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

Saturday, November 05, 2005

White House Tries to Keep Distance From Leak Case - New York Times

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 - In the hours before the Justice Department informed the White House in late September 2003 that it would investigate the leak of a covert C.I.A. officer's identity, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, gave reporters what turned out to be a rare glimpse into President Bush's knowledge of the case.

Mr. Bush, he said, "knows" that Karl Rove, his senior adviser, had not been the source of the leak. Pressed on how Mr. Bush was certain, Mr. McClellan said he was "not going to get into conversations that the president has with advisers," but made no effort to erase the impression that Mr. Rove had assured Mr. Bush that he had not been involved.

Since then, administration officials and Mr. Bush himself have carefully avoided disclosing anything about any involvement the president may have had in the events surrounding the disclosure of the officer's identity or anything about what his aides may have told them about their roles. Citing the continuing investigation and now the pending trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, they have declined to comment on almost any aspect of the case.

The issue now for the White House is how long it can go on deflecting the inquiries and trying to keep the focus away from Mr. Bush.

While there has been no suggestion that Mr. Bush did anything wrong, the portrait of the White House that was painted by the special counsel in the indictment of Mr. Libby was one in which a variety of senior officials, including Mr. Cheney, played some role in events that preceded the disclosure of the officer's identity.

Mr. Bush was not mentioned in the indictment. But the fact that so many of his aides seem to have been involved in dealing with the issue that eventually led to the leak - how to rebut or discredit Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who had challenged the administration's handling of prewar intelligence - leaves open the question of what the president knew.

The White House has also kept a tight lid on information about what Mr. Bush learned afterward about any involvement that Mr. Cheney, Mr. Libby, Mr. Rove and others may have had in the leak.

People involved in the case have confirmed that Mr. Rove told Mr. Bush and other White House colleagues in September 2003 that he had no involvement, but it is not known what, if anything, Mr. Rove has told Mr. Bush since testifying to the grand jury last year and this year that he had conversations with two reporters that touched on the identity of the officer, Valerie Wilson. What, if anything, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby may have told Mr. Bush remains a mystery.

From a political perspective, the investigation now seems to be taking a toll on Mr. Bush. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Thursday found that only 40 percent of Americans see him as honest and trustworthy, down from 53 percent in May 2004 and 62 percent soon after he took office in 2001; 58 percent said they did not see him as honest and trustworthy, up from 45 percent last year and 32 percent in 2001.

At the same time, Democrats are demanding that he live up to his earlier pledges to hold his administration to the highest ethical standards, "not only what is legal but what is right, not just what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves," as Mr. Bush put it at the end of the 2000 presidential campaign. And Democrats are drawing renewed attention to an apparent change in Mr. Bush's standard for what would constitute a firing offense, to anyone who "committed a crime," the threshold he used when he addressed the issue in July, from anyone who was "involved in" a leak of classified information, a definition Mr. McClellan used in 2003.

More broadly, Democrats and their allies are trying to place the leak case at the heart of their argument that the administration has shown itself to be incompetent, dishonest and out of touch with middle-class Americans. "Katrina. Iraq. Indictment. George Bush's presidency is in trouble, and he'll do anything to save it," said a new television commercial from People for the American Way, a liberal group opposing the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.

"We're at the very beginning stages of this, not at the end," said Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, referring to the political impact of the investigation.

"The president, politically at least, has an obligation to say something to the American people to get some clarity about what did they know and what did they say," he said.

But the Bush White House has always been good at what one close Republican ally refers to admiringly as "making their own reality," meaning that the president and his top aides stick doggedly to their political script and agenda, refusing to be knocked off course. What Democrats consider stubbornness and detachment, Mr. Bush's admirers consider determination, and in this case that trait suggests the White House will be in no rush to acknowledge mistakes or to offer detailed explanations that might swamp the president's second-term plans.

"A White House that is aggressively on message is an unstoppable political tool," said Rich Galen, a Republican consultant. "Just as the Clinton White House got itself back together in '95 and after impeachment, this White House will get itself together, too."

Whatever political problems the Libby indictment creates, he said, "It's a long way from the Veep's office to the Oval. No one has ever hinted that President Bush was involved in this or was even aware of it. I really don't think the issue will have legs beyond the next couple of weeks."

The administration's supporters point out that Mr. Bush has repeatedly emphasized that the White House will cooperate fully with the special counsel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald. The administration raised no issues of executive privilege when it came to documents sought by investigators. Mr. Fitzgerald had given no indication that he was denied any information on the ground of national security. No officials are known to have taken the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating themselves.

Therefore, allies of the White House said, it would be hard to make a case, legally or politically, that there was any organized effort to cover up what happened, despite Mr. Libby's indictment on charges of trying to do just that. And assuming that Mr. Fitzgerald does not indict Mr. Rove in the next few weeks, Mr. Bush has a natural firebreak available to him.

He will be away from Washington for much of the rest of the month. After returning from a trip to South America, Mr. Bush will leave for a week in Asia and then will spend Thanksgiving at his ranch in Texas.

When he returns, allies of the White House said, he hopes to regain traction by moving smoothly ahead with Judge Alito's nomination, shifting the focus to the policies he intends to emphasize next year, including reduced government spending and an overhaul of the immigration and border control systems, and making a more effective case for why victory in Iraq is vital.

"I'm not sure he needs to say anything about the case until the investigation is over," Charlie Black, a Republican strategist, said, "and then I'm not sure they need to do anything differently."

Mr. Black said the political repercussions from the case were "a fairly temporary phenomenon" that would fade in the next few weeks, giving way to the problems that had been presenting such a tremendous challenge to Mr. Bush before the leak case flared up this fall.

"The president's job approval long term is driven by Iraq and the economy much more than this leak stuff," he said. "They know that."

FBI: Financial Gain Drove Uranium Forgery on Yahoo! News

The FBI has determined that financial gain, not an effort to influence U.S. policy, was behind the forged documents that the Bush administration used to bolster its prewar claim that Iraq sought uranium ore in Niger.

The FBI's investigation began after questions were raised about a brief portion of President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union speech when he said that Iraq was pursuing the uranium ore, part of his argument to justify the coming invasion of Iraq.

Some U.S. and foreign officials disputed the authenticity of documents, supporting Bush's contention, that showed Saddam Hussein was seeking the uranium ore for a nuclear weapons program.

The FBI had refused comment on the matter until Italian news sources reported this week that FBI Director Robert Mueller sent the Italian government a letter in July with the results of the bureau's two-year investigation.

The investigation "confirmed the documents to be fraudulent and concluded they were more likely part of a criminal scheme for financial gain," FBI spokesman John Miller said Friday, describing the contents of the letter.

Miller did not say what led the FBI to its conclusion or identify the perpetrators of the hoax.

Italian officials earlier this week identified Rocco Martino, described as a one-time informant for the Italian secret service, as the source of the forged documents, according to Italian Sen. Massimo Brutti.

Martino had previously given media interviews acknowledging his role.

But Italy's spy chief, Nicolo Pollari, denied that Italian intelligence had any hand distributing the phony dossier, Brutti and other lawmakers who attended a closed-door briefing said.

The session occurred following a newspaper report alleging Italy had passed the documents to Britain and the United States knowing that they were fake.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said he still has unanswered questions, despite the committee's recent closed-door briefing by the FBI.

"Until I receive additional information about the thoroughness of the investigation, I cannot make a judgment on the accuracy of the conclusions," Rockefeller said.

The Niger claim also is at the center of the CIA leak investigation that led to the indictment last week of Vice President Richard Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Libby pleaded innocent to charges he obstructed the investigation and lied to investigators and the grand jury that has been looking into the leak of the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson.

Wilson traveled to Niger in 2002 on behalf of the CIA to check out the Iraq uranium story. Plame's CIA status was exposed after Wilson accused the administration of twisting intelligence in the run-up to the war to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

Senator Urges Bush to 'Come Clean' on Leak - Yahoo! News

President Bush should "come clean" about any White House officials involved in the leak of the name of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame and "honor his pledge to fire all those involved," Sen. Barbara Mikulski (news, bio, voting record) of Maryland said Saturday in the Democrats' weekly radio address.

"It's been one week since the vice president's chief of staff was indicted, and there are still very serious questions about how his White House misused and manufactured intelligence to sell and defend the war in Iraq," Mikulski said.

Democrats last week forced the Republican-controlled Senate into an unusual closed session, questioning information that Bush used in the run-up to the war in Iraq and accusing Republicans of ignoring the issue. Republicans later agreed to a bipartisan review of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into prewar intelligence.

Mikulski said the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was part of a "remarkable" few weeks of Republican scandal, including the investigation of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

"I can't remember a situation like this since the Watergate scandal brought down the Nixon administration," she said.

Mikulski also said she was disappointed that Bush did not nominate a woman to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Bush originally selected White House counsel Harriet Miers but chose federal appellate judge Samuel Alito after Miers withdrew.

President Has Little to Say About Questions on Rove - New York Times

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina, Nov. 4 - President Bush was asked four times on Friday about Karl Rove and the C.I.A. leak investigation, and four times he refused to answer.

Speaking to reporters in this seaside resort city at the 34-nation Summit of the Americas, Mr. Bush also declined any comment on the future of Mr. Rove, his chief political adviser.

The president did not use the opportunity to offer a public endorsement of Mr. Rove, who remains under investigation in the leak inquiry. Nor did Mr. Bush address speculation in Washington about whether Mr. Rove would stay on as his deputy chief of staff.

Asked if there were discussions at the White House about whether Mr. Rove would remain in his job, Mr. Bush replied that "the investigation on Karl, as you know, is not complete, and therefore I will not comment about him and/or the investigation."

Mr. Bush reiterated that the inquiry was "a serious investigation" and "an important investigation." He added that "we're cooperating to the extent that the special prosecutor wants us to cooperate."

Lawyers involved in the case say the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has narrowed the investigation of Mr. Rove to whether he tried to conceal from the grand jury a conversation he had with a Time magazine reporter, Matthew Cooper, in the week before the identity of an undercover intelligence operative was made public in 2003.

In what is believed to be his final look at any involvement by Mr. Rove, Mr. Fitzgerald has centered on whether he was fully forthcoming about the belated discovery of an internal e-mail message that confirmed his conversation with Mr. Cooper, to whom Mr. Rove had mentioned the C.I.A. officer. Lawyers in the case say Mr. Rove had learned the officer's identity from the columnist Robert D. Novak two days before speaking to Mr. Cooper.

Mr. Rove's lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, has expressed confidence that the prosecutor will conclude Mr. Rove did nothing wrong.

Mr. Cooper was one of the reporters among a small group who questioned Mr. Bush in Argentina on Friday, but he asked the president no questions about Mr. Rove.

In New York, meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported in an editorial that its parent, Dow Jones & Company, filed a motion on Wednesday seeking to unseal eight pages of an appeals court ruling that contained arguments by Mr. Fitzgerald explaining why he needed to compel the grand jury testimony of both Mr. Cooper and Judith Miller of The New York Times.

It has never been publicly known what Mr. Fitzgerald wrote in the eight pages, but he has suggested in court appearances that grand jury secrets and national security matters were discussed. The pages were part of Judge David S. Tatel's concurring opinion on Feb. 15, 2005, against Ms. Miller and Mr. Cooper in a decision issued by a federal appeals court.

In an unedited part of the opinion, Judge Tatel wrote that "with voluminous classified filings," Mr. Fitzgerald had demonstrated that the information sought from the reporters "is both critical and unobtainable from any other source."

The Dow Jones motion argues in part that secrecy is no longer required because Mr. Cooper and Ms. Miller have now testified to the grand jury and publicly disclosed their testimony in articles in their publications.

Floyd Abrams, a lawyer who represented The Times and Ms. Miller, said, "If the court permits the eight pages from Judge Tatel's opinion to be made public, it will be extremely interesting to see if Mr. Fitzgerald sought to persuade the court that the testimony of journalists was needed in order to prepare a case dealing with grave breaches of national security, as opposed to a case in which claims of perjury and false statements would be asserted."