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Cheney aide says bush approved leak { April 6 2006 }

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April 6, 2006
In Court Filings, Cheney Aide Says Bush Approved Leak

WASHINGTON, April 6 President Bush authorized Vice President Dick Cheney in July 2003 to permit Mr. Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., to leak to a reporter key portions of a classified prewar intelligence estimate on Iraq, according to Mr. Libby's grand jury testimony disclosed in court papers filed late Wednesday.

The court filing provided the first indication that Mr. Bush, who has long assailed leaks of classified information as a national security threat, played a direct role in the disclosure of the intelligence report on Iraq and was also involved in the swirl of events leading up to the disclosure of the identity of an undercover C.I.A. officer.

The grand jury testimony by Mr. Libby, who has been charged with perjury and obstruction in the C.I.A. leak case, is said by prosecutors to indicate that Mr. Cheney obtained explicit approval from Mr. Bush to permit Mr. Libby to divulge portions of a National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq's efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

The disclosure prompted Democrats to demand that the White House be forthcoming about Mr. Bush's role. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, released a statement saying: "In light of today's shocking revelation, President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information. The American people must know the truth."

The court filing, which was first reported this morning on the New York Sun Web site, said that Mr. Libby testified that the "Vice President advised defendant that the President had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the N.I.E." The prosecutors said that Mr. Libby testified that he recalled the circumstances "getting approval from the President through the Vice President to discuss material that would be classified but for that approval were unique in his recollection."

The leak was intended, the court papers suggested, as a rebuttal to the Op-Ed article published in The New York Times on July 6, by Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador, who wrote that he had traveled to Africa in 2002 after Mr. Cheney had raised questions about possible nuclear purchases. Mr. Wilson wrote that he concluded it was "highly doubtful" that Iraq had sought to purchase nuclear fuel from Niger.

At Mr. Cheney's office, the Op-Ed article was viewed "as a direct attack on credibility of the Vice President (and the President) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq," according to the court papers.

The presidential authorization was provided, the court papers said, in advance of a meeting on July 8, 2003 between Mr. Libby and Judith Miller, then a reporter for the New York Times. Mr. Libby brought a brief abstract of the N.I.E.'s key judgments to the meeting with Ms. Miller in the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel about two blocks from the White House.

Mr. Libby testified, the prosecutors said, that he was "specifically authorized in advance of the meeting to disclose the key judgments of the classified N.I.E. to Miller on that occasion because it was thought that the N.I.E. was 'pretty definitive' against what Ambassador Wilson had said and that the Vice President thought that it was 'very important' for the key judgments of the N.I.E. to come out."

The court filing said that Mr. Libby said "he understood that that was to tell Ms. Miller, among other things, that "a key judgment of the N.I.E. held that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium." Mr. Libby, the prosecutors, said, testified that the meeting with Ms. Miller was the "only time he recalled in his government experience when he disclosed a document to a reporter that was effectively declassified by virtue of the President's authorization that it be disclosed."

Mr. Libby testified that he first told Mr. Cheney that he could not have such a conversation with Ms. Miller because the intelligence estimate on Iraq was classified. Mr. Libby testified that Mr. Cheney later told him that Mr. Bush had authorized the release of "relevant portions."

In addition, Mr. Libby told the grand jury that he also spoke with David Addington, then a lawyer for Mr. Cheney whom Mr. Libby regarded as an expert on national security law. "Mr. Addington opined that Presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to declassification of the document."

Mr. Libby testified that at the meeting he did not discuss Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, the C.I.A. officer at the center of the leak inquiry, because "he had forgotten by that time that he learned about Ms. Wilson's C.I.A. employment a month earlier from the Vice President."

Ms. Miller in her Oct. 16, 2005, account of the meeting said that her notes showed that the two had discussed Mr. Wilson's wife, who, according to her notes, worked in a unit of the C.I.A. that is engaged in the intelligence assessments of unconventional weapons.

Ms. Miller said that Mr. Libby discussed a chronology of what she said he described as "credible evidence" of Iraq's efforts to acquire uranium. She made no reference to whether Mr. Libby referred to any material as derived from the intelligence estimate, but said that he alluded to two reports, one in 1999 and another in 2002, that seemed to support the contention that Iraq was interested in obtain uranium.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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