WASHINGTON – A Republican senator said Sunday that it would be appropriate for any White House aide to step aside if indicted in the CIA leak investigation.
President Bush was urged by a Senate Democrat to make clear whether a White House adviser under indictment would remain on the job.
The grand jury that has investigated the disclosure of CIA officer Valerie Plame's (search) identity for the past two years is set to expire on Friday.
Top presidential political adviser Karl Rove (search) and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (search), have emerged as central figures in the probe because they had contacts with reporters who learned Plame's identity or disclosed it in news stories.
Asked whether Rove or Libby should step down in the event of an indictment, Sen. George Allen (search), R-Va., said: "I think they should step down. I do think that's appropriate ... if they're in the midst of an indictment."
Allen added, "Let's see what happens rather than get into all this speculation and so forth."
Officials at the White House have refused to say whether Bush would allow someone who has been indicted to remain on the job, saying that question relates to the ongoing investigation that they won't discuss. Bush initially pledged to fire anyone who leaked Plame's identity but later changed the standard by promising to fire anyone who is found to have committed a crime.
Appearing with Allen on NBC's "Meet the Press," Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said Bush should clarify his policy on the status of any White House official under indictment.
"I think it would be very, very advisable for the president to say, 'Here is what my standard will be in terms of whether these people will remain in their positions should they be indicted,"' Schumer said.
Doing so before any decision by the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, would be helpful "so no one thinks that what the president does is aimed at a particular person, whether it be a secretary or the top people in the White House," Schumer said.
Fitzgerald began his investigation to determine whether presidential aides violated a law prohibiting the intentional disclosure of covert CIA officers and had tried to out Plame to punish her husband, Joseph Wilson, for his criticism of the administration, undercut the credibility of his allegations or silence similar critics.
Wilson had gone public with accusations that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq to exaggerate the threat it posed.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, urged people to see what, if any, charges result from the probe. "Let's tone down the rhetoric, and let's make sure that if there are indictments, that we don't prejudge," she said.
Should the case produce indictments inside the White House, "I think it would be extremely damaging," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
"It would be, no matter whether it was a Democrat or Republican administration. ... It brings a whole lot of things to a halt," Leahy told "FOX News Sunday."
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., also mentioned the damage that charges would bring and said Republicans must "continue to move forward a solid agenda."
Brownback said "these other issues -- they're going to take on a life of their own. And they need to be followed through the legal system."