WASHINGTON – Both Democratic and Republican amendments aimed at punishing leakers failed to pass the Senate Thursday evening after a day in which the parties played a fierce game of politics over the role of White House aide Karl Rove (search) in the dissemination of a CIA agent's name.
Democrats pushed for legislation Thursday to deny security clearances to officials who disclose the identity of an undercover agent, but the measure was voted down 44-53. The amendment, clearly a response to the controversy surrounding Rove, was offered by Sens. Harry Reid (search) of Nevada, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Joe Biden of Delaware and Dick Durbin of Illinois.
"No federal employee who discloses, or has disclosed, classified information, including the identity of a covert agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, to a person not authorized to receive such information shall be permitted to hold a security clearance for access to such information," the amendment language read.
Had it passed, the measure would have been added on to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that passed the Senate 96-1.
A Republican counter-measure also failed 33-64. That legislation would have extended such security sanctions to include members of Congress who divulge classified information on the floor. Recently, Reid was reproached for reading out of the FBI file of one of Bush's appeals court nominees.
Earlier in the day, the fighting over the release of the identity of agent Valerie Plame (search) led to bitter Washington tussles.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and former Ambassador Joe Wilson (search), Plame's husband, blasted opponents for drumming up a "smear campaign" against Wilson and his wife.
"I've said this repeatedly, that the smear campaign launched from the West Wing of the White House is just ethically unsupportable," said Wilson.
On Wednesday, Time magazine correspondent Matt Cooper revealed that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rove discussed Plame's identity in July 2003. Wilson alleges that Plame's identity was revealed in retaliation for Wilson's criticizing the White House about its use of questionable intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (search) threat to justify war there.
"This is an enormous distraction from that principled debate — a debate on war and peace," Wilson said, adding that any leak made to achieve a political end is "simply unacceptable."
"I am committed to seeing that justice is done," he added.
Schumer, of New York, blasted the Republican National Committee and other GOPers for what he said were attempts to paint Wilson as a partisan.
"Karl Rove and the RNC accusing Joe Wilson of playing politics is like Homer Simpson telling Lance Armstrong he's out of shape," Schumer said. "This man has served his country and his wife, as well ... it is they who had politics played on them, not the other way around. No comment is no solution. Mr. President, I urge you to take a stand and do the right thing."
Many Democrats are calling for Bush to make good on his vow to punish whoever had a hand in the leak. In recent days, the White House has refused to lay out decisive comment on the issue, which is normal for any ongoing investigation, but has voiced continued support for Rove and the probe.
Republicans chastised Schumer and others for trying to play politics for appearing with Wilson.
"What we're seeing today is the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sucking the oxygen out of the spirit of collegiality [in the Senate] ... making something partisan that is being handled by a special counsel ... let the counsel do his work," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.
The RNC also published a talking points memo that refers to several instances in which Schumer has said he wanted to weaken laws on disclosing government information.
Despite the brouhaha, Bush gave his deputy chief of staff a visual show of support Thursday morning when the two departed the White House for Indiana. The president emerged from the Oval Office side by side with Rove, whereas Rove usually shuffles behind him. The two chatted as they walked towards Marine One together and both appeared very jovial.
Bush was shouted a question, "Mr. President, do you still have confidence in your deputy chief of staff?" At first, Bush didn't respond. Moments later, the president gave the reporter an amused look, as he often does to the press. Then he pretended to walk toward another member of the press, only jokingly.
Rove continued with his outward appearance, even giving a thumbs-up to other visitors gathered to watch the departure.
Aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Scott McClellan again refused to comment much on the issue. "We are not going to prejudge the outcome of an ongoing investigation based on media reports," he said.
Wilson: Fire Rove
Earlier in the day in a television interview, Wilson called on Bush to fire Rove for his alleged role in the leak, saying Rove had engaged in an "abuse of power."
Although Cooper indicated Rove did not specifically name Plame during their conversation, Wilson said: "My wife's name is Wilson, it's Mrs. Joseph Wilson. It is Valerie Wilson. He named her. He identified her ... so that argument doesn't stand the smell test.
"What I do know is that Mr. Rove is talking to the press and he is saying things like my wife is fair game. That's an outrage. That's an abuse of power."
But, according to a story Thursday in USA Today, Plame's outing may not have been illegal.
According to the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act a crime has been committed only if someone knowingly reveals an undercover agent. Only one person has ever been convicted of violating the act.
In Wilson's book, "The Politics of Truth," he writes that he and his future wife both returned from overseas assignments in June 1997. Wilson wrote neither he nor his wife were stationed outside the United States after that posting.
Six years later, in July 2003, Plame's name was revealed by columnist Robert Novak (search).
The column's date is vital because the federal intelligence i.d. law says a "covert agent" must have been on an overseas assignment "within the last five years." Plus, the assignment must be long-term and not a short trip or temporary post.
Victoria Toensing, former counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee who helped write the law protecting the identities of intelligence agents, told FOX News on Thursday that "no, in a nutshell," Rove did not commit a crime. Plame's status at the time of the revelation is key to that conclusion, she said.
"That's a very big question," Toensing said, referring to exactly what status Plame had within the CIA at the time of the alleged "leak." "When did she leave her foreign assignment?"
If it was in 1997, as noted in Wilson's book, Toensing said, "she would not have even have to come to the definition of a 'covert agent' under the law how we wrote it."
The grand jury is probing whether whoever leaked Plame's identity to the press did so with the intent of burning her cover, possibly in retaliation for Wilson's public criticisms of the administration's claims about Iraq's nuclear program.
Cooper agreed to cooperate after receiving a waiver signed by Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin. Cooper's attorney, Richard Sauber, was on hand Wednesday to pass out photocopies of the waiver to reporters.
In a statement released by the Republican National Committee on Wednesday, Luskin said Rove has testified "fully and completely" on the issue on "several occasions" and has turned over any documents the special prosecutor requested. Rove shared his "full recollection about the brief phone call" from Cooper, which was supposed to be about a story Cooper was preparing on welfare reform.
"Cooper's truthful testimony today will not call into question the accuracy or completeness of anything Rove has previously said to the prosecutor or the grand jury," Luskin said. "Rove has cooperated completely with the special prosecutor, and he has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of the investigation. Rove has done nothing wrong. We're confident that he will not become a target after the special prosecutor has reviewed all evidence."
Retaliation Goes Both Ways
Even if Rove didn't break any laws, the "fire Rove" chorus is growing.
Some Democratic senators are seeking a new investigation from White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, claiming the current probe failed. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, joined the call for an internal White House investigation.
"Executive Order 12958 sets out specific requirements that the White House must take after it learns of a potential release of classified information, including investigating the source of the leak and taking remedial actions to prevent future breaches of national security," Wexler wrote in a letter to Card.
Many Washington Republicans have brushed off the notion that Rove is going anywhere.
"The extreme left is once again attempting to define the modern Democratic Party by rabid partisan attacks, character assassination and endless negativity," said Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., chairman of the GOP congressional committee.
Still, several top GOP officials — including some White House advisers — said the fight is becoming a distraction to Bush's agenda. The GOP officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid looking disloyal, said the president may face a credibility problem because his spokesman said in September that anybody involved in the leak would be fired. These Republicans, all admirers of Rove, said they were surprised and disappointed when Bush stopped short Wednesday of publicly backing his longtime aide.
A survey of Republicans outside Washington revealed similar concerns, though few officials were willing to go on the record.
"I think he should resign," said Jim Holt, a GOP state senator from Arkansas who is running for lieutenant governor. He joked, "I hope Karl Rove doesn't come gunning for me."
But most Republicans surveyed outside the Beltway were siding with Washington.
"It's a tempest in a teapot," said Denzil Garrison, former state GOP leader in Oklahoma.
FOX News' Brian Wilson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.