Bush Approved Iraq Intelligence Leak, Libby Testified (Update1)
April 6 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush authorized disclosure of classified information on Iraq's weapons program to rebut war critics, a former top administration aide told a grand jury, according to documents filed in federal court.
The documents filed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald don't allege the president authorized aides to divulge the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose naming in a July 2003 newspaper column prompted a Justice Department investigation. The court papers also don't suggest Bush violated any rule or law governing the handling of classified material.
The document describes federal grand jury testimony by Vice President Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, who was indicted last October of charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents investigating the Plame case. Libby has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Libby testified that Cheney ``advised him that the president had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions'' of a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's pursuit of nuclear weapons to former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, the court filing says.
Cheney's role in authorizing the leak was reported in February by the National Journal magazine. The court papers filed by Fitzgerald last night are the first to tie Bush directly to the chain of events in the administration's attempt to counter critics of the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq by using Libby as a conduit for information to reporters.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the administration won't comment on a continuing investigation. Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride referred all questions to Fitzgerald's office.
``We will cooperate with the Department of Justice as this case goes forward,'' McBride said. ``Part of that cooperation is referring press inquiries to the special counsel.''
Administration critics renewed demands that the president reveal more about the White House role.
``The more we hear, the more it is clear this goes way beyond Scooter Libby,'' Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said in a statement. ``President Bush and Vice President Cheney should fully inform the American people of any role in allowing classified information to be leaked.''
Libby met July 8, 2003, with Miller as part of an effort to rebut former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who questioned the administration's justification for the war in an essay published two days earlier in the New York Times. Wilson is married to Plame, who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Libby ``testified that he was specifically authorized in advance of the meeting to disclose the key judgments of the classified NIE to Miller on that occasion because it was thought that the NIE was `pretty definitive' against what Ambassador Wilson had said and that the vice president thought it was `very important' for the key judgments of the NIE to come out,'' Fitzgerald wrote in the document, a motion filed in response to Libby's request for government documents for his defense.
Libby is requesting classified information from the government to use in his defense at a trial scheduled to begin next January.
No one has been charged with leaking Plame's name, which first appeared in a July 14, 2003, article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak. The article, citing two unnamed ``senior administration officials'' said Plame had a role in sending Wilson on a 2002 mission to Niger to investigate claims Iraq was seeking nuclear materials.
Wilson has contended the publication of his wife's name ended her career as a covert agent and that her name was leaked to intimidate other war critics in the government.
Fitzgerald, who was appointed a special prosecutor in the case in December 2003, is continuing the investigation into the disclosure of Plame's identity.
Cheney previously has said he has authority to release classified information, as does the president.
``There's an executive order that specifies who has classification authority, and obviously it focuses first and foremost on the president, but also includes the vice president,'' Cheney said in a Feb. 15 interview on Fox News.
Bush acted under a 1995 executive order governing the distribution of classified information that was signed by then- President Bill Clinton and modified by Bush in March 2003.
The order essentially made it easier for the government to keep classified documents from the public eye as well as authorizing declassification of information. The modification signed by Bush extended to the authority to the vice president.
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