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

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ethics Class Is in Session Again at White House - Los Angeles Times

In alphabetical order, staffers, Rove included, begin refresher courses after the indictment of Libby. Bush and Cheney are excused.
By Johanna Neuman
Times Staff Writer

November 9, 2005

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of White House employees, selected in alphabetical order, filed into Room 450 of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Tuesday to begin ethics refresher courses on how to handle classified information.

With the CIA leak investigation contributing to a drop in his approval ratings, President Bush ordered the hourlong briefings by White House Ethics Officer Richard Painter to be conducted over the next two weeks.

Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said the briefings were mandatory for all 3,000 people who work in White House offices and agencies, except for the two men who hired the staff: Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Tuesday's audience included staffers whose last names began with the early letters of the alphabet, including White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, the president's top political advisor, is expected to attend class today.

Bush decided to order the refresher courses, a redo of the classes that every White House employee takes on arrival, after the indictment Oct. 28 of Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to investigators and a grand jury looking into who leaked the name of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media.

Libby was not charged directly with violating any laws in revealing Plame's identity, but the indictment forced him to resign.

The indictment also asserted that an unnamed "Official A," who sources have said is Rove, told Libby that he had spoken about the CIA officer with syndicated columnist Robert Novak before Novak's July 14, 2003, column, which included the first public mention of Plame's name and CIA affiliation. Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is considering whether to charge Rove in connection with the case.

Some Democrats have urged the White House to revoke Rove's security clearance. McClellan said Tuesday that Rove was "continuing to perform his duties…. We appreciate all that he's doing."

The ethics briefings, McClellan said, include "a discussion about classified information and the proper handling of classified national security information, how that material is classified, by whom, for how long, who has access to it, how the material is declassified, the badges that people wear to show their security clearances, and so forth."

"The briefings discuss the security precautions that are in place for handling classified information, such as the use of safes or the use of specific locations to view classified information, like the Situation Room here at the White House," he said.

Eight briefings were planned this week — for Tuesday, today and Thursday — for staffers with security clearances. Those without clearances were to attend classes next week.

Among the agencies whose staff are required to attend are the Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality.

Bush decided to order the refresher courses when he conferred with Card and White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers at Camp David after the Libby indictment became public.

"The president thought it was important to have these refresher briefings for all White House staff in light of recent circumstances," McClellan said.

"The president takes the issue of the handling of classified information very seriously."

Asked about the ethics classes, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta said: "It's more a signal to the outside world. It's their way of saying they're paying attention."

Panetta, who was chief of staff during Clinton's first term and now runs the nonpartisan Panetta Institute in Monterey, said Bush's recent problems echoed the pattern of many second-term presidents.

"People tend to be more arrogant, more stubborn, more isolated in the second term, and he's paying the price," Panetta said. "I would advise some kind of shake-up. You have to bring in new blood, new credibility."


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