote a newspaper opinion piece criticizing the Bush administration's claim that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. The CIA had asked Wilson to check out the uranium claim. Wilson has said he believes his wife's name was leaked as retaliation for his critical comments.
Disclosure of an undercover intelligence officer's identity can be a federal crime if prosecutors can show the leak was intentional and the person who released that information knew of the officer's secret status.
Conyers and Slaughter note in their letter that in an October 2003 interview with Wilson, Guckert referenced a memo written by U.S. intelligence officials indicating the operative suggested Wilson could investigate reports that Iraq had sought uranium.
"In and of itself, this indicates that Mr. Guckert had access to classified information," the two lawmakers wrote. And "it appears now that Mr. Guckert memorialized his experiences at the White House."
The Conyers/Slaughter note says that in the Feb. 22, 2005, edition of Editor & Publisher, Guckert states that he "probably has one page for each day at the White House, about 200 pages of stuff ... Is it all interesting? Probably not. But it could be [a book]."
"It would be unfortunate if Mr. Guckert published information that would be useful to your investigation, such as the identity of the person who gave him the memo, without your office having the benefit of its contents," the two members of Congress wrote.
Guckert has been interviewed by FBI agents on the Plame case.
Durbin, meanwhile, is hoping to send Bush his letter demanding that the president investigate how Guckert was able to attend regular press briefings despite working for a Web site with obvious partisan support for the Republican Party, the senator's office confirmed to Editor and Publisher, after the existence of the letter was reported on the Raw Story Web site.
"We have ... learned that the questions he posed at White House press briefings and the stories he filed for Talon News frequently mirrored Republican Party talking points, that Talon News is a news organization in name only and that it has apparently close connections to the Republican party," Durbin's letter states. "Given the unprecedented level of security in Washington since 9/11, it is troubling that that a non-journalist using a false name and working for a sham news organization could have gained regular access to the White House for such an extended period of time.
"We respectfully request that you order an immediate and thorough investigation into the Gannon/Guckert matter," Durbin wrote.
"How is it possible that a man using a fake name, with dubious journalism credentials, was able to clear the White Houses extensive security screening process and gain such close access to you and your staff for such an extended period of time? Have there been other, similar breaches of security and journalism standards? We appreciate your prompt attention to this important matter. We urge you to order a full inquiry so that the American people know the facts."
A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling against Time magazine's Matthew Cooper (search) and The New York Times' Judith Miller (search), who could go to jail for refusing to divulge their sources about the leak of Plame's name
The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with prosecutors in their attempt to compel the two reporters to testify before a federal grand jury about their confidential sources. Floyd Abrams, the reporters' attorney, said he would ask the full appeals court to reverse the ruling.
FOX News' Jim Mills and Anna Persky and The Associated Press contributed to this report.