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May 14, 2005
Reid's Smear Raises Eyebrows At DoJ

The comments made on the Senate floor by Harry Reid about the information in the FBI file of Henry Saad have provoked a reaction from the Justice Department, the AP reports this morning. One day after Reid referred to a vague "problem" in Saad's file, Justice sent a letter to both Reid and Majority Leader Bill Frist about the proper use of FBI files:

The Justice Department is edging into the Senate controversy over judicial nominees, writing key lawmakers after Democratic Leader Harry Reid publicly referred to an FBI file on one of President Bush's controversial appointees.

"The letter expressed concern about recent remarks on the floor of the Senate which alluded to an FBI background investigation file provided by the Department of Justice to the Senate
Judiciary Committee on a confidential basis in connection with a judicial nomination," a department official said Friday night.

The official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the letter did not refer specifically to Reid, or to 6th Circuit Court nominee Henry Saad.

At the same time, it was dispatched one day after Reid alluded publicly to a confidential FBI report prepared on Saad, a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee whose confirmation Democrats have sought to block.

The FBI files are provided to lawmakers by the Justice Department, who retain ultimate authority and responsibility for the treatment of the information in them. Since the FBI collects all information given to them in interviews during their security clearance investigations, and the files therefore contain large amounts of unsubstantiated hearsay, the FBI and Justice have always been highly protective of the files. The information, improperly used, can do enormous and unfair damage to reputations.

Reid knows this -- and according to the Senate's own rules, he can't even access the files himself, not being a member of the Judiciary Committee. He claimed to have gotten information from the two Democratic Senators from Saad's home state, Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, but if that is the case, then those two Senators may have broken the rules about confidentiality in regards to the file. The DoJ may well decide to strip the Senate of its clearance to view these files in the future if Reid continues to characterize the contents publicly as he has. That happened during the first Bush administration, when Senators made public references to secured material.

For those who think that Reid did nothing wrong, the Justice memo should remind everyone what the rules are and why they're in place.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 14, 2005 11:38 AM

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