October 01, 2003

Outside Probe of Leaks Is Favored

Once upon a time in America, there was a free and
aggressive press that was willing to investigate the
powerful (even if they were not Democrats) and bring
them down. It was long ago, not in years, but in the
degradation of America's political life. In that time,
the Washington Post led the way, and drew first blood
(politically) on Nixon and Watergate. At this sad
juncture in US history, we would settle for
(investigative reporting is too much to ask for just
now), the WASHPs simply printing the *real* news
without kowtowing and skirting around sensitive
subjects, and for the last two days -- they have...You
are going to see and hear great events in the coming
weeks and months...Remember, the LNS, the Internet
Information Rebellion (Buzzflash, Truthout,
MediaWhores, etc.) AND the Guardian kept this story
alive until now...Clearly, as I mentioned to you over
the last several weeks, the establishment itself is
moving against the Bush cabal...


Outside Probe of Leaks Is Favored
Poll Findings Come As White House Softens Denials

By Dana Milbank and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 2, 2003; Page A01

Nearly seven in 10 Americans believe a special
prosecutor should be named to investigate allegations
that Bush administration officials illegally leaked
the name of an undercover CIA agent, according to a
Washington Post/ABC News poll released yesterday.

The poll, taken after the Justice Department announced
that it had opened a criminal probe into the matter,
pointed to several troubling signs for the White House
as Bush aides decide how to contain the damage. The
survey found that 81 percent of Americans considered
the matter serious, while 72 percent thought it likely
that someone in the White House leaked the agent's

Confronted with little public support for the White
House view that the investigation should be handled by
the Justice Department, Bush aides began yesterday to
adjust their response to the expanding probe. They
reined in earlier, broad portrayals of innocence in
favor of more technical arguments that it is possible
the disclosure was made without knowledge that a
covert operative was being exposed and therefore might
not have been a crime.

As the White House hunkered down, it got the first
taste of criticism from within Bush's own party. Sen.
Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said that Bush "needs to get this
behind him" by taking a more active role. "He has that
main responsibility to see this through and see it
through quickly, and that would include, if I was
president, sitting down with my vice president and
asking what he knows about it," the outspoken Hagel
said last night on CNBC's "Capital Report."

At the same time, administration allies outside the
White House stepped up a counteroffensive that seeks
to discredit the administration's main accuser, former
ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, whose wife was named
as a CIA operative. Republican National Committee
Chairman Ed Gillespie gave a string of television
interviews with the three-part message that the
Justice Department is investigating, that the White
House is fully cooperating and that Wilson has a
political agenda and has made "rash statements."

"He is someone, given his politics, who is obviously
prone to think the worst of this White House,"
Gillespie said by telephone.

With Tuesday's announcement that a full criminal
investigation into the leaks was underway, the federal
government's investigative apparatus began to
reassemble. An FBI spokeswoman said the bureau has
gathered a team of agents experienced in leak
investigations to conduct the inquiry, from the
inspections and counterintelligence divisions at
headquarters and in the Washington field office. The
FBI investigation will be overseen by the bureau's
Inspections Division, which often handles specialized
probes, one FBI official said.

At the White House, officials said they will examine
their files and phone logs and preserve message slips
and notes that could relate to the investigation.
While Bush was quiet on the topic yesterday, the
subject filled 22 of 24 pages in the transcript of the
daily White House press briefing.

Bush press secretary Scott McClellan made clear he was
limiting his public claims related to the probe. He
said that he would not vouch for individual aides'
innocence other than his statement that Bush senior
adviser Karl Rove "didn't condone that kind of
activity and was not involved in that kind of

McClellan also limited his defense of White House
aides to narrow legal grounds. On Monday, he said,
"There's been nothing, absolutely nothing, brought to
our attention to suggest any White House involvement,
and that includes the vice president's office as

Yesterday, McClellan did not deny that there had been
any general White House effort to discredit Wilson at
the time of the original leak. "The issue here is
whether or not someone leaked classified information,"
he said yesterday, adding after the briefing: "I'm
drawing a line here. I'm not going to play the game of
going down other rabbit trails."

The move to circumscribe the White House response
could have legal and political implications. Bush and
his aides have made clear that they do not support
naming a special counsel to investigate the leaks, but
Democrats said Bush's Justice Department cannot lead
an impartial probe.

Seeking to keep up the pressure on Bush yesterday,
Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) and
three other Senate Democrats wrote to the president
repeating their call for a special counsel and asking
for all White House senior staff members to sign a
statement saying they were not responsible for the

Justice Department regulations may make it difficult
for Attorney General John D. Ashcroft to leave the
matter to his career staff, as he has proposed,
particularly if journalists who received the leaks are
to be questioned. The regulations state that "no
subpoena may be issued to any member of the news media
without the express authorization of the Attorney

The name of Wilson's wife and her status as a CIA
employee were published in a syndicated column days
after Wilson wrote an article casting doubt on the
administration's claim that Iraq had sought nuclear
materials in Niger. The columnist, Robert D. Novak,
quoted two senior administration officials.

On Saturday, a senior administration official told The
Washington Post that before Novak's column appeared,
two top White House officials called at least six
journalists and disclosed the identity of Wilson's
wife. The senior administration official said the leak
was "meant purely and simply for revenge." Wilson had
been sent by the CIA to Niger in 2002 to examine the
nuclear claims.

Both the White House and the Republican National
Committee assailed Wilson for retreating from his
charge that Rove was responsible for the disclosure
and for his newly acknowledged role in the
presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
Wilson said he gave $2,000 to Kerry's campaign and has
participated in three or four of the campaign's
conference calls about foreign policy.

At the Capitol, aides to House Majority Leader Tom
DeLay (Tex.) distributed paper sacks labeled "Leak
Hyperventilation Bags."

Still, most White House allies were careful not to
dismiss the significance of the allegations. Gillespie
was asked by MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Tuesday evening
whether the potential crime involved was worse than
Watergate. "You know, yeah, I suppose in terms of the
real-world implications of it," Gillespie said. "It's
not just politics. It's people's lives."

Disclosing the name of a clandestine operative --
which can jeopardize the agent's contacts -- can be a
crime, but that determination depends on factors that
include whether the disclosure was intentional,
whether the leaker knew the person was a covert agent
and whether he or she knew the government was taking
steps to conceal the agent's covert status. "Was it
known that information was classified information?"
asked McClellan, who pointed to statements this week
by Novak saying he did not know Wilson's wife had
undercover status.

McClellan suggested at a briefing yesterday morning
that Bush would want aides to take polygraph tests if
requested by the FBI. " 'Full cooperation' is full
cooperation," he said, referring to Bush's remarks on
Tuesday. Asked in the afternoon, he said, "That is a
hypothetical, and that is not where the process is."

McClellan said in the morning that he did not know if
any White House aides had contacted the Justice
Department with information. By afternoon, he was
referring such questions to Justice, saying he would
have no reason to know. McClellan said he could not
say when Bush first learned of the leak. "I looked
into it, and I just don't know," he said.

In the Post-ABC News poll, 34 percent thought it
likely that Bush knew in advance about the leaks.
Bush's overall support slipped to 54 percent from 58
percent in mid-September. That level is the lowest of
his presidency but still respectable by historical
measures. There was a high degree of suspicion
directed toward the administration. Only 29 percent
said the investigation should be handled by the
Justice Department, while 69 percent favored a special
counsel with autonomy from the administration.

Assistant polling director Claudia Deane and staff
writers Dan Eggen, Dana Priest and Susan Schmidt
contributed to this report.

2003 The Washington Post Company

Posted by richard at October 1, 2003 01:44 PM