The White House on Friday declined to challenge assertions that President Bush authorized the leaks of intelligence information to counter administration critics on Iraq.
But Bush’s spokesman, Scott McClellan, appeared to draw a distinction about Bush’s oft-stated opposition to leaks. “The president would never authorize disclosure of information that could compromise our nation’s security,” Bush’s spokesman said.
Court papers filed by the prosecutor in the CIA leak case against I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby said Bush authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified prewar intelligence report. The court papers say Libby’s boss, advised him that the president had authorized Libby to leak the information to the press in striking back at administration critic Joseph Wilson.
McClellan volunteered that the administration declassified information from the intelligence report– the National Intelligence Estimate–and released it to the public on July 18, 2003. But he refused to say when the information was actually declassified. The date could be significant because Libby discussed the information with a reporter on July 8 of that year.
On Thursday, disclosure of official authorization for Libby’s leaks to reporters brought strong criticism from administration political foes, but little likelihood that their demands for explanations will be met.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., citing Bush’s call two years ago to find the person who leaked the CIA identity of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, said the latest disclosures means the president needs to go no further than a mirror.
In his court filing, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald asserted that “the president was unaware of the role” that Libby “had in fact played in disclosing” Plame’s CIA status. The prosecutor gave no such assurance, though, regarding Cheney.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that “in light of today’s shocking revelation, President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information. The American people must know the truth.”
The prosecutor’s court papers offer a glimpse inside the White House when the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation of the Plame leak in September 2003. Libby “implored White House officials” to issue a statement saying he had not been involved in revealing Plame’s identity, and that when his initial efforts met with no success, he “sought the assistance of the vice president in having his name cleared,” the prosecutor stated.
The White House eventually said neither Libby nor Karl Rove had been involved in the leak. Rove remains under criminal investigation.