Jason Leopold | The Public Record | August 22, 2008
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers has asked current and former White House aides and ex-CIA officials to respond to questions about an alleged scheme to create a bogus letter in late 2003 linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda.
In sending the interview requests Wednesday, Conyers is following up on a disputed story in journalist Ron Suskind’s new book, The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism, which includes an account of how the mysterious letter originated.
The book cites statements from former CIA associate deputy director of operations Rob Richer and John Maguire, the former chief of the CIA’s Iraq Operations Group/Near East Division, as indicating that the White House ordered the CIA to produce the bogus letter to retroactively justify the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Richer and Maguire gave Suskind on-the-record interviews, which the author recorded, discussing the reasons the letter was created and saying that it likely emanated from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. Both men have since recanted their statements.
Conyers, who has held periodic hearings on abuses of power by George W. Bush’s administration, sent letters to former CIA Director George Tenet; the CIA’s former executive director A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard; Cheney’s former chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby; and John Hannah, another Cheney assistant – as well as to Richer and Maguire.
“I am writing to follow up on recent serious allegations regarding the creation of a false letter from Tahir Jalil Habbush, Saddam Hussein’s former Chief of Intelligence, to Saddam Hussein,” Conyers said.
“The letter, which was allegedly backdated to July 1, 2001, attempted to establish an operational link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the period before the 9/11 attacks by specifically stating that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had received training in Iraq.
“At the time of the alleged decision in 2003 to concoct the false letter, the Vice President’s Office had been reportedly pressuring the CIA to prove this connection as a justification to invade Iraq. The letter also falsely noted that Iraq had received a ‘shipment’ (presumably uranium) from Niger with the assistance of al-Qaeda.
“Upon careful review of the allegations concerning this matter, I have become very concerned with the possibility that this administration may have violated federal law by using the resources of our intelligence agencies to influence domestic policy processes or opinion.
“The law specifically provides that ‘no covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media.’”
Suskind wrote in his book that such a violation might constitute an “impeachable offense.”