Published September 30, 2003
WASHINGTON – President Bush said Tuesday that he wanted to know who leaked a CIA employee's name to reporters, if in fact someone in his administration wrongly passed out the information.
“Leaks of classified information are bad things. We’ve got too much leaking in Washington,“ Bush said during a stop in Chicago. "I want to know who the leakers are.”
And if a Justice Department investigation of the matter reveals that the leak was a violation of the law, the "person will be taken care of."
"I welcome the investigation," Bush said. "I'm absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job."
So far, the department's criminal investigation into who is responsible for leaking the name has sparked a fierce debate between political parties as to who should be probing the matter.
Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., told Fox News Tuesday that the Justice Department should be leading the investigation at this point. "Justice department officials are professionals,” he said, adding that there is a chance the name leak may have been accidental, but “if it's premeditated, it's even more serious."
But Democrats on Tuesday voiced concerns about the Justice Department's ability to investigate the White House and they called for the appointment of a special counsel.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (search), D-Calif, told reporters that "if there was ever a case for the appointment of a special counsel -- this is it,” adding that the investigation is about “nothing less than protecting people who risk their lives for us.”
After the Justice Department concluded late Monday to move from a preliminary probe into a full-blown investigation, an e-mail was sent notifying the White House staff. "You must preserve all materials that might in any way be related to the department's investigation, " White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales (search) wrote.
Rarely does a department decide to conduct a full investigation of the alleged leak of classified information.
In a follow-up staff message late Tuesday, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales ordered the preservation of any documents such as phone logs, memos, notes and calendar entries from Feb. 1, 2002, and later that relate to former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson (search), his fact-finding trip to Africa in February 2002, the nature of his wife's relationship with the CIA and any contacts with the news media about those subjects.
In particular, Gonzales cited contacts with syndicated columnist Robert Novak (search); Timothy M. Phelps, Washington bureau chief for Newsday; and Knut Royce, a staff writer for the newspaper.
"You must preserve all documents relating, in any way, directly or indirectly, to these subjects, even if there could be a question whether the document would be a presidential or federal record or even if its destruction might otherwise be permitted," Gonzales said.
'Real Issue Was Wilson and His Wife'
Novak's disclosure of the intelligence officer's identity came shortly after her husband, Wilson, undermined Bush's claim in his State of the Union address -- based on British intelligence reports -- that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa.
The White House later acknowledged that the U.S. intelligence community should have confirmed the report before including it in Bush's address.
“In the week after the Novak article, I received a number of calls from reporters citing White House sources as saying that they were pushing the story on to them," Wilson told Fox News Tuesday. "That the real issue was not the 16 words in the State of the Union — even though the White House acknowledged they shouldn't have been in there — the real issue was Wilson and his wife.
“I also got one report that fingered Karl Rove as one who was condoning and in fact continuing to talk about this rather than stop the talk about a CIA operative," Wilson said.
Senior staff members were told of the investigation at their morning staff meeting, and then Gonzales sent an e-mail to all the staff notifying them of the probe.
"The president has directed the White House to cooperate fully with this investigation," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters. "The president wants to get to the bottom of this."
C. Boyden Gray, who was the White House counsel for the first President Bush, said he did not believe there was any criminal violation at play in this case.
"The whole thing has been overblown," he said, adding that Wilson's wife was an analyst and not an undercover agent at the time her name was published.
Even before the Justice Department investigation was announced, Democrats were calling for the appointment of a special counsel to insure impartiality. McClellan said the decision rests with the Justice Department.
The department notified the counsel's office about 8:30 p.m. Monday that it was launching an investigation but said the White House could wait until the next morning to notify staff and direct them to preserve relevant material, McClellan said.
The investigation stems from a CIA complaint two months ago that the identity of one of its agents had been disclosed. Justice gets about 50 such complaints from the CIA each year about leaks of classified information. Few ever get beyond a preliminary investigation.
The White House said that leaking classified information was a serious matter that should be "pursued to the fullest extent" by the Justice Department. But White House officials denied it leaked the CIA officer's identity.
"There's been nothing, absolutely nothing brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement, and that includes the vice president's office as well," McClellan said.
In particular, McClellan said it was "ridiculous" to suggest that Karl Rove (search), Bush's top political operative, was involved, as Wilson once charged. "He wasn't involved," McClellan said of Rove. "The president knows he wasn't involved. ... It's simply not true."
Gray acknowledged that revealing her name was "not a nice thing to do" but suggested that instead of a criminal investigation, what should happen is that the source of the leak should come forward and apologize.
"I don't think this is a criminal matter ... This thing could get out of control and get really goofy."
But he agreed that any name leak was wrong. "It's not justified what they did, even if they disagreed with Ambassador Wilson's motives."
Democrats Say Probe Not Enough
From Capitol Hill to the presidential campaign trail, Democrats called for the appointment of a special counsel. Four Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., urged Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) to appoint a person of "unquestioned independence and impartiality."
"We do not believe that this investigation of senior Bush administration officials ... can be conducted by the Justice Department because of the obvious and inherent conflicts of interests involved," said the letter, also signed by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Ashcroft declined to comment on the probe Tuesday because he said a criminal investigation was taking place.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, announced that he and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., would be offering a "sense of the Senate" resolution urging the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate whether officials at the White House illegally disclosed the CIA agent's identity.
Daschle said he finds it "ironic" that the administration has rejected his request for the appointment of an independent counsel given the comments of Bush's father, who in 1999 said: "I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the names of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors."
Wilson told Fox News that "it is a legitimate question to ask for the executive branch to ask whether they fear there might be a conflict of interest in having this investigation done from within the Justice Department given John Ashcroft's close relationship with Karl Rove for example.”
Lanny A. Breuer, who worked in the Clinton White House to coordinate much of the damage-control efforts related to the Monica Lewinsky investigation, told Fox News he was "no fan" of the independent counsel law, but "there may well be a need" for the attorney general to appoint a special counsel in this case.
“There are many good people at the Department of Justice,” he said. “The issue is whether they're going to have the credibility and the confidence of the American people and both sides of the aisles at Congress."
White House officials, at their senior staff meeting, were urged to contact the Justice Department if they had relevant information, officials said.
Novak said on a television news show that his report was based on conversations with two senior administration officials while he was looking into Wilson's trip to Africa to investigate the uranium story. The officials told Novak that Wilson's wife had suggested the mission for her husband, the columnist said.
He said the CIA confirmed her role and "asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else."
Wilson dismissed this reasoning. “When the CIA says ‘don't release the name,’ they obviously have a reason for saying that,” he told Fox News.
"It involves national security,” he said adding that the insertion of his wife’s name into the article was “absolutely gratuitous.”
Fox News' Julie Asher, Amy C. Sims and The Associated Press contributed to this report.