- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

The White House yesterday accused Democrats of politicizing a probe into the disclosure of a CIA employee’s name and said the investigation was based on “unsubstantiated rumors.”

“Unfortunately, there are some that are looking through the lens of political opportunism,” said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. “There are some that are seeking partisan political advantage.”

The remarks reflected a more combative tone from the president’s spokesman as the Justice Department expanded its probe to agencies beyond the White House, including the State and Defense departments. Mr. McClellan suggested the president’s detractors had overstated their case.

That didn’t stop congressional Democrats from rallying yesterday and calling for the Justice Department to assign an independent counsel to investigate the leak accusations.

“An independent investigation of this despicable matter must be undertaken immediately. It must be thorough and it must be beyond question in terms of the vigor with which it is pursued,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said in a statement.

“Given allegations about the involvement of senior White House officials and the past close association between the Attorney General and one of those officials, the investigation should be headed by a person independent of the administration. If there ever was a case for the appointment of a special counsel, this is it.”

Former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, an outspoken critic of Mr. Bush, has accused White House adviser Karl Rove of outing his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA employee, to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who published her name in a July column.

“It’s of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs,” Mr. Wilson said Aug. 21. “And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.”

But last week, Mr. Wilson backpedaled from his accusation, explaining that he mentioned Mr. Rove as “kind of a metaphor for the White House.” Still, he added: “I have every confidence that Karl Rove condoned [the disclosure] and did nothing to shut this off.”

Mr. McClellan, while not naming Mr. Wilson, said such critics “have all of a sudden decided to move the goal post and sensationalize this issue for partisan political gain.”

“It’s unfortunate,” he added. “Not only does it take away from the subject of this investigation, it’s a disservice to the American people.”

While he insisted that the president was continuing to treat the probe with the utmost seriousness, Mr. McClellan pointed out that aside from anonymously sourced news reports, there was no evidence that the White House disclosed classified information.

“There were articles, which happen all too often in this town, of allegations that were made — unsubstantiated allegations — citing, I believe, senior administration officials, not even specifically White House at that point,” he said. “We had no information beyond these unsubstantiated allegations in media reports to suggest there was any White House involvement.”

Meanwhile, federal law-enforcement authorities said employees of the State and Defense departments will be asked in writing to safeguard telephone logs and e-mails. Similar requests already have been made of the White House and CIA.

Nearly two dozen career prosecutors and veteran FBI agents have been assigned to a task force to investigate the suspected leak. The task force boss is John Dion, a 30-year career Justice Department prosecutor who has headed the agency’s counterespionage section for the past year.

Mr. Dion, 56, formerly oversaw the department’s internal security section. He has devoted much of his career to handling espionage cases and has been involved in the prosecution of more than 70 people charged with spying or other internal security offenses. He headed the investigations that led to the high-profile espionage convictions of CIA officer Aldrich Ames and former FBI Agent Robert P. Hanssen.

It was Mr. Dion — not Attorney General John Ashcroft — who initiated the investigation into the leak last week, the authorities said. Such decisions by department heads are routine and in accordance with Justice Department policy.

Law-enforcement authorities and others argued that the career prosecutors and veteran FBI agents named to the task force — all of whom have worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations — would be far more impartial than a special counsel appointed by Mr. Ashcroft.

Still, many prominent Democrats continued to insist yesterday that it would be a conflict of interest for the Justice Department to continue the probe because Mr. Rove once worked for Mr. Ashcroft, a former senator.

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