Debate Over CIA Leak Probe is Rife With Politics

Congressional Democrats called anew Wednesday for an independent investigation of the White House to find out how an undercover CIA officer's identity was revealed.

Democratic leaders condemned the disclosure of the name of the CIA officer, who is the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV (search), a prominent critic of Bush's Iraq policy. They also want the Justice Department to appoint someone from outside its hierarchy to investigate the leaks.

Letting Attorney General John Ashcroft (searchinvestigate the White House that appointed him is like having a fox guard a henhouse, said Rep. James McDermott, D-Wash. "How could Congress sit here with a straight face and allow that to be the way this issue is resolved?" he said.

The White House on Wednesday ordered its staff to preserve any document that could be relevant, but Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that should have been done earlier.

"Every good prosecutor knows that any delay could give a culprit time to destroy the evidence," Schumer said. "Issues like this one, which sow seeds of doubt about the fairness and honesty of Justice's investigation, will come up every day until a special counsel is appointed."

Ambassador Wilson originally planned to meet with House Democrats Wednesday morning but the meeting was canceled, officials said. Having Wilson at a partisan Democratic meeting would have given extra credence to Republican claims that the controversy is political, Democrats said.

Wilson has blamed the White House political operation and presidential adviser Karl Rove (searchfor his wife's name being made public. While he doesn't think Rove himself leaked the name, "I thought that it came from the White House, and Karl Rove was the personification of the White House political operation," Wilson said Monday.

Some Republicans said the Democrats were just playing politics.

"Surprise, surprise, they are calling for a special counsel. My goodness," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "It must be in their political handbook, their campaign handbook."

The Justice Department is trying to find out who leaked the name of the CIA operative, possibly in an attempt to punish Wilson, who had accused the administration of manipulating intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq.

Democrats want Attorney General John Ashcroft to recuse himself and appoint a special prosecutor, saying Ashcroft is too close to the White House to be objective.

Republicans expressed confidence in the Justice Department's investigation.

"The FBI will be doing the legwork and as a result I think we will find out what happened here and, clearly, if the allegations are correct, the crime has occurred, then it should be prosecuted," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.

Ashcroft has not ruled out appointing a special counsel, a senior law enforcement official said.

DeLay said a special counsel makes no sense.

"You have special counsels if you think the administration is trying to cover up or obstruct justice or is not interested in this issue," DeLay said. "It is quite obvious to me that the White House and the administration are very upset about this issue."

Democrats said the GOP would be acting differently if there was a Democrat like former President Clinton in the White House.

"Republicans would asserting that the Clinton administration had no concern for the security of our nation and the safety of our security personnel," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Instead, "there are no hearings scheduled, no subpoenas on the street, no Republicans asserting that this is a serious issue."