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Spy leak rocks Bush

by Andrew Miga
Tuesday, September 30, 2003

WASHINGTON - The White House, rocked by an explosive scandal over charges it exposed the name of a CIA agent to muzzle criticism on Iraq, yesterday denied President Bush's top political guru Karl Rove hatched the plot.

``(Rove) wasn't involved,'' said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan. ``The president knows he wasn't involved. It's simply not true.''

But such claims couldn't quell angry Democrats demanding an independent probe into charges the White House tried to silence ex-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson by leaking the name of his CIA operative wife, Valerie Plame, to several Washington reporters.

``This administration has played politics with national security for a long time, but this is going too far,'' said Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a Democratic presidential candidate.

Wilson believes the White House leaked his wife's name to syndicated columnist Robert Novak and other reporters in July to stifle Wilson's criticism of Bush's pre-war claims about Iraq's nuclear capability.

``Acting like schoolyard bullies, pulling the hair of a little girl, metaphorically speaking, is something that I don't think people appreciate very much,'' Wilson, interviewed on CNN, said of the White House. Wilson contends the leak was also intended to intimidate other Bush critics.

The controversy, fueling fresh allegations the White House deliberately hyped the threat posed by Iraq to justify rushing into war, comes as a political jolt for Bush as he preps for the 2004 re-election campaign.

The president's handling of Iraq and the nation's ailing economy has plunged his approval ratings to their lowest point since he took office.

The Justice Department has already launched a preliminary investigation into a complaint about the leak by the CIA. Some fear the leak could expose other agents and undermine national security.

``It is a moral outrage that multiple White House officials are alleged to have done so for political revenge,'' said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), a presidential candidate.

Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean said the case reflects the White House's willingness to go to any length to justify launching its war against Iraq.

``This was a petty and mean-spirited action, but with far-reaching repercussions,'' complained Dean. ``The American public has been misled. The time for accountability is long overdue.'' Other Democrats hoping to challenge Bush in 2004 accused the White House of stonewalling.

``No one should shield criminals who compromise national security for political purposes, especially if they are on the president's staff,'' said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) ``It is outrageous that the president who campaigned with a promise to restore integrity to the White House refuses to get to the bottom of this,'' said the Democratic presidential candidate.

Wilson, in a July 6 New York Times op-ed article, struck a nerve among Bush aides after asserting that the White House knew the evidence was flimsy for Bush's pre-war claims about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium in Africa for its nuclear arms program.

Wilson disclosed he had traveled to Africa last year to investigate charges Saddam Hussein was seeking to buy uranium for his nuclear weapons program, but found no compelling evidence.

Eight days later, a July 14 Novak column identified Plame and her CIA undercover work - potentially compromising any covert operations she was involved with. Plame reportedly specialized in intelligence about weapons of mass destruction.

The White House has since admitted that it lacks solid evidence for its pre-war claims about Iraq and the uranium, which were first made in Bush's State of the Union speech last January.

Leaking classified information about a CIA agent carries a maximum 10-year prison term.

The White House said it will cooperate with a Justice Department probe already underway, but added it has no plans to launch an internal investigation.

Democrats said the Justice Department, headed by Bush's Attorney General John Ashcroft, lacks the credibility to investigate the White House.

Wilson had originally pointed a finger of blame at Bush's chief political adviser, Rove, but last night in broadcast interviews he seemed to be backing away from the charge, saying only that he assumed Rove was aware of the plot.

``My sources tell me that at a minimum, Mr. Rove condoned it,'' Wilson told MSNBC.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.


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