WASHINGTON – Mandatory ethics classes began for White House staff on Tuesday, the direct result, according to White House aides, of the indictment and resignation of former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Libby was indicted 10 days ago for perjury and obstruction of justice charges in the CIA leak case. Several classes will be held over the next two weeks.
"The president directed that action be taken to provide refresher briefings for all White House staff, that includes staff within the White House as well as staff within the Executive Office of the President. That would include agencies that operate within the White House, such as the Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality and a number of others," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday.
A memo went out last week to the more than 3,000 White House staffers announcing the sessions. The classes are being conducted by the White House counsel's office.
Instructions in the memo announcing the sessions had a tone that is familiar to anyone who works in corporate America.
"Your attendance at one of these sessions is mandatory. Please attend the briefing that corresponds with the first letter of your last name. The counsel's office will ask office leaders to ensure that each of their employees has signed up to attend a session. There will be no exceptions," read the memo sent to staff last Friday.
Three sessions will be held Tuesday for senior staff with security clearances. Neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney will attend the sessions. The focus is on the proper handling of classified information. Those without security clearances will be in sessions next week about general ethical conduct.
McClellan said the first week's discussion will focus on "classified information and the proper handling of classified national security information, how that material is classified, by whom, for how long, who has access to it, how the material is declassified, you know, the badges that people wear to show their security clearances and so forth."
He added that the briefings will also discuss security precautions like the use of safes or specific locations to view classified information. They will also talk about the proper disposal and transporting of classified information.
While Libby will not be attending the session since he no longer works at the White House, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove is not exempt from the class. The eight-hour sessions are being attended in alphabetical order, so he's not expected until later in the week.
Meanwhile, Rove maintains his security clearance despite still being under investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is looking into allegations that someone in the White House leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson in retaliation for a critical article written by Wilson's husband, Joe Wilson, about the administration's justification for war in Iraq.
Some political observers in Washington, D.C., say the ethics classes are coming a little late, considering Bush is in his fifth year of office.
"There is something truly ironic about the White House's decision to finally educate all of its staffers on how to conduct themselves ethically. Simply put, the Administration is five years too late. After all, if someone doesn't have ethics by the time they get a job in the White House, they aren't likely to get them now," Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said in a written statement.
McClellan stressed that the classes are a refresher course.
"Every White House staffer has to go through ethics briefings when they come onto the staff. You also have to go through detailed briefings when you're provided security clearances," he said. The White House staff knows very well what is expected of them. They are expected to focus on the people's business and they are expected to adhere to the highest ethical standards."
Others say the mandatory classes are the result of media attention focused on Libby and Rove, and not because of an overall lapse in ethics at the White House. Mort Kondracke, a FOX News contributor and the executive editor of Roll Call, one of two newspapers about and for Capitol Hill, said the public may not understand what purpose the classes will serve, but the fact they are being held at all probably will resonate with Americans.
"The headlines when Scooter Libby was indicted were the top of the news as though nothing else has happened in the world, and it caps a fundamental dissatisfaction with the way things are going because of the Iraq war," Kondracke said. "I am sure that the public doesn't exactly understand what the charges are, but nonetheless it knows that it's all part of the mess in Washington surrounding the Iraq war and I think it's serious."
FOX News' Greg Kelly contributed to this report.