- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

Documents given to former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill for an insider book on his two years in President Bush’s Cabinet contained classified information, successor John W. Snow told Congress in a letter yesterday.

Mr. Snow’s letter, obtained by the Associated Press, said that a preliminary investigation conducted by the Treasury Department’s inspector general found that sensitive information was released in the documents given to Mr. O’Neill after he was ousted in late 2002.

The “documents were not properly reviewed before their release,” the letter said.

Treasury began an inquiry last month into the documents after a TV segment on CBS’ “60 Minutes” — during which Mr. O’Neill was promoting the book “The Price of Loyalty” — showed a document marked “secret.”

Mr. O’Neill provided some 19,000 documents to former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind for the book, an account of Mr. O’Neill’s two years in the Bush Cabinet. The former secretary said he basically passed along documents the department sent him after he left. Mr. Suskind has posted many of the documents on the Internet.

Administration officials have expressed strong disagreement with parts of the book, in which Mr. O’Neill characterizes Mr. Bush as a disengaged chief executive.

In one passage that has received much attention, Mr. O’Neill says that from the earliest days of Mr. Bush’s new administration, the president was planning on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Mr. O’Neill was fired in a shakeup of Mr. Bush’s economic team in December 2002.

Mr. Snow’s letter said, “We have identified a number of documents that contain classified information and we are taking corrective action concerning those documents.”

The investigation is still under way, a spokeswoman said.

Mr. Snow also said the department was taking steps to prevent sensitive, classified information from being released in the future.

He said the department is beginning to provide additional security training, including focusing on the handling of such documents.

The department also is looking into using a third party to review Treasury’s policies for handling sensitive information.

The letter was sent to lawmakers, including top members of the appropriations committees in the House and Senate as well as the Senate Banking Committee and committees on government affairs and intelligence.

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