WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration, alarmed about Congress' recent disclosures of the White House's 1988-1990 policies toward Iraq, has told the chairman of the House Banking Committee that it will not provide him with any more classified information unless he agrees to stop making it public.
The warning, in a letter Friday to Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat, from Attorney General William P. Barr, paves the way for a possible confrontation between Congress and the administration.
Although Mr. Barr provided no specifics about his charges, the committee has been investigating early U.S. links with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein -- as far back as the Reagan administration, when Mr. Bush was vice president -- as well as loans made by the Atlanta branch of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, which some say have been used to finance Iraqi arms.
Mr. Gonzalez has been particularly critical of the administration's practices from 1988 to 1990, branding them as part of "a flawed and tragic policy that ignored applicable laws and ultimately led to the loss of countless human lives."
The administration long has been annoyed at Mr. Gonzalez's insistence on reviewing its pre-gulf war policies, and Mr. Gonzalez has been equally adamant about obtaining the data.
In an interview yesterday, the Banking Committee chairman said that he would continue to subpoena administration documents relating to that issue and might well ask the full House to issue a contempt-of-Congress citation if Mr. Barr refused.
Asked whether he intended to comply with Mr. Barr's demands, Mr. Gonzalez replied: "Absolutely not! We've still got 46 percent of the way to go" before completing the investigation. Both Mr. Barr's letters and Mr. Gonzalez's response were made public by the congressman's office here.
Mr. Gonzalez's investigations and outspoken criticism of the administration have been a thorn in the side of the White House. Early last week, the Texas lawmaker said that he had information that about $100 million in counterfeit dollars is circulating through Europe and the Middle East.
In his letter, Mr. Gonzalez wrote that Mr. Barr's correspondence "suggests that the Bush administration plans to move from foot-dragging to outright obstruction."
In fact, the attorney general's letter did not refuse such information permanently. But it did warn that the administration would not provide any more classified documents "until specific assurances are received" that the documents would be protected from unauthorized disclosure.