White House Mum on Rove, CIA Leak
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
The White House says that President Bush continues to have confidence in Karl Rove. Rove is the president's top political adviser, and that expression of support comes during a second day of intense questioning from the press. Rove has been identified as a source of a leak that led to the public identification of a CIA agent. That leak has led to a criminal probe and the jailing of a prominent journalist. The administration had previously denied Rove was involved in the naming of Valerie Plame, and President Bush said he would fire anyone found to have leaked the information. Democrats are now saying he should keep his word and dismiss Rove. NPR's Brian Naylor has the story.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
For the second straight day, reporters pummeled White House spokesman Scott McClellan with questions about Karl Rove's involvement in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. McClellan--who, for the second day, deflected most questions about Rove, saying he wouldn't comment on an ongoing criminal investigation--did say Rove continues to have the president's confidence.
Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Spokesperson): Any individual who works here at the White House has the confidence of the president. They wouldn't be working here at the White House if they didn't have the president's confidence.
NAYLOR: Exactly who leaked Plame's name in 2003 has been the focus of a criminal probe. Knowingly identifying a covert CIA agent is a federal offense. Plame's identity was given to reporters after her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, criticized the Bush administration over the war in Iraq. Over the weekend, Newsweek published an e-mail in which Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper said Rove told him Wilson's wife, whom he did not identify by name, quote, "apparently works at the agency." Cooper's notes were surrendered to prosecutors by his employer. New York Times reporter Judith Miller has gone to jail rather than reveal her sources on the matter.
Last year, after a number of White House officials including the vice president were themselves questioned by prosecutors, President Bush was asked about the investigation by reporters.
(Soundbite of 2004 press conference)
Unidentified Reporter #1: Given recent developments in the CIA leak case, particularly Vice President Cheney's discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, suggesting it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent's name...
President GEORGE W. BUSH: That's up to...
Unidentified Reporter #1: And do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so? And...
Pres. BUSH: Yes.
Unidentified Reporter #1: ...finally...
Pres. BUSH: And that's up to the US attorney to find the facts.
NAYLOR: In recent days, Democrats have been urging the president to follow up on that statement, jumping at the opportunity to attack Rove, the architect of the president's re-election campaign. Senator John Kerry, defeated by the president last November, was among the first to call for Rove's dismissal.
Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Is the value of day-to-day politics and the value of political advice and the value of his position greater than the national security of our country and the protection of the identity of people, as well as their own word and their own policy? The White House's credibility is at issue here, and I believe very clearly Karl Rove ought to be fired.
NAYLOR: President Bush today refused to answer a question about Rove. But while the White House has for the most part been silent, the Republican National Committee has taken up Rove's defense. RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman said Democrats are engaging in blatant partisan political attacks.
But the Bush administration is facing something of a credibility issue. Not only did the president say he would fire anyone found to have leaked Plame's name, in an October 2003 briefing, spokesman Scott McClellan flatly denied Rove was at all involved.
(Soundbite of October 2003 press briefing)
Unidentified Reporter #2: Earlier this week, you told us that neither Karl Rove, Elliot Abrams nor Lewis Libby disclosed any classified information with regard to the leak. I wonder if you could tell us more specifically whether any of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA?
Mr. McCLELLAN: Those individuals--I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out, and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this, and that's where it stands.
Unidentified Reporter #2: So none of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA?
Mr. McCLELLAN: They assured me that they were not involved in this.
ED: Sir, if I could just follow up...
Mr. McCLELLAN: Yeah. Go ahead, Ed.
Mr. McCLELLAN: The leaking of classified information.
NAYLOR: McClellan was asked today if he misled reporters in denying Rove's involvement.
Mr. McCLELLAN: I look forward to talking about some of these matters once the investigation is complete. I welcome the opportunity to talk about some of these questions, but I don't think it's appropriate to do so at this time.
NAYLOR: But the flap over Rove could get in the way of the Bush agenda, an agenda that Rove, as one of the president's closest advisers, is intimately involved with. McClellan did say the president's agenda is moving forward, and as he put it, `Everyone here is working on it in a big way,' including Rove. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the White House.
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