Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Senate Judiciary Hearing 9/17/2008

Webcast of the hearing can be accessed here.

Eight senators attended some of today's hearing, and had a lot more to say about the anthrax letters. The Washington Post, AP, Reuters, USA Today and Salon (Glenn Greenwald) have all posted reports of the hearing, in which the FBI was lambasted over the letters case. Most notably, Senator Leahy told Director Mueller he was convinced that if Ivins was a culprit, that he had not acted alone, and Leahy was convinced there are more persons who can be charged with murder.

Senator Spector wanted to know why there was no attempt to obtain DNA from Ivins until the week he died. (Since it takes a while to die from tylenol, it is possible the DNA wasn't obtained until after Ivins overdosed.) He asked why Ivins received an April 2007 letter indicating he was not a target of the investigation; whether the anthrax was weaponized or not; how did FBI come to its conclusion when the investigation is still ongoing; and he noted that so many questions have yet to be answered.

Leahy asked whether any US facilities besides Dugway and Battelle were capable of making this kind of anthrax. Mueller tried to muddy the water by responding about how many facilities had Ames, but the Senators weren't buying it. Leahy told him to make a call and get some answers during the break.

Senator Spector asked if the committee could designate members of the NAS committee performing the review, and Mueller refused to commit to this.

Senator Grassley noted that the NAS would not be reviewing the FBI investigation, only the science--not the detective work, and said both need to be reviewed. He also wondered when the FBI learned about Ivins' late nights in the lab: 2002, and why it took 5 years to focus on Ivins. He also asked why it took so long (until after the death of Ivins) to exonerate Hatfill. Mueller also "abhorred" the Hatfill leaks.

After the break, Mueller requested a closed session to discuss the matter of labs making anthrax powder, since the subject was classified. Leahy agreed to arrange this.

Senator Cardin wondered why Ivins maintained his security clearance until July 10, 2008. Mueller replied that Ivins' access to some facilities at USAMRIID had been limited earlier.

Grassley wanted to know if Ivins' flask contained silicon, but Mueller was "out of his expertise" on that question. (Why were the four officials sitting behind him keeping quiet for these questions, I wondered?)

It was gratifying to see that the Senators grasped the essentials of the Ivins case, and were asking the right questions. But it was disheartening to hear them say how badly the FBI and Attorney General had responded to their questions and concerns in the past, and how they were unable to perform their oversight function due to stonewalling on the part of the executive branch agencies. Senator Whitehouse even used the word "Toadies" to describe appointed agency officials who were required to "bow down" to the White House, ignoring agency needs and failing to provide the administration with appropriate feedback.

So whether anything will come of this exercise in legislative branch oversight is anyone's guess.

3 comments:

Elizabeth Ferrari/ San Francisco said...

Senator Specter has, in the past, asked difficult questions in other investigations and those have seemed to serve to inoculate more than to clarify. FYI.

Old Atlantic Lighthouse said...

Mueller didn't quite say the following today, but its not far off:

Why is Ivins guilty? Because he worked late.

Why didn't you notice Ivins worked late in the first place?

Lots of scientists at those labs work late.

So how do you know it was Ivins?

None of the others did it.

Anonymous said...

But not only did he work late, the FBI called his explanation "unconvincing" or used a similar word. Days later the FBI relented and released this "unconvincing" explanation -- Ivins said he wanted to get away from his homelife.

But this explanation fits better for Ivins than anyone. First, his daughter was mentally ill. Second, he lived in walking distance of work. Third, it was a quiet place.