Tuesday, November 8, 2005

White House staffers yesterday began taking refresher courses on ethics and the handling of classified material as ordered by President Bush because of the CIA leak probe.

“The president takes the issue of the handling of classified information very seriously,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters. “So this week, there will be eight hourlong sessions that will be conducted for all White House staff that has any sort of security clearance.”

Mr. Bush made the decision after a federal grand jury indicted Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, on charges that he lied to investigators who were looking into the disclosure of a CIA agent’s name.

Immediately after the indictment and Mr. Libby’s resignation Oct. 28, the president flew to Camp David and made the decision to order the refresher classes. He assigned the task to White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

That did not satisfy Senate Democrats, who yesterday sent Mr. Bush a letter demanding a presidential promise not to pardon Mr. Libby or any other administration official who might be convicted in the ongoing probe.

“A pardon in these circumstances would signal that this White House considers itself above the law,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and three colleagues.

“It is crucial that you make clear in advance that, if convicted, Mr. Libby will not be able to rely on his close relationship with you or Vice President Cheney to obtain the kind of extraordinarily special treatment unavailable to ordinary Americans.”

The White House refused to speculate about whether the president would pardon someone who has not been convicted of a crime.

“Under our system, there is a presumption of innocence,” Mr. McClellan said.

“There will be a hearing process that is going on right now, and we need to let that legal proceeding continue,” he added. “This is something that is just beginning.”

Although White House officials have to take classes on ethics and the handling of classified material before obtaining security clearances, Mr. Bush thought this would be a good time for refresher courses for 3,000 employees.

Among those who will be attending the one-hour sessions is the president’s top political strategist, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove. Mr. Rove testified four times before the grand jury investigating the CIA leak. He has not been charged.

“Karl Rove is continuing to perform his duties,” Mr. McClellan said yesterday. “We appreciate all that he’s doing.”

The spokesman also deflected a reporter’s question about whether the president would apologize to Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose name was disclosed, and her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration.

The mandatory refresher courses are being conducted in an auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. They are being taken by all staffers in the White House and the larger Executive Office of the President.

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