Statement by Assistant to the President for Press Relations Fitzwater on the General Accounting Office Investigation of General Noriega of Panama


August 18, 1988


The General Accounting Office's request for information on General Noriega asks for a broad range of sensitive intelligence material, information from open law enforcement files, and material reflecting the deliberative decisionmaking process of the executive branch. Administration officials met with the GAO in an effort to narrow the request, which GAO declined to do.


Because the request involved extremely sensitive intelligence and law enforcement information, and because the attempt to inquire into the deliberative process of the executive branch raises serious constitutional concerns, we informed GAO on July 13, 1988, that [we] would need to complete a legal review of the issues raised by their request before responding. The Justice Department has just completed that review and 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 the GAO's legal authority, there are statutory and constitutional objections to providing various specific categories of information requests.


Consistent with the legal advice we have now received from the Justice Department, we will be informing GAO that we cannot participate in the study as currently designed. The administration is prepared to meet with GAO to discuss the legal issues involved. Moreover, 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.