Washington In 2003, President Bush said he wanted to get to the bottom of the Valerie Plame affair and that "I want to know the truth." On Thursday, a federal prosecutor's version suggested Bush and his vice president played a key role.
A court filing by prosecutors did not say that Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney disclosed Plame's CIA identity, but it pointed to them as setting in motion a leak campaign to the press that resulted in Plame's blown cover.
The court filing by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald places Bush at the top of a pyramid that ended with Cheney's chief of staff I. Lewis Libby feeding the press previously classified intelligence on Iraq.
A July 8, 2003, conversation between Cheney's now-indicted former chief of staff with New York Times reporter Judith Miller occurred "only after the vice president advised defendant that the president specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information" from a then-classified intelligence estimate on Iraq.
Libby allegedly mentioned Plame's CIA connection in the conversation.
The prosecutor, detailing the evidence he has gathered, raised the possibility that the vice president was trying to use Plame's CIA employment to discredit her husband, Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson. Cheney, according to the indictment against Libby, knew that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as early as June 12, 2003, more than a month before that fact turned up in an article by conservative columnist Robert Novak.
The authorization by Bush and Cheney in July 2003 for disclosing sensitive prewar intelligence assessments that had turned out to be wrong came amid a growing public realization that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. The failure to find such weapons undermined the primary rationale Bush and Cheney had used for taking the country to war.
Calls for accountability
On Thursday, Democrats jumped on the revelation over the roles of Bush and Cheney.
"President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. "The American people must know the truth."
"The president and the vice president must be held accountable," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said from the Senate floor. "Accountable for misleading the American people, accountable for the disclosure of classified material for political purposes. It is as serious as it gets in this democracy."
Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House would have no comment on the ongoing investigation. At a congressional hearing, Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales said the president had the "inherent authority to decide who should have classified information."
According to Fitzgerald's court filing, Cheney, in a conversation with Libby, expressed concerns about whether a CIA-sponsored trip to the African nation of Niger by Wilson "was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife."
After Wilson's 2002 trip to Africa, the former ambassador said he had concluded that Iraq did not have an agreement to acquire uranium yellowcake from Niger. The subsequent embrace of information that Iraq and Niger did have a deal for uranium was evidence that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat, Wilson said.
Wilson's public attack on July 6, 2003, "was viewed in the office of vice president as a direct attack on the credibility of the vice president, and the president, on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq," Fitzgerald stated.
"Disclosing the belief that Mr. Wilson's wife sent him on the Niger trip was one way for defendant to contradict the assertion that the vice president had done so, while at the same time undercutting Mr. Wilson's credibility if Mr. Wilson were perceived to have received the assignment on account of nepotism," the prosecutor added.
In the court filing, drawn in part from Libby's own grand jury testimony before his indictment, Fitzgerald placed Bush and Cheney at the heart of an effort to rebut their critics through leaks.
In evidence drawn in part from Libby's own testimony, Fitzgerald revealed that:
¢ Libby testified that "the circumstances of his conversation with reporter Miller - getting approval from the president through the vice president to discuss material that would be classified but for that approval - were unique in his recollection."
¢ Cheney's chief of staff at first told Cheney that he could not have the July 8, 2003, conversation with Miller because of the classified nature of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.
¢ Libby "testified that the vice president later advised him that the president had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions" of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.
¢ The White House aide testified that he also spoke to David Addington, then counsel to the vice president, "whom defendant considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr. Addington opined that presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document."
Libby faces trial next January on five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI about how he learned of the CIA identity of Wilson's wife and what he told reporters about it. The indictment says that Cheney told Libby in June 2003 that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.