White House: No Denial On Intel Leaks

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan responds to questions, Friday, April 7, 2006, about recent assertions that President Bush authorized the leaks of intelligence information to counter administration critics on Iraq. Papers filed by the prosecutor in the CIA leak case against I. Lewis Scooter Libby said Bush authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified prewar intelligence report.
The White House on Friday declined to challenge assertions that President Bush authorized leaks of intelligence information to build support for the war in Iraq.

But Mr. Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan, appeared to draw a distinction about the president's oft-stated opposition to leaks.

"There is a difference between providing declassified information to the public when it's in the public interest and leaking classified information that involved sensitive national intelligence regarding our security," he said.

And, reports CBS White House correspondent Jim Axelrod, McClellan says the President has the power to declassify information, and he was using that power when he authorized the release of parts of an intelligence report that supported administration claims that Saddam Hussein was a nuclear threat.

"You are talking about information that was declassified, and provided to the American people because it was in the public interest that they have that information so they could see what the facts were," McClellan said.

"But," Axelrod says, "here is where it gets tricky. Scooter Libby was the man who leaked the intelligence about Saddam. But he also leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. No one is linking Mr. Bush to the Plame leak, but given that both occurred at roughly the same time, the leaks may suggest a new light for some of Mr. Bush's statements denying that he was involved in classified leaks."

Court papers filed by the prosecutor in the CIA leak case against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby said Mr. Bush authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified prewar intelligence report. The court papers say Libby's boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, advised him that the president had authorized Libby to leak the information to the press in striking back at administration critic Joseph Wilson.

Read the official court documents.
McClellan volunteered that the administration declassified information from the intelligence report — the National Intelligence Estimate — and released it to the public on July 18, 2003. But he refused to say when the information was actually declassified.

On July 18, 2003, McClellan said that the information had been declassified that day. "It was officially declassified today," he told reporters in a briefing in Dallas, Texas. At the White House on Friday, McClellan interpreted his own remarks to mean that the information had been officially released to the public.

The date could be significant because Libby discussed the information with a reporter 10 days earlier, on July 8 of that year.

Congressional Democrats moved quickly to capitalize on Libby's claim.

"In light of today's shocking revelation, President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada on Thursday. —

"If the disclosure is true, it's breathtaking. The president is the leaker-in-chief," added Rep. Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

In his court filing, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald asserted that "the president was unaware of the role" that Libby "had in fact played in disclosing" Plame's CIA status. The prosecutor gave no such assurance, though, regarding Cheney.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the president has the "inherent authority to decide who should have classified information." The White House declined to comment, citing the ongoing criminal probe into the leak of Plame's identity.