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Bush toughens support of leak investigation { October 7 2003 }

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   http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/07/politics/07BUSH.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/07/politics/07BUSH.html

October 7, 2003
Bush Toughens His Support of Investigation Into Leak
By ELISABETH BUMILLER

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 President Bush said on Monday that the unauthorized disclosure of an undercover C.I.A. officer's identity was a "very serious matter" and "a criminal action" as the White House announced that at least 500 of its 2,000 employees had responded to a Justice Department demand for documents as part of an investigation into the source of the leak.

The announcement and Mr. Bush's adamant words reflected a tougher public approach by the White House to the leak, which has been attributed to senior administration officials. Democrats have criticized the administration for not treating the disclosure of the classified information more forcefully.

"This is a very serious matter, and our administration takes it seriously," Mr. Bush said during a joint White House news conference with President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya.

Mr. Bush, in his most extensive comments about the leak to date, urged the person who disclosed the information to come forward. "If anybody has got any information inside our government or outside our government who leaked, you ought to take it to the Justice Department so we can find the leaker," he said.

The White House has given its employees until 5 p.m. on Tuesday to comply with a Justice Department demand that they turn over "all documents that relate in any way" to the disclosure of the officer's identity.

Investigators say they want access to electronic records, telephone logs, documents and diaries relating to former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV; a trip he made last year to Niger; his wife's relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency; or any contact with Robert Novak, the syndicated columnist, and two other reporters who wrote about Mr. Wilson.

The investigation is focused on determining who leaked the identity last summer of Mr. Wilson's wife, a C.I.A. officer, Valerie Plame. Last year, Mr. Wilson investigated for the C.I.A. whether Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program. He concluded in a July 6 Op-Ed article in The New York Times that it had not and that the administration had twisted evidence to make the case for war in Iraq.

Eight days later, Mr. Novak wrote that it was Mr. Wilson's wife who had suggested sending him on the mission, implying that Mr. Wilson's trip was of minor importance. Mr. Novak identified Ms. Plame, and attributed the information to "two senior administration officials." Mr. Wilson then accused Karl Rove, the president's chief political aide, of involvement in leaking the information to Mr. Novak to intimidate Mr. Wilson into silence. He has since backed off, saying that Mr. Rove at least condoned the leak.

Two reporters for Newsday, Timothy M. Phelps, the paper's Washington bureau chief, and Knut Royce, are part of the inquiry because an article they wrote in July said intelligence officials confirmed and expanded on the Novak account.

The White House has said three people were not sources for the leak: Mr. Rove; I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staf; and Elliott Abrams, director of Mideast affairs at the National Security Council.

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said the office of the White House counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, would remain open late on Monday to receive responses to the Justice Department. Some responses, Mr. McClellan said, were likely from people who simply checked off an entry on a form saying they had no documents relevant to the inquiry.



Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company


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