WASHINGTON – President Bush amended a memo he sent to Congressional lawmakers that aimed to keep a lid on ongoing military operations in Afghanistan by limiting the number of legislators that would be briefed.
Meeting with congressional leaders at the White House Wednesday, Bush said that he was open to wider dissemination of critical information but continued to stress the urgency of keeping the information on the hush-hush.
"The president has made his point. We are all going to be careful," U.S. Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi told reporters after meeting with Bush for breakfast.
Bush made clear Tuesday why he wanted to keep a lid on operations.
"Our nation has put our troops at risk and therefore I felt it was important to send a clear signal to Congress that classified information must be held dear," the president said Tuesday when asked about the memo during a Rose Garden appearance with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
"It's a serious matter, very serious," Bush said. "I intend to protect our troops."
Bush decided Friday to limit military operations briefings to members of Congress after an intelligence leak ended up in news articles. The leak occurred after an administration briefing on Capitol Hill last Tuesday.
In a signed memorandum to his Cabinet secretaries and directors of the FBI and CIA, the commander-in-chief said that only the secretaries or their designated aides will be allowed to brief members on military operations. Only eight lawmakers would receive those briefings.
They included the top Democrat and Republican in the House and Senate and the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Bush amended that decision to include chairmen of the defense and foreign relations committees.
A White House aide said the president's decision to limit briefings was important because at a critical time such as in war, spilling the beans to reporters sends "a chilling signal to the intelligence community about sharing information. The president is sending everyone a clear signal about not violating the law." The aide added that the information the reporter received could have been taken out of context and been potentially more damaging.
The president had some support on Capitol Hill for his initial decision. Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said, "My philosophy is the fewer people who know about some of these things, the better off we are. I firmly believe in the need to know. Many times, there really is no need to know."
But others said they had a responsibility to the public. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. said leaks "ought to be investigated" but the president should allow Congress to continue its oversight and decision-making roles.
This is not the first time a leak has caused the administration problems. During the summer, a leak regarding the electronic tracking of Usama bin Laden led to a loss of contact with him for a while, said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., "so the policy to keep the very sensitive information close is probably a good one now."
Many Congressmen said the leak was something they would try to prevent in the future but it may not be so easy.
"If dumb was a crime, there would be a flurry of indictments," said Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee.
Fox News' Julie Asher and James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.