Gonzales: I'd Step Aside From CIA Leak Probe

Alberto Gonzales (search) told a Democratic senator Wednesday that if confirmed as attorney general he would step aside from the Justice Department investigation into the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity.

Gonzales made the commitment during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with Sen. Charles Schumer (search), D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That committee will hold hearings, expected in January, on President Bush's nomination of Gonzales as attorney general.

Schumer said Gonzales, currently the White House counsel, was more closely involved in the CIA leak case than outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft (search), who recused himself from the case nearly a year ago under pressure from Democrats. Gonzales has testified before a federal grand jury in the case and has given advice about it to White House personnel.

"It's important because we want to get to the bottom of this without any political interference," Schumer said after the meeting. The White House declined comment.

Like other Judiciary Committee Democrats, Schumer said Gonzales is likely to be confirmed with broad Senate support. "I'm favorably inclined," Schumer said.

Investigators want to find out who leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame (search), whose name was published in July 2003 by syndicated columnist Robert Novak. The investigation is being run by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago, who was appointed special counsel with broad decision-making latitude.

Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has said his wife's name may have been revealed as retribution for a newspaper opinion piece he wrote criticizing Bush's claim that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. Wilson was asked by the CIA to check out that claim.

The leak investigation has dragged on for over a year with no charges brought. Fitzgerald is currently battling with reporters from Time magazine and The New York Times for access to their confidential sources, which a federal judge has ruled they must divulge or face possible jail time. A federal appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments in that matter next week.