The Senate Ethics Committee is moving ahead with an investigation into alleged classified leaks from the Intelligence Committee almost three years ago, a probe that will likely focus on Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a panel member said.
While Shelby said he had not yet been contacted by the committee, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said last week that he has been informed that the matter would come before the full panel at some point in the near future.
“The chairman told me it would be forthcoming,” said Roberts, a veteran member of Ethics.
The Ethics chairman, Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), declined to talk about the case, citing his policy of declining to discuss any issue before the panel. “My answer on everything is no comment, and those are the rules that we live by,” he said.
Roberts, who is now the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, declined to elaborate on any details about how the investigation would unfold, but he added that he will participate in the investigation “whenever this does come up.”
Roberts said last fall — after the Justice Department referred its criminal investigation into the leak to the Ethics Committee — that he would most likely recuse himself from the case because he was on Intelligence in June 2002, when the leak occurred, and now chairs the committee. Any Ethics probe, therefore, would in some way have to investigate how Intelligence does its business, putting Roberts in the potentially awkward position of investigating his own committee.
But Roberts decided against recusal because he believes his experience on Intelligence will help the other Ethics members — none of whom is on Intelligence — navigate the sometimes arcane waters of classified information.
“We do have some past experience and expertise there,” Roberts said of his Intelligence service.
One member of the Intelligence Committee said the Ethics panel should not focus solely on Shelby, who has denied knowingly revealing classified information at any time during his eight years on the secretive committee.
“It’s not necessarily limited to one person, in my judgment,” the Intelligence Committee member said, requesting anonymity.
Voinovich and the vice chairman of the evenly divided six-member committee, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), have the power to dismiss the case on their own without consulting the other members of the panel. Since Voinovich told Roberts that the case will be coming to the full panel, that suggests the investigation is moving into what is known as a preliminary inquiry — the earliest stage of an investigation.
It will examine the actions of the 2002 joint House-Senate Intelligence committees investigation into the domestic and foreign intelligence data leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Shortly after one of the joint panel’s closed-door hearings in June 2002, CNN aired a report about how the National Security Agency, just before the attacks, intercepted an Arabic-language message saying “Tomorrow is zero hour.”