Critics Slam Intel Chair’s Secrecy Over Bribery Report

By Justin Rood

Jul 17, 2007 2:27pm

A senior lawmaker is facing tough criticism for burying a report on criminal behavior on his committee. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Tex., chairman of the House intelligence committee, did not respond today to questions from the Blotter on ABCNews.com about why he refuses to release a report on the abuses of power by former committee member Randy "Duke" Cunningham. The one-time California Republican lawmaker took millions in bribes in exchange for awarding millions more in government contracts he wrote into law. He is now serving a lengthy prison term for his misdeeds. "It’s exactly the wrong thing to do," said Steven Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists of Reyes’ decision to withhold the report. "They should be setting an example of accountability and transparency." Reyes’ own declarations upon taking the helm of the intelligence committee in January may make him particularly vulnerable to criticism over the matter. When asked at the beginning of the year how he would run the committee differently from his predecessor, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., Reyes responded, "In a word: oversight." The committee is responsible for overseeing the intelligence operations of the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency and others, many of whom have been accused of illegal or improper activities in recent years. In an April speech to the American Bar Association, Reyes expanded on his conviction on the importance of oversight, declaring that by holding officials accountable for their actions, Congress plays a key role in protecting Americans’ trust in government. "All three branches have the responsibility to make sure that the government as a whole lives up to the trust that the people have placed in it," he said, according to a written copy of his speech posted on the committee’s Web site. In that version, printed on official committee letterhead, "government as a whole" is underlined. Reyes’ decision to withhold the report from the public was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. "The full report — with all of the names of staff — was not intended for dissemination beyond the committee," the chairman told the newspaper. Reyes responded to a request for comment from ABCNews.com by providing a written version of the same comments. Indeed, some have suggested the report was not meant to delve deeply into the worst bribery scandal in the history of Congress, which unfolded over several years within the committee’s chambers. The chief investigator on the report, Michael Stern, has noted that he was barred from asking questions about whether other lawmakers knew of Cunningham’s crimes, or had any hand in them. Reyes’ position is in stark contrast to that taken last year by the committee’s former top Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman, Calif., who pressed Republican then-chairman Hoekstra to release the report. Reyes’ refusal to release the report underscores the reasons why Cunningham succeeded in corrupting his office, said Meredith Fuchs of the National Security Archives, which works to expand public access to government records. "It doesn’t sound like the classified secrets are at issue, it’s [about] protecting people – staffers, and other members of Congress," she told ABCNews.com. While that deference to other lawmakers and their staff may be how Congress conducts itself, she said, "it’s also what allows people like Duke Cunningham to get away with this kind of stuff." This post has been updated. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage.

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