Leak Report, Katrina Hearing Put Bush on Defensive

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President Bush speaks to House Republicans at a retreat in Maryland on issues dividing Congress and the White House. Among them are reports that senior officials authorized former Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to leak classified data to boost the case for war in Iraq.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. There are new revelations in published reports today that challenge official White House statements in several areas, among them Hurricane Katrina, pre-war intelligence on Iraq and the ongoing CIA leak investigation by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. President Bush had no public comment on any of this, as he traveled to rural Maryland to meet with House Republicans, who are holding an annual retreat. We'll speak with a former CIA intelligence office about Iraq intelligence in a few minutes.

We'll begin our coverage with NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: Events like the GOP gathering today on the Chesapeake Bay provide a chance for some give and take discussion between the president and his party at a site away of Washington. The beginning was open to reporters. It sounded much like any other speech by Mr. Bush. The audio and video were being fed back to the White House press room. But after speaking for just seven minutes, the president asked that reporters be ushered out.

GEORGE W: I support free press. Let's just get them out of the room.

GONYEA: But the microphone was, for some reason, left on. And when the president continued, after a brief pause, he presumably did not know his comments were still being fed back to reporters at the White House.

PRESIDENT BUSH: First of all, I expect this conversation we're about to have to stay in the room. I know that's impossible in Washington.

GONYEA: The feed continued for just a couple of minutes before abruptly ending. If there was a certain sternness in the president's voice after he thought the mikes were off, it may have been a result of media reports that challenge his administration's interpretation of certain events. A front-page headline in the New York Times this morning, above a story about New Orleans flooding after Katrina, says the White House knew of the levee's failure a day earlier than it has admitted. White House spokesman Scott McClellan reacted angrily to that story, calling it "deeply irresponsible journalism." He said there were lots of conflicting reports coming in, and that the president's top priority was saving lives.

There is also new speculation today about the defense to be used in the trial of Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney. Libby is charged in connection with a grand jury probe into the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity by someone within the White House. According to court documents, Libby may have told a grand jury that his superiors had authorized him to disclose information about the National Intelligence Estimate to reporters. Only parts of the NIE were classified, and it's unclear whether Libby was told to release classified information, which could be a federal crime.

Three reputable national news sources report that Cheney was one of the superiors who told Libby to leak information from the NIE. They were the National Journal, The Washington Post and NBC News. They say Libby will mount a defense at trial, saying his actions were part of a broad administration effort to boost the case for invading Iraq. Libby's lawyers say they haven't notified the court that they plan to use that defense, and NPR has been unable to independently confirm the reports.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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