- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2006

President Bush yesterday said he did declassify portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to try to influence the public debate on Iraq, but he wouldn’t say whether he authorized specific information to be leaked to reporters.

“After we liberated Iraq, there was questions in people’s minds about the basis on which I made statements, in other words, going into Iraq,” Mr. Bush said. “And so I decided to declassify the NIE for a reason.”

Mr. Bush said the 2003 release of information helped people understand his speeches justifying the war.

But Mr. Bush did not talk about whether he ordered information to be leaked to reporters by I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was the vice president’s chief of staff, saying he could not comment further because of the pending case against Mr. Libby.

Mr. Libby resigned from his post after being indicted last year by a federal prosecutor on charges that he obstructed the investigation into the leak of the identity of CIA employee Valerie Plame.

Mr. Libby had told some reporters that Mrs. Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, had written a report disputing part of the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

Mr. Bush made his remarks at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington a day after Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Mr. Bush must offer a “specific explanation to the American people.”

Democrats yesterday said the explanation did not go far enough.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the NIE information must have been classified for a reason, and that Mr. Bush must explain what changed to make the information subject to release.

“Though there is no doubt that you have the legal authority to classify and declassify information, it is in the interest of all Americans and our security that these decisions be made according to careful, thoughtful and established procedures that prioritize security over politics,” Mr. Schumer wrote in a letter to Mr. Bush.

In a court filing last week, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald said Mr. Bush was not aware of the role that Mr. Libby played in revealing Mrs. Plame’s identity.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan yesterday said he could not talk about “whether or not the parts of that National Intelligence Estimate may have been declassified at some point prior to the release of the National Intelligence Estimate.”

Mr. Schumer also asked Mr. Bush to explain why it took nearly three years to acknowledge that he authorized the declassification himself.

The declassified NIE portions were released July 18, 2003. Mr. Bush and White House officials said the NIE went through regular declassification channels before being released.

Mr. McClellan said that by then, the NIE “was more of a historical document.”

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