- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

President Bush yesterday welcomed a Justice Department probe into whether his administration improperly disclosed the identity of a CIA employee whom Democrats described as a covert agent.

“If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is,” Mr. Bush told reporters at the University of Chicago. “And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.”

The president said he has instructed his staff to cooperate with the Justice Department, a message reiterated yesterday morning by Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel.

“We were informed last evening by the Department of Justice that it has opened an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee,” Mr. Gonzales wrote in a memo to White House staffers.

“You must preserve all materials that might in any way be related to the department’s investigation,” he said. “The president has directed full cooperation with this investigation.”

Despite the pledges of cooperation, the White House said that apart from anonymous sources in news reports, it had no confirmation of any leak.

“There is nothing that has come to our attention, beyond what was in the media reports, to suggest that there was any White House involvement in the leaking of classified information,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One.

There was also confusion yesterday over whether the CIA employee was a covert agent or merely an analyst whose career would not be harmed by public disclosure of her name. The employee, Valerie Plame, is married to Bush critic and former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, prompting accusations that the White House exposed her to punish her husband.

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who published her name in July, said she is not an undercover agent.

“According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative and not in charge of undercover operators,” Mr. Novak said on CNN.

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that Democrats had determined, independent of news accounts, that the employee was undercover.

“We were able to confirm that it is a clandestine officer,” the California Democrat told reporters.

Mrs. Pelosi also said the Justice Department could not objectively probe the White House because of ties between presidential adviser Karl Rove and Attorney General John Ashcroft. She cited “press reports” about “Mr. Rove’s company doing the direct mail for Mr. Ashcroft earlier on and vouching for him to the Bush administration later on.”

But Mr. Bush suggested that the Justice Department would pull no punches.

“I’m absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job,” he said. “There’s a special division of career Justice Department officials who are tasked with doing this kind of work” and had done it before.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, however, drafted an amendment urging that an independent counsel be named to investigate.

“Our covert agents put their lives at risk for us every day,” he said. “When you reveal the name of an agent, it’s like putting a gun to that agent’s head. … You are jeopardizing the security of America.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, suggested that the leak was even worse than former President Bill Clinton’s Whitewater real estate deal in Arkansas. The investigation into that deal was expanded to cover the Paula Jones lawsuit and the Monica Lewinsky affair, eventually resulting in his impeachment.

“This is not some obscure real estate deal out in the middle of some wilderness area,” Mr. Harkin said. “This has to do with our fight against international terrorism.”

Mr. Wilson, who served in the administrations of Mr. Clinton and the elder President Bush, opposed the U.S.-led war against Iraq and publicly accused the current administration of exaggerating the threat from Saddam Hussein. Last year, he went to Niger and disputed the president’s contention that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from the African nation.

Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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