Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Growing Rove Problem


White House expresses confidence in top Bush aide

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House broke its silence and said on Tuesday that President Bush continued to have confidence in his top political adviser, Karl Rove, despite his involvement in a scandal over the leak of the identity of a CIA agent.

But Bush and White House spokesman Scott McClellan balked at answering key questions about the case, as some Democrats stepped up calls for Rove to be fired.

McClellan said the White House was asked to remain silent by prosecutors investigating who leaked the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, an act Plame's husband said was meant to discredit him for criticizing Bush's Iraq policy in 2003.

"Any individual who works here at the White House has the president's confidence. They wouldn't be working here if they didn't have the president's confidence," McClellan told reporters in answer to a question.

McClellan had previously refused to say whether Bush still had confidence in Rove.

The adviser, the architect of Bush's two presidential election wins, was reported earlier this week to have talked to at least one reporter about Plame's role at the CIA before she was identified in a newspaper column in July 2003.

In September that year McClellan rejected as "ridiculous" any suggestion that Rove was involved in the Plame leak.

The key questions went unanswered by the White House for a second straight day. So far this week, McClellan has told reporters 23 times that he would not comment because of the "ongoing investigation."

The president also remained silent. In an Oval Office meeting with the prime minister of Singapore, Bush did not respond to a reporter's shouted question about whether he intended to dismiss Rove.

Bush had pledged to dismiss any leakers in the case, which is being investigated by a special prosecutor.

Plame's name was given to reporters and published in the media after her husband, U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, publicly questioned assertions by the Bush administration about Iraq's weapons programs, cited as a reason for the 2003 invasion.


Several prominent Republicans rallied around Rove after some Democrats in Congress called for him to be fired. Democrats have also urged Bush to sideline Rove by suspending his access to classified information.

McClellan brushed aside the suggestion, saying: "There are a number of people at the White House that have various levels of security clearance and I'm confident that those individuals have the appropriate security clearance."

McClellan refused to discuss the issue in detail. "I don't want to do anything to jeopardize the investigation," he said. He added: "And just because I'm not commenting on a continuing investigation doesn't mean you should read anything into it beyond that."

The White House came under increasing pressure this week to explain Rove's role in the case after reports that Rove was one of the secret sources who spoke to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about Plame and her husband. Rove's lawyer was quoted as saying his client did not mention Plame by name.

Faced with jail if he did not discuss his sources, Cooper agreed last week to testify in the investigation. New York Times reporter Judith Miller refused to testify about sources she spoke to on the story and was jailed.

"The White House's credibility is at issue here, and I believe very clearly that Karl Rove ought to be fired," said Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, Bush's rival in the 2004 presidential election.

Joe Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "He should be fired first and prosecuted if he in fact leaked the name."

Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Rove was a victim of a "political smear" by Kerry and other Democrats. "You're seeing a partisan smear by the other side," he said.

A top Senate Republican aide said, "I expect Rove to stay -- unless the special prosecutor steps forward and says he did violate the law."