WASHINGTON — The lawmaker who has spearheaded the congressional investigation of the last Administration's aid to Iraq before the 1991 Persian Gulf War vowed Thursday to continue a full-scale inquiry until all questions are answered.
Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.) of the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee said that he will target the Justice Department's handling of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro loan fraud case and seek documents from the White House and other agencies that were withheld from him by the George Bush Administration. Those records are now under the control of the Clinton Administration.
"I will request all BNL and Iraq-related documents" from the new Administration, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez's comments came two days after Atty. Gen.-designate Zoe Baird told the Senate Judiciary Committee that she plans "a very close look" at the handling of the BNL case, which involves $5 billion in fraudulent loans to Iraq by the Italian bank's Atlanta office and has enmeshed the Justice Department in controversy for months.
The department has been criticized for not pursuing the investigation aggressively, though former Atty. Gen. William P. Barr and a special outside investigator have praised the handling of the case. The Justice Department and the CIA also have been feuding over responsibility for withholding of intelligence data from the federal judge in Atlanta who presided over the BNL case.
One question that the new attorney general will address is whether an independent counsel is needed to examine the Bush Administration's dealings with Iraq before the Gulf War and whether the Administration accurately described those dealings to Congress. Barr twice rejected congressional requests for an independent counsel. Baird said she strongly supports a new independent counsel statute.
The law expired last month and sources said that President Clinton has indicated to Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) of the House Judiciary Committee that he favors a bill reinstating the act. Brooks is expected to introduce the legislation next week.
Gonzalez said that the release late last year of British intelligence documents about Iraq's prewar arms-buying network raised questions about whether the information was shared with the CIA and other U.S. agencies.
The British knew by 1987 that Iraq was buying Western technology to develop a major arms industry, according to the British documents. If that information was passed on to U.S. intelligence officials, it would cast new doubts on the U.S. policy of providing technology to Iraq that could be used for commercial or military purposes during that period, said Gonzalez.
U.S. and British authorities have refused to discuss any aspect of intelligence sharing. However, a comparison of classified documents from agencies of both governments that have been made public seems to indicate that the British were passing on information about Iraq's arms network.
A June, 1989, analysis by the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency matched information obtained in previous months by British intelligence through British businessmen selling machine tools to Iraq with government approval. Similar information showed up a few months later in a CIA report.