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O'Neill didn't misuse documents, Snow says

Probe: Treasury Department erred in releasing secret papers

Paul O'Neill received classified documents, but the Treasury Department was at fault, his replacement said Sunday.
Paul O'Neill received classified documents, but the Treasury Department was at fault, his replacement said Sunday.

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BOCA RATON, Florida (CNN) -- Treasury Secretary John Snow said Sunday that his predecessor, Paul O'Neill, did nothing wrong when he used departmental documents as source material for a book that cast President Bush in an unflattering light.

An investigation showed that some of those documents were classified and should not have been released to O'Neill, Treasury Department sources have told CNN.

"I should make it clear that nothing that former Secretary O'Neill did in any way calls into question the propriety of his actions," Snow said in an interview with CNN at the conclusion of a meeting of G-7 finance ministers.

The investigation by the department's inspector general found that though O'Neill did receive classified material from the department after his resignation, the lapse was the fault of the Treasury Department, not O'Neill, the sources said.

In a letter sent to members of Congress on Friday, Snow said the documents "were not properly reviewed before their release" and that "we are taking corrective action concerning those documents," according to sources.

Snow said Sunday that O'Neill "no longer possesses the documents, as far as I understand."

O'Neill, who was forced out as treasury secretary in late 2002 during a shake-up of Bush's economic team, said he had asked the department for material related to his tenure and had received about 19,000 documents contained in CDs.

He then provided that information to former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind, who was writing a book about O'Neill's experience in the Bush administration.

In that book, "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill," the former treasury secretary was quoted as saying that plans for going to war in Iraq were discussed in the earliest days of Bush's presidency, well before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He also described the president as being like "a blind man in a room full of deaf people" during Cabinet meetings.

O'Neill has stood behind his criticisms since the book was released.

The book raised a furor when it was released in January. The Treasury Department launched an investigation after CBS broadcast an episode of "60 Minutes" that contained an interview during which O'Neill held up a document marked "secret."

Bush critics charged that O'Neill was being targeted for his comments, but Treasury officials said they had no choice but to investigate whether classified documents had been misused.

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