Bush Admits Administration Leaked CIA Name

President Bush lowers his head as he prepares to answers questions during his press conference in the Brady Briefing Room, Thursday, July 12, 2007, at the White House in Washington.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Bush on Thursday sought to put to rest the controversy over his decision to spare a top former White House official from going to jail, saying it was time to move on. He also called on the nation and skeptical lawmakers to stand with him on Iraq, despite a new report showing only mixed progress.

At a news conference lasting over an hour that was dominated by questions on Iraq, Mr. Bush was asked about his decision ten days ago to commute the 30-month prison sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Libby was convicted of lying and obstruction of justice in the investigation of the outing of an undercover CIA official, Valerie Plame, whose husband Joseph Wilson was a vocal anti-war critic.

Mr. Bush acknowledged publicly for the first time that someone in his administration perhaps leaked her name to the news media. "And, you know, I've often thought about what would have happened had that person come forth and said, 'I did it.' Would we have had this, you know, endless hours of investigation and a lot of money being spent on this matter?"

Mr. Bush would not directly answer a question about whether he is disappointed in the White House officials who leaked Plame's name.

The president had initially said he would fire anyone in his administration found to have publicly disclosed Plame's identity.

"It has been a tough issue for a lot of people in the White House, and it has run its course, and now we're going to move on," Bush declared.

Several Bush administration officials revealed Plame's identity. White House political adviser Karl Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage were the primary sources for a 2003 newspaper article outing Plame. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer also admitted telling reporters about her. And jurors apparently believed prosecutors who said Libby discussed Plame with reporters from the New York Times and Time magazine. Libby was the only one charged in the matter.

Mr. Bush presented a mixed picture of progress in Iraq, coinciding with an interim report to Congress by his administration that asserted progress on some fronts but not on others.

The administration's report said there has been satisfactory progress on eight political and military benchmarks, unsatisfactory progress on another eight, and mixed results in two other areas.

The president also said that, while al Qaeda remains a threat to the United States, it has been hurt by his war on terrorism and is "weaker today than they would have been" otherwise. He spoke as a new U.S. threat assessment found that al Qaeda had rebuilt its capability to mount attacks to levels not seen since 2001.

On one of the few other questions of the news conference not related to Iraq, Mr. Bush was asked whether he also had a "gut feeling" there might be a terror attack this summer, as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had recently suggested.

"My gut tells me that, which my head tells as well, is that: When we find a credible threat, we'll share it with you."

Mr. Bush also addressed his low approval ratings and mounting public opposition to the war. "You know, I guess I'm like any other political figure. Everybody wants to be loved — just sometimes the decisions you make and the consequences don't enable you to be loved.

"And so, when it's all said and done, if you ever come down and visit the old, tired me down there in Crawford, (Texas), I will be able to say I looked in the mirror and made decisions based upon principle, not based upon politics. And that's important to me."

Mr. Bush opened the news conference with a tribute to Lady Bird Johnson. The former first lady died on Wednesday at age 94.

Mr. Bush called her "an extraordinary first lady and a fine Texan. ... She brought grace to the White House and beauty to our country."