WASHINGTON -- The White House, over Democratic cries of stonewalling, is forbidding federal agencies from cooperating with a congressional probe into U.S. policy and drug trafficking by foreign officials, including Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega.
The White House announced late Thursday it would not turn over the information to the General Accounting Office because it was too sensitive. Earlier in the day, the White House said it wanted to review the GAO request.
Democrats and investigators said the White House order was aimed at preventing potentially embarrassing disclosures from rocking the presidential campaign of Republican Vice President George Bush.
Nancy Kingsbury, head of a GAO investigative team, said the president's National Security Council had consistently blocked her team's efforts to study how information about drug trafficking by foreign officials influences foreign policy decisions by the United Sates.
The White House order prompted charges of 'stonewalling' by Dukakis and a Democratic senator.
'I would hope the administration would seriously rethink its position on this issue and do what it should do, and that is to authorize those agencies to cooperate fully with the General Accounting Office and Congress,' Dukakis said in Miami.
'If we're serious in fighting this war (on drugs) we can't have any stonewalling from the federal government or from the White House or from agencies that should be cooperating with the GAO,' Dukakis said.
'There has been a concerted stonewalling by this administration,' Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said during a news conference in Boston.
'I think that George Bush, as he now assumes the mantle of leadership of the Republican Party ... ought to be asked whether his government will be open ... to lay out the full story on the table. I want to know whether we're back to the time of Richard Nixon, when stonewalling was an art form,' Kerry said.
Noriega was indicted by two Florida federal grand juries in February on drug trafficking charges. The Reagan administration offered to drop the charges if Noriega would resign and leave Panama, but Noriega refused.
The GAO, the investigatory arm of Congress, said its researchers are using drug-running allegations against Noriega as a 'case study.'
The White House ordered the State Department, CIA, Pentagon and Drug Enforcement Administration not to cooperate with the GAO investigation.
In a statement from Santa Barbara, Calif., where President Reagan is vacationing, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the Justice Department 'has concluded that the subject matter of the request is beyond GAO's statutory authority.'
'The Justice Department has also concluded that, even were the request within GAO's legal authority, there are statutory and constitutional objections to providing various specific categories of information requested,' Fitzwater said.
'If GAO reformulates its request in a manner consistent with its statutory authority and the legal principles involved, we will respond to any such new request in an appropriate manner.'
Fitzwater complained that the GAO wanted, '... sensitive intelligence material, information from open law enforcement files, and material reflecting the deliberative decision-making process of the executive branch.'
Congressional investigators said they learned that Noriega became a paid CIA 'asset' in the 1960s, when he worked in Panamanian military intelligence.
The new investigation follows evidence uncovered in a two-year examination, led by Kerry, that Noriega remained a paid 'asset' of the CIA, and enjoyed close relations with senior Pentagon and CIA officials who learned of his alleged involvement with drug traffickers in the mid-1970s.
Several dozen United Press International interviews with federal law enforcement officials, as well as public congressional testimony, indicate that the government collected voluminous reports and evidence pointing to Noriega's involvement with drug traffickers dating back several years.
A senior U.S. intelligence official, who asked to remain unidentified, explained why the CIA maintained a relationship with Noriega for years following the first reports of his drug ties.
'We're in the business of gathering intelligence,' he said, 'and we can't cut off sources of intelligence just because we find they are not model citizens.'