President Bush told the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case that he directed Vice President Dick Cheney to personally lead an effort to counter allegations made by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson that his administration had misrepresented intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq, according to a published report.
Mr. Bush also told federal prosecutors during his June 24, 2004 interview in the Oval Office that he had directed Cheney to disclose highly classified intelligence information that would not only defend his administration but also discredit Wilson, sources told the National Journal.
As CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has reported, in July 2003, during the run-up to the war in Iraq, Wilson had publicly challenged the administration claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium ore in Africa in an opinion piece in the New York Times. Joseph Wilson had been on a fact-finding mission to the African nation of Niger that he said was instigated by the Vice President's office.
Cheney was upset by Wilson's article, which undercut one of the administration's reasons for attacking Iraq. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald charges that there was an campaign by the White House to discredit Wilson. In the process, his wife's CIA identity was leaked to reporters.
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak named Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, in a column on July 14, 2003, eight days after Wilson's opinion piece was published.
However, according to the National Journal report, Mr. Bush told investigators that he was unaware that Cheney had directed his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to covertly leak the classified information to the media instead of releasing it to the public after undergoing the formal governmental declassification processes.
As the National Journal notes, the White House has previously pointed out that the president and vice president have broad executive powers to declassify whatever information they believe to be in the public interest.
Libby has been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury about how he learned about Plame and what he subsequently told reporters about her.
Mr. Bush also said during his interview with prosecutors that he had never directed anyone to disclose the identity of then-covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife, the National Journal says. Mr. Bush said he had no information that Cheney had disclosed Plame's identity or directed anyone else to do so, according to the published report.
A senior government official familiar with the discussions between Mr. Bush and Cheney -- but who does not have firsthand knowledge of Mr. Bush's interview with prosecutors -- also told the National Journal that the president told Cheney to "Get it out," or "Let's get this out," regarding information that administration officials believed would rebut Wilson's allegations and would discredit him.
Libby has already testified to the federal grand jury that Cheney was so upset about Wilson's allegations that they discussed them daily after the article appeared, CBS News reported. "He was very keen to get the truth out," Libby testified, quoting Cheney as saying, "Let's get everything out."
Dana Perino, a spokesperson for the White House, declined to comment to the National Journal on its report, as did the special prosecutor's office.
Fitzgerald has not ruled out calling Cheney as a witness. It has been previously reported that the vice president cut out Wilson's article with a pen knife and scrawled questions on it wondering whether Plame sent her husband on a "junket" to Niger to determine the accuracy of allegations that Iraq had tried to buy material to make a nuclear weapon, Plante has reported.
So far, only Libby has been indicted. Last month, top White House aide Karl Rove was told by prosecutors he won't be charged with any crimes in the CIA investigation.
Upon news that Rove would not be indicted, the president said White House officials would remain mum about the leak and the results of the investigation.
"I think it's going to be important for you all to recognize there's still a trial to be had," President Bush said to reporters. "And those of us involved in the White House are going to be very mindful of not commenting on this issue ... because of the Libby trial."