WASHINGTON — The Senate Ethics Committee has ended its intelligence leak investigation of Sen. Richard Shelby, who was under suspicion of giving the news media classified messages from the eve of the Sept. 11 attacks.
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In a letter obtained Sunday by The Associated Press, the panel’s chairman and vice chairman notify Shelby that it considers the case closed, but they don’t say whether they blame him for the information getting out.
Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, is a former chairman of the Intelligence Committee and was the vice chairman at the time of the alleged leak.
“I have been confident that the committee would dismiss this matter, and I was pleased to learn of their decision to do just that,” Shelby said in a statement Sunday.
At issue were two messages intercepted by the National Security Agency a day before the Sept. 11 terror attacks. News accounts attributed to anonymous sources said those messages contained the words “the match begins tomorrow” and “tomorrow is zero day,” but they were not translated from Arabic until Sept. 12.
Feds: Leak could compromise intel sources
Intelligence officials said disclosing the Sept. 10 interceptions was harmful not because of their substance, but because the disclosure might have tipped off terrorists that one of their channels of communication had been compromised.
The Justice Department referred the case to the Ethics Committee in July 2004. The committee’s chairman, George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and vice chairman, Tim Johnson, D-S.D., signed the letter sent Friday to Shelby.
In the letter, Voinovich and Johnson tell Shelby that the Department of Justice had provided evidence concerning his “conduct in connection with the disclosure and concerning ‘related conduct.”’
It didn’t elaborate on what that evidence was or why no penalty against Shelby would be sought.
“This committee hereby considers this matter to be closed,” the senators wrote. A separate letter sent by the committee informed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales it was dropping the case.
The letter was first reported by the National Journal on its Internet site Sunday.
Reporter questioned by FBI
The Washington Post reported in 2004 that Shelby leaked the information to Fox News reporter Carl Cameron after a classified briefing to the Intelligence Committee. Cameron said he talked with the FBI but denied identifying Shelby as the leaker.
“The sum total of my interaction was to tell them that there was no information they could get from Carl Cameron or Fox News and to refer them to my lawyers,” Cameron told the AP last year.
The Post cited sources as saying Shelby met with a CNN reporter after talking with Cameron and that CNN broadcast the information about an hour later. Cameron said he did not air the material that day until after it had already been reported by CNN.
The Post and USA Today reported more extensively on the leaked messages the following day.
More than a year ago, the Alabama Republican hired lawyer Gregory Craig, who represented President Clinton at his impeachment trial, to defend him in the leak probe.
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