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W.House does not dispute Bush leak allegation

Reuters | April 8 2006

The White House on Friday chose not to challenge a prosecutor's disclosure that President George W. Bush authorized top official Lewis "Scooter" Libby to disclose intelligence on Iraq in 2003, as Libby alleges.

Spokesman Scott McClellan noted that the White House released declassified portions of an intelligence report at around the same time, July 2003.

That was part of an already known public release of information in the face of criticism of Bush's grounds for invading Iraq from former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

According to court papers filed on Tuesday, Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, told a federal grand jury that Cheney had told him Bush authorized him to disclose information from a secret National Intelligence Estimate to then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

The disclosure arose out of a long-running investigation into the leak of CIA's operative Valerie Plame's identity. Plame is Wilson's wife and the former diplomat has accused the White House of revealing her identity to get back at him.

Libby resigned from the administration last October when he was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leaking of Plame's name. His trial is expected to begin next January.

The court documents did not say that Bush or Cheney authorized Libby to disclose Plame's identity.

"There's an ongoing legal proceeding and our policy has been that we're not going to comment on it while it is ongoing and that remains our policy," McClellan told reporters.

He added that in the same time period, White House officials had released declassified parts of a National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq.

"There's nothing in that that was declassified that could compromise our nation's security," McClellan said. "It was a historical context about some of the intelligence that was used in making the decision to go to war in Iraq."

Democrats have seized on the news, accusing Bush of hypocrisy. The president has often denounced leaks from his administration and vowed to punish the leakers.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the disclosure, if true, revealed Bush himself as the "leaker in chief."

McClellan said the release of the declassified information was very different from what he called the potentially damaging leak of information about Bush's domestic eavesdropping program which aims to track phone calls and e-mails in the United States to suspected al Qaeda contacts abroad.

"Democrats who refuse to acknowledge that distinction are simply engaging in crass politics," he said.

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