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November 13, 2005
Shelby Cleared By Ethics Committee

The National Journal reports today that Senator Richard Shelby will be cleared of charges that he leaked classified material, bringing an end to a 15-month investigation. The leak concerned a translation of an Arabic-language intercept that preceded 9/11:

The Senate Ethics Committee informed Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., late on Friday that after a 15-month inquiry into allegations that he had leaked sensitive national security information to the news media, that it had insufficient evidence that he had done anything wrong, and would not pursue the matter further, National Journal has learned.

The Senate Ethics Committee inquiry commenced as a result of a referral from the Department of Justice to the committee on July 20, 2004, in which the department said that there existed what sources described as "credible and specific information" that Shelby might have leaked classified information to the press, and then possibly made false statements to federal investigators to conceal what he had done.

What had attracted the interest of the FBI were news reports in 2002 revealing that on the eve of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the National Security Agency had intercepted two Arabic-language messages suggesting that such attacks might soon commence. The messages that were overheard said: "The match is about to begin," and "Tomorrow is zero hour." But they were not translated until the day after the attacks, on September 12, 2001.

The FBI determined that Shelby had been the most likely source for a CNN report on the messages, a leak which the intelligence services felt could have damaged their intercept assets. Rather than pursue a criminal investigation, however, the Department of Justice turned the probe over to the Ethics Committee in the late summer of 2004. The case had long been overshadowed by the Plame investigation, but Republicans felt that the Shelby case represented another potential political shoe-drop in a season of leaks and investigations.

Instead, Shelby got cleared of both the leak charge and a separate accusation that he lied to FBI investigators when they initially looked into the leak. That gets Shelby completely off the hook and the GOP caucus in the Senate clear of any further restraint in pursuing other leak cases -- such as the leak of CIA operations for terrorist holding facilities and an air operation earlier this year.

After the Fitzmas fizzle, Democrats will face yet another disappointment in their season of litigation. I wonder how insane this loss will make them.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 13, 2005 4:43 PM

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Tracked on November 16, 2005 8:21 AM


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