- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

President Bush yesterday expressed serious doubt that the Justice Department will ever find an administration official who might have improperly disclosed the identity of a CIA employee.

“I don’t know if we’re going to find out the senior administration official,” Mr. Bush said during a Cabinet meeting. “This is a large administration, and there’s a lot of senior officials.”

When a reporter asked how confident he was that the Justice Department probe would trace the leak, Mr. Bush sounded pessimistic.

“You tell me: How many sources have you had that’s leaked information that you’ve exposed or had been exposed?” he said. “Probably none.”

Mr. Bush suggested that the chances for success were slim, “partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers.”

The investigation began last week after the CIA asked the Justice Department to find out whether anyone in the White House, Pentagon or State Department had disclosed the name of CIA employee Valerie Plame Wilson. She was identified in August by syndicated columnist Robert Novak after her husband, former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, criticized the president’s Iraq policy.

Mr. Wilson, who has accused high-ranking administration officials of being behind the leak, said recently that he will use his “15 minutes of notoriety” to campaign against Mr. Bush. Mr. Novak has said that the disclosure occurred in an “offhand manner” from an administration source who was not being vindictive.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan lashed out at reporters and Democrats for publicly airing “rumor and innuendo and unsubstantiated accusations.” For example, Bush detractors have floated the names of three officials as likely to have leaked the CIA employee’s identity.

Mr. McClellan said he felt compelled to personally confirm that the trio had not leaked the information. The officials in question are White House political strategist Karl Rove, National Security Council official Eliot Abrams and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

“There are a lot of names being floated and a lot of unsubstantiated accusations being leveled against good people,” he said. “It’s the ugly side of Washington, D.C.”

Mr. McClellan said finding the identity of the leaker, if there is one, could be challenging.

“Obviously, it is difficult to find out who anonymous sources are,” he told reporters. “We all know that that oftentimes doesn’t happen.”

Most White House staffers met yesterday’s self-imposed 5 p.m. deadline to turn over the documents sought by Justice, except for those personnel with extenuating circumstance such as travel, according to White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan.

“I’ve instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators,” the president said. “I want to see to it that the truth prevails. And I hope we can get this investigation done in a thorough way as quickly as possible.”

White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. suggested that the probe has been a distraction for the staff.

“The sooner we complete the search and delivery of documents, the sooner the Justice Department can complete its inquiry — and the sooner we can all return our full attention to doing the work of the people that the president has entrusted to us,” he said in a memo to the staff.

“I expect each and every employee to do what it takes as a professional to comply by the deadline, and I expect the senior staff at the White House to make sure those under your supervision are thorough, diligent, and timely in this effort,” he added. “The level of cooperation has been outstanding.”

Mr. McClellan said he has spent considerable time combing through months of records and turning over documents to the White House Counsel’s Office. He said the office is likely to winnow the documents to those truly pertinent to the probe before turning them over to the Justice Department.

Mr. McClellan was particularly critical of Mr. Wilson, reminding reporters of the former diplomat’s initial reaction to Mr. Novak’s column at a “partisan” forum in Seattle.

“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,” said Mr. Wilson, who was sent to Niger last year to assess reports that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium for nuclear weapons from the African country. He was critical of Mr. Bush’s use of the information in the State of the Union this year.

Mr. McClellan pointed out that Mr. Wilson “later backtracked” by telling the Wall Street Journal: “I freely admit I got carried away. If I left the impression that Karl Rove was the leaker or approver of the leak, I didn’t intend to.”

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