Fox's Baier failed to challenge Hoekstra's explanation for suspending Democratic House Intelligence Committee staffer over alleged NIE leak

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

Fox News' Brett Baier failed to challenge Rep. Peter Hoekstra's claim that his decision to suspend a Democratic House Intelligence Committee staffer for allegedly leaking portions of a National Intelligence Estimate was based on "sufficient evidence." A Washington Post report debunked a previous claim by Hoekstra about the staffer's involvement.

On the October 22 edition of Fox News' Weekend Live, guest host and Fox News senior White House correspondent Brett Baier failed to challenge Rep. Peter Hoekstra's (R-MI) claim that his recent decision to suspend a Democratic House Intelligence Committee staffer for allegedly leaking portions of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was based on "sufficient evidence." Baier did not mention that two days before on Fox News, Hoekstra specifically stated that he suspended the staffer, later reported to be Larry Hanauer, upon learning that he had requested a copy of the classified NIE and "within a matter of a couple of days, it was on the front page of The New York Times." Hoekstra's purported timeline of the NIE leak was subsequently debunked by an October 21 Washington Post article. The Post reported that the Times reporters had interviewed numerous government officials and experts for weeks before running the story on the NIE. The Post further reported that Hanauer obtained the NIE because Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who had received media inquiries about it, had requested it.

On the October 20 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, guest host Julie Banderas interviewed Hoekstra regarding his decision to suspend Hanauer. While Hoekstra refused to confirm the identity of the Democratic staffer in question, he asserted that "[t]his individual had specifically requested this National Intelligence Estimate by title." Hoekstra said that "[w]hen it came into the House Intelligence Committee, within a matter of a couple of days, it was on the front page of The New York Times," adding that "along with some other stuff, that's why we're looking at this information and this individual at this time." In the October 21 Post report, staff writer Walter Pincus reported that Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL), another House Intelligence Committee member, wrote a letter "more than three weeks ago" urging Hoekstra to investigate the "coincidence" that, in Pincus's words, "the Democratic staffer obtained the document, at the request of a member, two days before stories about its contents were published."

But unlike his October 20 appearance on The Big Story, Hoekstra omitted the specifics of his decision to suspend Hanauer during his October 22 interview with Baier. During the interview, Baier said to Hoekstra: "[E]xplain why you've suspended this Democratic staffer and what led you to this suspension." Hoekstra replied: "We thought that there was sufficient evidence that we should restrict this person's access to the committee spaces and this person's access to classified information," later adding: "This employee [Hanauer] raised red flags." However, Baier did not point out Hoekstra's October 20 comments to Banderas, nor did he mention the Post report undermining those claims. According to Pincus's article:

Intelligence community sources, speaking anonymously because the NIE remains classified, have told The Washington Post that Times reporters were asking questions about the contents of that NIE weeks before publication of the story.

Pincus also noted that the original Times article that disclosed the NIE -- which found, in part, that the Iraq war has worsened the threat of terrorism -- had reported that the story was a result of interviews with "[m]ore than a dozen United States government officials and outside experts." Pincus then reported that Hanauer requested the NIE because Tierney had asked to see it "[t]hree days before the publication of the Times story, on Sept. 20":

Three days before publication of the Times story, on Sept. 20, Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), a member of the intelligence panel, received a media inquiry about the NIE, according to a statement his office released yesterday. Tierney said yesterday that he knew nothing about it but called over to the Democratic staff and asked whether such a report had been received. The staff member talked to the committee security officer, who said such reports had not been put on an internal, secure Web site because of technical problems, according to a committee staff member who asked not to be identified.

Hanauer and the security officer called the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which had produced the NIE, and a copy of the secret document was delivered the next day, Sept. 21. The staff member took a hard copy to Tierney, and the committee security officer scanned it into the panel's classified Web site, making it available to all committee members. Tierney said that after he read it and saw it was classified he refused to discuss it with reporters.

From the October 20 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:

BANDERAS: All right. And, you know, Fox has also learned that the staffer in question here -- we've got a name, maybe you can confirm it for us here on The Big Story -- Larry Hanauer, a foreign-policy staffer who once worked at the Pentagon during the Clinton years. Can you confirm that here on Fox?

HOEKSTRA: I'm not going to get into any individual names or whatever. I can tell you it was a Democratic staffer of the committee. This individual had specifically requested this National Intelligence Estimate by title. This thing had been available in the community for over a period of six months. When it came into the House Intelligence Committee, within a matter of a couple of days, it was on the front page of The New York Times. That's why, and along with some other stuff, that's why we're looking at this information and this individual at this time.

From the October 22 edition of Fox News' Weekend Live:

BAIER: While North Korea simmers and Iraq heats up, a home-grown intelligence caper is taking hold in Washington after a Democratic staffer from the House Intelligence Committee is suspended, suspected of involvement in a politically motivated leak of the National Intelligence Estimate. Here now with more on all of this is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra. Congressman thanks for being here.

HOEKSTRA: Hey. Good to be here.

BAIER: First of all, explain why you've suspended this Democratic staffer and what led you to this suspension.

HOEKSTRA: Well, as we took a look at the information and the actual things that happened when the National Intelligence Estimate was leaked a few weeks ago - again, a highly classified document -- we thought that there was sufficient evidence that we should restrict this person's access to the committee spaces and this person's access to classified information until we could peel away all of the layers and find out and determine whether this person was at all implicated in the leak of this classified information.

BAIER: Now, it's not surprising. I'm sure that you're hearing that this is a political push-back. Democrats charging that you're just doing this because Representative Jane Harman [D-CA], the ranking member on your committee, released an executive summary of a report on former Congressman Cunningham, Duke Cunningham [R-CA], of course, his dealings with a defense appropriator. He's now, of course, in jail for accepting bribes from two defense contractors. They're all saying that this is just tit for tat. Your answer to that?

HOEKSTRA: Well -- there is no doubt. I'm extremely disappointed and frustrated with the politicization of the intelligence committee by some of my colleagues on the other side. I think -- you know, last week, Monday, almost unprecedented activity. The ranking member -- you know, our committee was the only committee that did an investigation of Duke Cunningham. And we recognized that to do it, we needed to do it in a bipartisan basis. We had done, you know, about 10, 12 months of work totally in a bipartisan basis. We had a preliminary internal document that outlined the findings of this study. And she went and released it to the public. Didn't notify me. And, yeah, I'm frustrated by that.

But there are different two issues: the politicization of the committee, and my responsibility as chairman of the committee to make sure that classified information stays classified. This employee raised red flags. I've got a zero tolerance for employees leaking classified information. I needed to send a clear signal to every single employee on the committee: We do not leak classified information, and we do not verify information to the press that they've attained somewhere else that it is actually legitimate.

BAIER: Last question on this. Representative Harman says this is an abuse of your power. She says that this NIE was made -- given to essentially many committees and this staffer -- there is no evidence that this staffer essentially leaked this document.

HOEKSTRA: It's my responsibility to maintain the integrity of the committee. There was sufficient evidence to suspend this person's access to classified information until we found out either their role in leaking the information or verifying the accuracy of the information that a reporter may have gotten from somewhere else. Either one of those steps is a violation of committee rules, and it is an unauthorized disclosure of classified information. It's my responsibility to maintain the integrity, not hers.

BAIER: You seemed always to have a good relationship with Representative Harman. It's getting ugly here. Do you think that that's because you're heading into these midterms?

HOEKSTRA: Well, there's no doubt that over the last 16 to 18 months, Jane and I, on many issues, have gotten along very, very well. But, you know, what's happened is intelligence has been politicized. Take a look at all of the leaks that have come out. The leak on the national -- or the terrorist surveillance program, the financial tracking system, the detainee program. Those leaks have all been made, and it's clear, with a political purpose. I don't know where they've come from. But sure, those things have created somewhat of a tension in the House Intelligence Committee. It's really disappointing. Intelligence is the tip of the spear against a very dangerous enemy. We can't politicize this; we're still a nation at risk.

BAIER: Congressman, we have about 30 seconds left. Let me ask you about North Korea.

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Bret Baier
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