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Libby Fingers Bush in Plame Leak Case

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Bush Authorized Secrets' Release, Libby Testified
Prosecutor Says Disclosures on Iraq Were Aimed at War Critic
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 2006; Page A01

President Bush authorized White House official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to disclose highly sensitive intelligence information to the news media in an attempt to discredit a CIA adviser whose views undermined the rationale for the invasion of Iraq, according to a federal prosecutor's account of Libby's testimony to a grand jury.

The court filing by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time places Bush and Vice President Cheney at the heart of what Libby testified was an exceptional and deliberate leak of material designed to buttress the administration's claim that Iraq was trying to obtain nuclear weapons. The information was contained in the National Intelligence Estimate, one of the most closely held CIA analyses of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the war.
Fitzgerald said Libby's disclosure took place as the result of "a strong desire by many, including multiple people in the White House, to repudiate" claims made in a July 2003 newspaper article by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was hired by the CIA to evaluate whether Iraq sought nuclear material in Niger. Wilson wrote that "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

The White House did not challenge the prosecutor's account of Bush's and Cheney's role in orchestrating the effort to discredit Wilson yesterday. Both Bush and Cheney have been interviewed by Fitzgerald, but the details of what they told him are unknown. Fitzgerald's new account is based on Libby's grand jury testimony that Cheney told him Bush had authorized the declassification and disclosure of some of the information.

Bush has been a major critic of leaks of classified information, and his aides have repeatedly said they want to "get to the bottom" of who leaked the name of Wilson's wife, covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, to the media, which touched off Fitzgerald's investigation . But in the past 33 months the White House has never disclosed Bush's apparent involvement in the deliberate disclosure of information meant to undermine Wilson.

Three months before Fitzgerald began his probe in December 2003, Bush said at a news conference that "I've constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks, particularly leaks of classified information. . . . If there's a leak out of the administration, I want to know who it is. And if a person has violated law, the person will be taken care of."

Fitzgerald has not charged anyone with wrongdoing in the initial leak of Plame's name. In the new filing, he did not allege that Bush authorized that disclosure, and he said Bush was "unaware of the role" that Libby, then Cheney's chief of staff, played in discussing her name with a number of reporters.

The revelation of Bush's role in the disclosure effort set off an intense political debate yesterday over the propriety of the White House's use of intelligence information to undermine a critic. Democratic lawmakers lined up to demand that Bush explain his involvement in an affair they called unprecedented.

"If the disclosure is true, it's breathtaking. The president is revealed as the leaker-in-chief," said Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Legal scholars and analysts said yesterday that the president has the authority to selectively declassify intelligence reports But they also said it was highly unusual for senior officials at the White House to take such an action so stealthily, without notifying Cabinet officials or others in the administration, including the CIA authors of the National Intelligence Estimate.

According to Fitzgerald's account, Libby believed that only he, Bush and Cheney knew about the calculated disclosure. Even Stephen J. Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, was kept in the dark, and he wasted efforts trying separately to "declassify what Mr. Libby testified had already been declassified." Libby, meanwhile, told the reporters he contacted that the declassified information could not be attributed to him.

Fitzgerald's disclosure, in a document he filed in U.S. District Court here at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, came in the midst of a legal battle over Libby's demand for wide access to materials related to Fitzgerald's continuing investigation.

more here: http://www.shoutwire.com/viewstory/9094/Bush_Authorized_Secrets_Release_Libby_Testified
 
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