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W. House Maintains Silence On Rove

For the second straight day, the White House evaded questions about top presidential adviser Karl Rove's role in the leak of a CIA officer's identity.

President Bush did not respond to a reporter's question Tuesday about whether he would fire Rove, in keeping with a June 2004 pledge to dismiss any leakers of Valerie Plame's identity.

At a White House briefing afterward, spokesman Scott McClellan said the president continues to have confidence in Rove.

"Any individual who works here at the White House has the confidence of the president. They wouldn't be working here at the White House if they didn't have the president's confidence," McClellan said.

Prominent Democrats are calling for Rove to be fired.

The White House said two years ago that Rove wasn't involved in the leak. According to a July 2003 e-mail that surfaced over the weekend, Rove told Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper that the woman "apparently works" for the CIA. It added that the woman had authorized a trip to Africa by her husband, U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, to check out allegations that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons.

The e-mail is now in the hands of federal prosecutors who are hunting down the leakers inside the Bush administration who revealed the name of Valerie Plame to the news media.

The revelation about Rove prompted Democratic calls for President Bush to follow through on his promise to fire leakers of Plame's identity, and triggered 61 questions during two press briefings Monday for McClellan.

It was McClellan who provided the previous assurances about no role for Rove, but he refused to repeat those assurances Monday.

"Did Karl Rove commit a crime?" a reporter asked McClellan.

"This is a question relating to an ongoing investigation," McClellan replied.

McClellan gave the same answer when asked whether President Bush has confidence in Rove, the architect of the president's successful political campaigns.

But

reports the investigation was already under way when the White House first defended Rove, and when the president vowed to fire anyone caught leaking.

In September and October 2003, McClellan said he had spoken directly with Rove about the matter and that "he was not involved" in leaking Plame's identity to the news media. McClellan said at the time: "The president knows that Karl Rove wasn't involved," "It was a ridiculous suggestion" and "It's not true."

Rove's own public denials at the time and since have been more narrowly worded: "I didn't know her name and didn't leak her name," Rove said last year.

CBS News National Political Correspondent Gloria Borger said the matter is now "a true embarrassment" for the White House.

"Because earlier on… McClellan did answer questions about this leak of a CIA agent's identity… And now, yesterday he was just pounded by reporters in the pressroom saying, you wouldn't talk about it today, but you did talk about it in the past."

Borger said big questions remain. "Where did Karl Rove get his information? How far up the chain of command does this go? Who knew that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the agency? And who told Karl and who told others in the administration? That's sort of a mystery that we have yet to find out."

Democrats pressed Mr. Bush to act.

"The White House promised if anyone was involved in the Valerie Plame affair, they would no longer be in this administration," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "I trust they will follow through on this pledge. If these allegations are true, this rises above politics and is about our national security."

New York Times reporter Judith Miller is in jail for refusing to reveal who in the administration talked to her about Plame.

Cooper had also planned to go to jail rather than talk, but at the last minute he agreed to cooperate with investigators when a source, Rove, gave him permission to do so. Cooper's employer, Time Inc., also turned over Cooper's e-mail and notes.

One of the e-mails was a note from Cooper to his boss in which he said he had spoken to Rove, who described the wife of former U.S. Ambassador and Bush administration critic Joe Wilson as someone who "apparently works" at the CIA, Newsweek magazine reported.

It said "Wilson's wife" — not CIA Director George Tenet or Vice President Dick Cheney — authorized a trip by Wilson to Africa. The purpose was to check out reports that Iraq had tried to obtain yellowcake uranium for use in nuclear weapons.

Rove's conversation with Cooper took place five days after Plame's husband suggested in a New York Times op-ed piece that the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq. Wilson's trip to Africa provided the basis for his criticism.

Robert Luskin, Rove's lawyer, said his client did not disclose Plame's name. Luskin declined to say how Rove found out that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and refused to say how Rove came across the information that it was Wilson's wife who authorized his trip to Africa.

"In the conversation, Karl is warning Cooper not to get too far out in front of the story," Luskin said. "There were false allegations out there that Vice President Cheney sent Wilson to Niger and that Wilson had reported back to Cheney about his trip to Niger. Neither was true."

Luskin added, "A fair-minded reading of Cooper's e-mail is that Rove was trying to discourage Time magazine from circulating false allegations about Cheney, not trying to encourage them by saying anything about Wilson or his wife."