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

Friday, July 15, 2005

Senate rejects bid to restrict Rove access

By Rick Klein, Globe Staff | July 15, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The Senate yesterday turned back a Democratic-led attempt to deny White House aide Karl Rove access to classified documents, as the dispute over the revelation that President Bush's top political adviser spread information about a covert CIA agent reached a new level of bitter partisan sniping.

The Democratic bill aimed at revoking Rove's security clearance was part of the party's growing campaign to highlight the disclosure that Rove gave information about the covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. Wilson's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, came to the Capitol yesterday at the invitation of Democrats to call on Bush to fire Rove. ''Karl Rove made his bones doing political dirty tricks," Wilson said, noting that his wife now must work in a different capacity at the CIA because her cover has been blown.

Rove, the architect of George W. Bush's rise to the presidency, exercises virtually unprecedented control over Republican Party politics, and his fall from power would leave an enormous void in the GOP. The White House and Republicans in Congress are trying to ride out the furor.

After Democrats introduced their bill seeking to revoke Rove's credentials, GOP leaders countered with a bill to bar Senate minority leader Harry Reid from security clearance because he once mentioned a classified FBI report on the Senate floor.

Republicans closed ranks to defeat, 53 to 44, the attempt to have Rove's security clearance revoked. The bill aimed at Reid failed by a larger margin, with many Republicans voting with the Democrats.

Rove's attorney has acknowledged that his client told Cooper that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent. The attorney, Robert Luskin, has contended that Rove was trying to warn Cooper about a possible agenda behind Wilson's criticism of the Bush administration, and said Rove only identified the agent as Wilson's wife, not by her name.

But Democrats argue that singling out Wilson's wife as an agent amounts to a disclosure of her identity because their marriage is a matter of public record. Rove's conversation with Cooper took place three days before syndicated columnist Robert Novak cited two administration sources in identifying Plame Wilson as a spy -- the public airing of her identity that led to the current federal investigation. Knowingly divulging the name of an undercover agent is a federal crime.

Rove spoke with Novak on July 8, 2003 -- six days before Novak's syndicated column on Plame appeared -- The New York Times reported today, citing an unnamed individual who has been officially briefed on the matter. The Times report indicates that Rove told investigators he learned of Plame's name from Novak, who had initiated the call. Novak discussed Plame and her husband's trip to Africa to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq, and Rove responded, ''I heard that, too," according to the Times report, which attributed the information to the unnamed person briefed on the matter.

Rove, whose title is deputy chief of staff, continues to have access to sensitive documents. The decision to revoke a security clearance rests with the president, barring congressional intervention.

Democrats say revoking the security clearance of anyone found to leak information is necessary to ensure the protection of secret agents, said Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

''When you expose the name of a covert agent, people die," said Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia. ''Someone calculated that our national security was less important than scoring points in the press with regard to the administration's policy on Iraq. The act was deplorable."

A similar bill stripping Rove of clearance was filed yesterday in the House by Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat, though GOP leaders are unlikely to allow a vote on the measure.

In addition to the federal law against divulging an undercover agent's identity, an executive order issued by President Clinton in 1995 makes federal employees who ''knowingly and willfully grant eligibility for, or allow access to, classified information" subject to ''appropriate sanctions." Those sanctions are determined by the president; Bush has indicated that he would fire anyone found to have leaked an agent's identity but has so far refused to restrict Rove's access to classified information.

The White House yesterday continued its silence on the Rove allegations, although the president was seen in public with Rove in a friendly setting. The two longtime friends were seen amiably chatting on their way to the presidential helicopter, as they prepared for a trip to Indiana.

Senator Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota, asserted that Rove was only trying to warn a reporter away from a bad story.

''Let the special counsel do his work, stop the partisan attacks, let's get away from the gotcha politics of Washington today," Coleman said. But Coleman later joined Senate majority leader Bill Frist in proposing the retaliatory bill aimed at Reid and Senate minority whip Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who last month was forced to apologize after reading an FBI report on prisoner treatment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and comparing it to the treatment by Nazis, Pol Pot, and Soviet gulags.

The counterattack drew bitter charges of a Republican-organized coverup to protect Rove. It failed in a 64-to-33 vote.


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