WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) reiterated Monday that if someone in his administration broke the law by talking to reporters about Joseph Wilson's (search) wife, then they would lose their jobs.
"If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration," Bush told reporters during a brief news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (search).
Bush spoke as media scrutiny continues to focus on what Karl Rove (search), deputy chief of staff at the White House, told reporters about former ambassador Wilson's wife two years ago when it was first disclosed that Valerie Plame (search) was a CIA operative.
Although Bush would not comment directly about Rove, he lamented that the case was "being played out in the press" as he said that it was "best that the investigation is complete before we jump to conclusions."
The White House normally does not comment on ongoing investigations.
Nearly two years ago, Bush said those responsible would be held accountable. "If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is and if the person has violated the law, the person will be taken care of," he said in September 2003.
The president did not respond directly to a reporter's question on whether he disapproved of Rove's telling a reporter that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction issues.
Rove has not disputed that he told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked for the agency. But he has insisted through his lawyer that he did not mention her by name, nor did he intend to "out" her.
Bush has appeared with Rove at his side several times over the past week. And White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said Rove — as well anyone who works now at the White House — continues to have the president's confidence.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald (search), who convened a grand jury to investigate how two reporters found out about Plame's identity, is tasked with finding out who leaked her name and whether the leak rises to the level of a crime — did the leaker know Plame was covert and deliberately reveal her identity anyway? Another question since raised has been whether Plame was, in fact, covert under the prosecutable definition found in the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act (search).
That act defines a covert agent as: "An officer or employee who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States."
Plame was actually stationed at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., at the time of the outing.
So, in this case firing the leaker -- as Bush already said he would do -- and firing someone who "committed a crime" may be two different things in this case; depending on Plame's status at the time of the outing, it's possible no crime was committed at all.
"I think the president very carefully walked away from the earlier statement by the White House that anybody involved in this would have to go," said former White House counsel David Gergen, who added, "I don't think there is a crime unless there is new evidence I haven't seen yet."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Bush shouldn't wait for charges to be filed to take action.
"I am disappointed that the president seems to have changed his standard," Schumer said. "The standard for holding a high position in the White House should not simply be that you didn't break the law. It should be a lot higher and if Mr. Rove or anyone else aided and abetted the leaking of the name of an agent, even if they don't meet the narrow criminal standard, the president should ask for their resignation."
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Bush needs to fire whoever leaked Plame's name and expects Bush to stick by his original statements of intent on how to deal with the leaker.
"This is no longer an issue for Karl Rove ... it deals with, I believe, the integrity of the president's office of this administration," said the Nevada senator. "He has said if somebody's found to be leaking this that they would be fired --- now to come back and say it has to be a crime is stretching the length of the field."
The Rove/Cooper Conversation
One of the reporters at the center of Fitzgerald's probe is Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper (search).
In July 2003, Cooper called Rove to find out why the Bush administration seemingly wanted to disparage Wilson after it had already admitted that the president shouldn't have publicly used British intelligence on Iraq's weapons pursuits that Wilson had criticized the president for citing.
In his first conversation with the president's senior adviser as the new White House correspondent for Time, Cooper started with a clipped statement: "I am writing about Wilson," to which Rove replied: "Don't get too far out on Wilson."
As he reported in his first-person account published in this week's edition of Time, that was the start of a long and winding road that Cooper could not have foreseen.
In the story that appears in the July 25 edition of the magazine, Cooper describes his testimony to a grand jury investigating the leak of Plame's identity.
According to a book published by Wilson, his wife returned to Washington in 1997, six years before her identity was discussed between Rove and Cooper; however, Wilson, who appeared on a network news show Sunday morning, said the CIA had decided she was still undercover.
"I will just tell you that she was covered according to the CIA, and the CIA made the referral" to the Justice Department, he told CBS' "Face the Nation."
After his television appearance, Wilson told reporters that "whether it is a crime or not ... it is certainly an abuse of power" to leak his wife's identity.
"I said all along that everybody involved in leaking the identity of a covert operative should be removed from their position of responsibility. ... I think Mr. Fitzgerald will determine, if the minute you mention the name of the CIA operative, somebody who is covered by the CIA, then in what is a transparent attempt to run a smear campaign out of the West Wing of the White House, I think it is an outrageous abuse of power," Wilson said.
In 2002, Wilson was sent by the CIA to find out if Saddam Hussein had tried to buy yellowcake (search) uranium, used for making nuclear weapons. His mission apparently was to confirm or refute the allegation claimed by British intelligence. Wilson said he could not verify the intelligence, and in a New York Times piece in July 2003 criticized Bush for going ahead and using the British intelligence in his January 2003 State of the Union address.
After hearing insider chatter criticizing Wilson, Cooper said he called Rove, who apparently explained to Cooper that Wilson's mission had not been requested by then-CIA Director George Tenet or Vice President Dick Cheney. Cooper then sought confirmation for that.
"Indeed, the next day the vice president's chief of staff, I. Lewis [Scooter] Libby, told me Cheney had not been responsible for Wilson's mission," Cooper wrote, adding later that in August 2004, he told the grand jury that he asked Libby on background whether he had heard anything about Wilson's wife's sending her husband to Niger.
"Libby replied, 'Yeah, I've heard that, too, or words to that effect," Cooper wrote, adding that Libby did not reveal her name or where he had heard about Plame.
According to Cooper, Rove was the first to tell him that Wilson's wife worked at the "agency," conceivably the CIA; that her specialty was "WMD," or weapons of mass destruction; and that she was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. Cooper said Rove never mentioned her by name and Cooper didn't learn it until it showed up the following week in a column by Robert Novak (search).
"The notes, and my subsequent e-mails, go on to indicate that Rove told me material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson's mission and his findings," Cooper wrote in Time.
"So did Rove leak Plame's name to me or tell me she was covert? No. Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the 'agency' on 'WMD'? Yes. When he said things would be declassified soon, was that itself impermissible? I don't know. Is any of this a crime? Beats me," Cooper wrote.
FOX News' Julie Asher, Sharon Kehnemui Liss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.