Sunday, July 24, 2005

Democrats spotlight CIA leak in radio address


Democrats spotlight CIA leak in radio address

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats attacked President Bush's response to a top aide's role in outing a CIA operative on Saturday, turning their radio address over to an ex-agent critical of his actions.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA agent and registered Republican, accused Bush of flip-flopping on his promise to fire anyone at the White House implicated in the leak and said Americans deserved better.

"We deserve people who work in the White House who are committed to protecting classified information, telling the truth to the American people, and living by example to the idea that a country at war with Islamic extremists cannot focus its efforts on attacking other American citizens who simply tried to tell the truth," Johnson said.

Democrats have urged Bush to fire top adviser Karl Rove or revoke his access to classified information after he was identified by a reporter as being a source in the leak of Valerie Plame's name two years ago. The leak came after her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, accused the White House of twisting intelligence to justify an invasion of Iraq.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is leading the probe into the unmasking of Plame, whose identity and role at the CIA were made public in a column by Robert Novak. Novak cited "two senior administration officials" as his sources.

It is against the law in certain circumstances to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA officer.

According to articles on Saturday in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, Fitzgerald is also looking into potential discrepancies between the accounts given to investigators by Rove and vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and the accounts given by journalists who have testified.

For example, the Post, citing an anonymous source, said that Libby has testified that he learned about Plame from NBC correspondent Tim Russert. But Russert has said he gave no such information to Libby, who is Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

Rove testified that he and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper discussed welfare reform in their conversation and only spoke about Plame near the end of the call, the Post said, citing lawyers involved in the case. However, Cooper has said he does not recall talking to Rove about welfare reform.

Bush said this week he would fire anyone who was found by a federal probe to have acted illegally in the case, but critics accused the president of lowering the "ethics bar." Bush and his aides have at times in the past been broader in asserting that those involved in the leak would face consequences.

Cooper told a federal grand jury that Rove told him Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, but did not disclose her name. Cooper has also said he discussed the Wilsons with Libby.

Johnson was one of a handful of former intelligence agents who testified at a Democratic-sponsored hearing on the leak on Friday. He said he knew Plame from a training program, but only as "Val P" because participants were told that would help protect their identities.

Some of the White House's defenders have sought to minimize Plame's role at the CIA to argue the leak was not a national security issue. "We must put to bed the lie that she was not undercover," Johnson said. "For starters, if she had not been undercover then the CIA would not have referred the matter to the Justice Department."

The Los Angeles Times reported that in the prosecutors' search to learn how knowledge of Plame's identity spread through the administration and the news media, several State Department officials were questioned about a classified memo that mentions her name.