President Bush believes the unauthorized snooping into the passport files of presidential candidates should be fully investigated, the White House said yesterday.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefed Mr. Bush on the issue over the holiday weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat, said White House press secretary Dana Perino.
The Washington Times first reported Thursday on security breaches involving the passport records of Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat. The furor expanded Friday to incidents involving the passport records of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.
"Obviously this is an important [issue] and there is an investigation under way," Mrs. Perino said. "The president agrees that it needs to be investigated."
Mrs. Perino referenced the probe by the State Department inspector general, but senators from both parties Sunday urged the Department of Justice to investigate, and one of them said even the Senate Judiciary Committee might get involved.
Last week, Miss Rice apologized to the three presidential candidates after the department confirmed the passport files had been compromised.
The passport information was accessed by three State Department contract employees working for two different companies.
Two employees of Stanley Inc., an Arlington-based information technology firm, have already been fired for snooping into Mr. Obama's file.
However, the State Department probe is focusing on one contract employee who accessed both Mr. Obama's and Mr. McCain's files, and is employed by a firm whose CEO is an adviser to Mr. Obama.
John O. Brennan is CEO of The Analysis Corp., an information technology firm based in McLean. Mr. Brennan is a former CIA officer who advises Mr. Obama on foreign policy and intelligence and recently contradicted Mr. Obama's position on immunity for companies who aided a government spy program.
Mrs. Clinton's file was opened by an intern who was involved in a training exercise using the passport database, the State Department said.
None of the contract employees who went into the files has been named, though House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, has demanded the names be given to his panel.
Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey indicated that prosecutors likely would wait until the inspector general concludes his inquiry before deciding whether to investigate.
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Sunday urged Mr. Mukasey to take up the case, saying several federal criminal statutes may have been broken, and indicated that his panel might take a look as well.
"I think privacy is a very fundamental matter. And if you can't have privacy for Senator McCain and Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, so what's the average person facing?" Mr. Specter said.