WASHINGTON President Bush has asserted executive privilege to protect information that a House panel has subpoenaed on the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, the White House said Wednesday.
A House committee chairman, meanwhile, held off on a contempt citation of Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who sought the privilege claim, as a courtesy to lawmakers not present. Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, rejected Mukasey's suggestion that Vice President Dick Cheney's FBI interview on the subject should be protected by the privilege claim.
"We'll act in the reasonable and appropriate period of time," Waxman, D-Calif., told the panel. But he made clear that he thinks Mukasey has earned a contempt citation and that he'd schedule a vote on the matter soon.
"This unfounded assertion of executive privilege does not protect a principle; it protects a person," Waxman said. "If the vice president did nothing wrong, what is there to hide?"
The assertion of the privilege is not about hiding anything but rather protecting the separation of powers as well as the integrity of future Justice Department investigations of the White House, Mukasey wrote to Bush in a letter dated Tuesday. Several of the subpoenaed reports, he wrote, summarize conversations between Bush and advisers are direct presidential communications protected by the privilege.
"I am greatly concerned about the chilling effect that compliance with the committee's subpoena would have on future White House deliberations and White House cooperation with future Justice Department investigations," Mukasey wrote to Bush. "I believe it is legally permissible for you to assert executive privilege with respect to the subpoenaed documents, and I respectfully request that you do so."
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush invoked the privilege on Tuesday.