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White House Said to Impede Paid-For Journalists Probe

Associated Press | April 15 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Bush administration is impeding an investigation into the Education Department's hiring of commentator Armstrong Williams by refusing to allow key White House officials to be interviewed, a Democratic lawmaker briefed on the review said Thursday.

In addition, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is considering invoking a privilege that he said would require information to be deleted when the final version is publicly released, which is expected within days.

Miller called for Jack Higgins, the inspector general at the Education Department, to delay the report until Spellings agrees not to invoke ``deliberative process privilege'' and the White House grants interviews with current or former officials familiar with the deal.

``The public's right to know is absolutely more important than any claim of privilege that the White House or the Department of Education might make,'' Miller said. ``The public has a right to all the facts about possible misconduct.''

Miller, the top Democrat on the House education committee, received a briefing on the draft findings because he had requested the report. The report also had been requested by then-Education Secretary Rod Paige.

The Education Department deferred questions to the inspector general's office, which could not immediately be reached for comment.

The department has shut down its contract with Ketchum, the public relations firm hired primarily to promote Bush's No Child Left Behind education law. Of the $1.3 million contract, about $240,000 went to Williams, a prominent, conservative media personality.

The money went toward the production of ads, the department says, although Williams was also hired to provide air time to Paige and to influence other black commentators to talk about the law, records show.