Staff and Wire Reports / Capitol Hill Blue – 2004-06-08 09:10:21
WASHINGTON (June 3, 2004) — Witnesses told a federal grand jury President George W. Bush knew about, and took no action to stop, the release of a covert CIA operative’s name to a journalist in an attempt to discredit her husband, a critic of administration policy in Iraq.
Their damning testimony has prompted Bush to contact an outside lawyer for legal advice because evidence increasingly points to his involvement in the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name to syndicated columnist Robert Novak.
The move suggests the president anticipates being questioned by prosecutors. Sources say grand jury witnesses have implicated the President and his top advisor, Karl Rove. White House spokesmen, however, dismiss the hiring of outside counsel as a routine precaution. “The president has made it very clear he wants everyone to cooperate fully with the investigation and that would include himself,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday night.
He confirmed that Bush had contacted Washington attorney Jim Sharp. “In the event the president needs his advice, I expect he probably would retain him,” McClellan said. There is no indication Bush has been questioned yet.
Bush Rumored Complicit in Security Breach
A federal grand jury has questioned numerous White House and administration officials to learn who leaked the name of CIA operative Plame, wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to the news media. Wilson has charged that officials made the disclosure in an effort to discredit him.
Bush has been an outspoken critics of leaks, saying they can be very damaging, but he has expressed doubts that the government’s investigation will pinpoint who was responsible. While Bush has said he welcomed the leak investigation, it has been an awkward development for a president who promised to bring integrity and leadership to the White House after years of Republican criticism and investigations of the Clinton administration.
Even though he has a White House counsel, Bush is dependent on outside lawyers for private matters. A memo distributed to the staff last year reminded officials that the counsel’s office works solely for the president in his official capacity and is not a private attorney for anyone.
Bush Urged to ‘Come Forward with What He Knows’
Democrats seized on the news to criticize the president. “It speaks for itself that the president initially claimed he wanted to get to the bottom of this, but now he’s suddenly retained a lawyer,” said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. “Bush shouldn’t drag the country through grand juries and legal maneuvering. President Bush should come forward with what he knows and come clean with the American people.”
Plame was first identified by syndicated columnist and TV commentator Novak in a column last July. Novak said his information came from administration sources. Wilson has said he believes his wife’s name was leaked because of his criticism of Bush administration claims that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Niger, which Wilson investigated for the CIA and found to be untrue.
Disclosure of an undercover officer’s identity can be a federal crime. The grand jury has heard from witnesses and combed through thousands of pages of documents turned over by the White House, but returned no indictments.
The probe is being handled by Chicago US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, appointed after Attorney General John Ashcroft stepped aside from case because of his political ties to the White House.
Wilson has suggested in a book that the leaker was Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney. But Wilson’s book, The Politics of Truth,”gave no conclusive evidence for the claim. The White House denied the claim and accused Wilson of seeking to bolster the campaign of Democrat John Kerry, for whom he has acted as a foreign policy adviser.
Wilson also said it’s possible the leak came from Elliott Abrams, a figure in the Reagan administration Iran-Contra affair and now a member of Bush’s National Security Council. And Rove, Bush’s chief political adviser, may have circulated information about Wilson and Plame “in administration and neoconservative circles” even if Rove was not himself the leaker, Wilson wrote.
Another possibility is that two lower-level officials in Cheney’s office — John Hannah or David Wurmser — leaked Plame’s identity at the behest of higher-ups “to keep their fingerprints off the crime,” Wilson speculated.
Sources within the investigation say evidence points to Rove approving release of the leak. They add that their investigation suggests the President knew about Rove’s actions but took no action to stop release of Plame’s name.
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