A meeting of the House Intelligence Committee abruptly terminated this morning when Justice Department officials called to testify about their review of an internal CIA report on the 2001 shootdown of a plane over Peru that was carrying American missionaries refused to take the oath. Two innocent persons died due to a mistake confusing their plane with one being used to transport drugs. The Associated Press reports Justice’s meager effort at cover:
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said Justice employees “have previously briefed committee staff on this matter and were prepared to provide a similar informal briefing to committee members. We are unaware of any precedent for Department officials providing informal briefings to be placed under oath,” she said.
The issue of administering the oath to Justice Department spokesmen became more acute after a parade of high-level Justice Department officials appeared before Congressional committees in 2007-08 and gave false testimony concerning the politicization of the department, particularly in connection with the U.S. attorneys scandal.
Ranking Republican Pete Hoekstra has raised questions for some time about the CIA’s handling of the Peru incident. Hoekstra says that CIA report, which remains classified, identifies agents who misled Congress and obstructed a Justice Department investigation into criminal charges. In 2005, the Justice Department decided against any criminal action, but its explanations for the decision have not satisfied many observers.
So far, Justice has failed to bring a single prosecution in any of the cases in which its representatives misled Congress. In one case, involving former Civil Rights Division head Brad Schlozman, the decision not to prosecute came notwithstanding conclusions that Schlozman’s false statements were material and were not a matter of innocent forgetfulness. The refusal of Justice officials today to testify under oath before the Intelligence Committee will only serve to highlight the department’s on-going problems with telling the truth before oversight bodies.