- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2006

Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff told prosecutors that President Bush gave his approval to leak to the press sensitive intelligence that would bolster the case for war against Iraq, according to documents filed yesterday in the CIA leak case.

But the court documents, filed by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, do not say that Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney authorized I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby to disclose the name of Valerie Plame, a CIA employee — a charge that set the federal investigation into motion more than two years ago.

In addition, the purported leaks authorized by the president did not involve classified information because, Mr. Libby testified, an administration lawyer told him that the president, by allowing the disclosure of classified intelligence, essentially had declassified the information. The president has broad authority to declassify information under an executive order signed by President Clinton.

Mr. Libby, who resigned in October after he was indicted on five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI, testified to a federal grand jury before his indictment that he had received “approval from the president through the vice president” to divulge portions of a classified document known as the National Intelligence Estimate. Those sections focused on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s purported program to develop nuclear weapons.

Mr. Fitzgerald wrote that Mr. Libby said the authorization from Mr. Bush via Mr. Cheney to release the classified information was “unique in his recollection.”

The case began as an investigation into what Democratic critics called the “outing” of a covert CIA operative by the White House, pointing fingers at Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush’s top aide, Karl Rove. Accusations flew that there was a concerted effort to discredit Mrs. Plame’s husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, after the former diplomat wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that charged the Bush administration with exaggerating prewar intelligence to heighten the perceived Iraqi threat from weapons of mass destruction.

According to the new documents, the Bush authorization through Mr. Cheney led to the July 8, 2003, conversation between Mr. Libby and New York Times reporter Judith Miller. In that meeting, Mr. Libby made reference to the fact that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA.

But it was conservative columnist Robert Novak who — days later — first disclosed Mrs. Plame’s status at the CIA. No one, including Mr. Libby, was indicted on charges of revealing the identity of a covert CIA operative.

Yet the documents also point to Mr. Cheney’s interest in Mr. Wilson.

“At some point after the publication of the July 6 [2003] op-ed by Mr. Wilson, Vice President Cheney, [Mr. Libby’s] immediate supervisor, expressed concerns to [Mr. Libby] regarding whether Mr. Wilson’s trip was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson’s wife,” the documents say.

The White House yesterday had no comment on the matter, and Mr. Bush ignored a reporter’s question about the case.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said he would formally request an explanation from the White House.

“The more we hear, the more it is clear this goes way beyond Scooter Libby,” Mr. Schumer said. “At the very least, President Bush and Vice President Cheney should fully inform the American people of any role in allowing classified information to be leaked.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said, “Now we know President Bush authorized the leaking of classified information for political gain. His willingness to do so demonstrates once again that the president puts his party above the security of the American people.”

But at a congressional hearing, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said the president has the “inherent authority to decide who should have classified information.”

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