- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A bipartisan coalition of Senate and House members yesterday demanded that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales order the FBI to brief Congress on its five-year anthrax investigation, saying its refusal to do so is “unprecedented and inexcusable.”

In a letter signed by 33 members of Congress, the coalition described as “inappropriate” a decision by the FBI to refuse congressional requests for information on the investigation and criticized the bureau for a blanket prohibition on anthrax briefings because of concerns over the potential disclosure of sensitive information.

“We’re seeing more and more agencies thwart the constitutional responsibility of Congress,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and outgoing chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He has led the effort to get FBI briefings on the probe. “Unfortunately, the FBI’s refusal to provide briefings to Congress following the 2001 anthrax attacks appears to be the rule rather than the exception.”

Rep. Rush D. Holt, New Jersey Democrat who also has been at the forefront of efforts to get information on the anthrax probe, said the attacks had harmed the “heath and livelihoods of my constituents and paralyzed the government and national commerce.”

“All Americans deserve to know why this five-year investigation has made so little progress,” he said.

The letter comes in the wake of two other attempts by Mr. Grassley and Mr. Holt to get information about the handling of the inquiry, formally known as the “Amerithrax investigation.” In response, the Justice Department and the FBI announced a policy against all congressional briefings on the matter.

The FBI’s anthrax investigation began in October 2001 after Congress became one of the targets in the first bioterrorist attack on the United States. A letter laced with the deadly bacterium was addressed to Tom Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat who served as Senate majority leader.

Anthrax-tainted letters ultimately killed five persons in the United States and infected 17 others.

The FBI took primary responsibility in the case and has described its probe as one of the largest and most complex in the history of law enforcement. It said recently it has conducted 9,000 interviews and issued 6,000 subpoenas in the case. Nearly 20 FBI agents, working with inspectors from the U.S. Postal Service, continue to pursue the case.

Mr. Grassley, also a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the FBI, said a detailed examination of the probe may reveal the FBI’s “institutional resistance to criticism and dissent.” He said many of the resources devoted to the probe were aimed at proving that former Army scientist Steven Hatfill, once identified as a “person of interest” in the investigation, was involved.

The Justice Department has since said that the strain of anthrax used in the attacks was available to a wider circle of people than initially thought.

Among those who signed the letter were Republican Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Trent Lott of Mississippi; and Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, all of whom serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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