News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dems Call for Bill on Security Clearance

By Ron Fournier / Associated Press

Senate Democrats moved forcefully into the controversy surrounding White House aide Karl Rove on Thursday, calling for legislation to deny security clearances to officials who disclose the identity of an undercover agent.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., sought to attach the proposal to a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security, and aides said he hoped for a vote by day's end.

Reid, the Democratic leader, made his move as Republicans watched nervously to see whether the controversy over Rove's involvement in a news leak that exposed a CIA officer's identity would pose a credibility problem at the White House.

While the president passed up another chance Wednesday to directly voice confidence in his deputy chief of staff, his political team engineered a series of testimonials from members of Congress who praised Rove and condemned Democratic critics. And Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan, told reporters the president has confidence in his longtime confidant.

"The extreme left is once again attempting to define the modern Democratic Party by rabid partisan attacks, character assassination and endless negativity," said Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., chairman of the GOP congressional campaign committee. The Republican National Committee, virtually a political arm of the White House, urged GOP lawmakers to go public.

Still, several top GOP officials — including some White House advisers — said the fight was becoming a distraction to Bush's agenda. The GOP officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of Bush's friendship with Rove, said the president may face a credibility problem because his spokesman said in September that anybody involved in the leak would be fired.

These Republicans, all admirers of Rove, said they were surprised and disappointed when Bush stopped short of publicly backing his longtime aide.

Their concerns were reflected in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that showed a plurality of voters rate Bush negatively on "being honest and straightforward" for the first time in his presidency. The focus on Rove comes as Bush publicly wrestles with a Supreme Court vacancy and growing voter unease with his policies on Iraq and Social Security.

A survey of Republicans outside Washington revealed similar concerns, though few officials were willing to go on record.

"I think he should resign," said Jim Holt, a GOP state senator from Arkansas who is running for lieutenant governor. He joked, "I hope Karl Rove doesn't come gunning for me."

Meanwhile, Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, called on Bush Thurday to fire Rove, saying that the president's confidant had engaged in an "abuse of power."

In an interview broadcast on NBC's "Today" show, Wilson decried what he called a White House "stonewall" in the wake of the Rove revelations.

Bush said Wednesday that he would not discuss the matter further until a criminal investigation is finished.

"This is a serious investigation," the president told reporters after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, where Rove sat just behind him. "And it is very important for people not to prejudge the investigation based on media reports."

Bush has passed up several opportunities to voice support for Rove, though the political operative's allies were told the vote of confidence was to come Wednesday. In a silent show of support, Bush chatted amiably with Rove as the pair walked to Marine One for the president's trip to Indiana on Thursday.

A federal grand jury heard more testimony Wednesday in its probe into whether anyone in the administration illegally leaked the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame in July 2003. Her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the administration's rationale for invading Iraq, has said the leak was an attempt to discredit him.

Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who wrote an article that identified Plame, appeared before the grand jury for 2 1/2 hours.

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said in a statement, "Cooper's truthful testimony today will not call into question the accuracy or completeness of anything Rove has previously said to the prosecutor or the grand jury. If the prosecutor seeks additional information from Rove in light of Cooper's testimony, Rove will promptly supply it.

Each political side intensified its attempts to discredit the other on Wednesday, producing a flurry of press releases and news conferences.

Reid and three other Senate Democratic leaders — Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan — sent a letter to Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, asking him to release results of an initial internal investigation into the leak., a liberal advocacy group, announced its members would stage a protest in front of the White House on Thursday to demand Rove's firing.

A survey of more than a dozen Republicans who live outside Washington found most siding with the White House. "It's a tempest in a teapot," said Denzil Garrison, former state GOP leader in Oklahoma.

Holt, the lieutenant governor candidate in Arkansas, said he was assigned to the National Security Agency while serving in the Army from 1989 to 1996. "If I were an operative, I sure wouldn't want anybody to reveal my identity," he said.

The White House previously has said Rove was not involved in the leak. But an internal Time magazine e-mail disclosed over the weekend suggested Rove mentioned to Time reporter Cooper that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent.


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