Friday, April 07, 2006

Bush said to have cleared Iraq leak

Bush said to have cleared Iraq leak
By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former top White House aide testified that President George W. Bush authorized leaking classified intelligence in 2003 in the face of criticism of his Iraq policy from a former ambassador, according to court papers made public on Thursday.

Democrats seized on the news, accusing Bush of hypocrisy. The president has often denounced leaks from his administration and vowed to punish the leakers. This was the first time Bush was directly linked to this incident.

"If the disclosure is true, it's breathtaking. The president is revealed as the leaker-in-chief," said Rep. Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

The papers cited Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, as testifying to a federal grand jury that Cheney had told him that Bush authorized him to disclose information from a secret National Intelligence Estimate to a New York Times reporter in July 2003.

The disclosure arose out of a long-running investigation into the leak of CIA's operative Valerie Plame's identity. Libby testified that he was specifically directed by the vice president to reveal the intelligence information to then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

The court documents did not say that Bush or Cheney authorized Libby to disclose Plame's identity.

Libby also said he was cleared to brief the reporter about Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador who had criticized Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

Democrats, who hope to seize control of Congress from Republicans in November elections, demanded an explanation. Bush ignored a reporter's shouted question about the case.

The White House declined to discuss the disclosure. "Our policy is not to discuss ongoing legal proceedings and that policy is unchanged," said spokesman, Ken Lisaius.

Libby resigned from the administration last October when he was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leaking of Plame's name.

The information about Bush came to light in a 39-page document filed by Fitzgerald in which he argued against Libby's demand for more government documents, which his lawyers say he needs to defend himself.

Libby testified he had been authorized to disclose the information because it rebutted Wilson and Cheney thought it "very important" for it to come out.

Wilson has said White House officials deliberately leaked his wife's identity to pay him back for attacking the grounds used by Bush to justify the Iraq invasion.


Bush had the authority to declassify the material. But the court papers quoted Libby as saying that "it was unique in his recollection" to get approval from the president, via the vice president, for such an action.

The leak occurred at a time when opponents were stepping up their criticism of the March 2003 invasion after U.S. forces had failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Libby said he brought a brief summary of the key findings when he met with Miller on July 8, 2003 at a hotel.

In Congress, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said, "President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said, "It's time for the White House to ... just step forward and honestly state what they knew, when they knew it and what they did about it."

New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer demanded an explanation from Bush and Cheney.

"The president has said he'd fire anyone who leaked this kind of information. But it now seems that he authorized leaks just like this in the first place. The American people deserve the truth," he told reporters.

Bush has often complained about leaks in Washington and vowed to take action against those who released unauthorized information to the public.

"There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington," he said after the Plame news broke in 2003.

"There's leaks at the executive branch, there's leaks in the legislative branch. There's just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is," Bush said then.