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Papers: Cheney Aide Says Bush OK'd Leak

PETE YOST, Associated Press | April 7 2006

WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide told prosecutors that President Bush authorized a leak of sensitive intelligence information about Iraq, according to court papers filed by prosecutors in the CIA leak case.

The filing by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald also describes Cheney involvement in I. Lewis Libby's communications with the press.

There was no indication in the filing that either Bush or Cheney authorized Libby to disclose Valerie Plame's CIA identity. But it points to Cheney as one of the originators of the idea that Plame could be used to discredit her husband, Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson.

Before his indictment, Libby testified to the grand jury investigating the CIA leak that Cheney told him to pass on prewar intelligence on Iraq and that it was Bush who authorized the disclosure, the court papers say. According to the documents, the authorization led to the July 8, 2003, conversation between Libby and New York Times reporter Judith Miller. In that meeting, Libby made reference to the fact that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

According to Fitzgerald's court filing, Cheney, in conversation with Libby, raised the question of whether a CIA-sponsored trip by Wilson "was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife."

The disclosure in documents filed Wednesday means that the president and the vice president put Libby in play as a secret provider of information to reporters about prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday the White House would have no comment on the ongoing investigation. At a congressional hearing, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the president has the "inherent authority to decide who should have classified information."

Libby is asking for voluminous amounts of classified information from the government in order to defend himself against five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI in the Plame affair.

He is accused of making false statements about how he learned of Plame's CIA employment and what he told reporters about it.

Bush's political foes jumped on the revelation about Libby's testimony.

"The fact that the president was willing to reveal classified information for political gain and put the interests of his political party ahead of America's security shows that he can no longer be trusted to keep America safe," Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, "The more we hear, the more it is clear this goes way beyond Scooter Libby. At the very least, President Bush and Vice President Cheney should fully inform the American people of any role in allowing classified information to be leaked."

Libby's testimony indicates both the president and the vice president authorized leaks. Bush and Cheney both have long said they abhor that practice, so much so that the administration has put in motion criminal investigations to hunt down leakers.

The most recent instance is the administration's launching of a probe into who disclosed to The New York Times the existence of the warrantless domestic surveillance program.

The authorization involving intelligence information came as the Bush administration faced mounting criticism about its failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the main reason the president and his aides had given for going to war.

Libby's participation in a critical conversation with Miller on July 8, 2003 "occurred only after the vice president advised defendant that the president specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the National Intelligence Estimate," the papers by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald stated. The filing did not specify the "certain information."

"Defendant testified that the circumstances of his conversation with reporter Miller getting approval from the president through the vice president to discuss material that would be classified but for that approval were unique in his recollection," the papers added.

Plame's husband, a former U.S. ambassador, said the administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat from weapons of mass destruction.

After Wilson publicly attacked the administration on Iraq on July 6, 2003, "Vice President Cheney, defendant's immediate superior, expressed concerns to defendant regarding whether Mr. Wilson's trip was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife," the papers said.

After a 2002 CIA-sponsored trip to Africa, Wilson said he had concluded that Iraq did not have an agreement to acquire uranium yellowcake from Niger.

Libby spoke to Miller on July 8, 2003, and Fitzgerald's filing identifies Cheney as being instrumental in having Libby speak again four days later to Miller as well as to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper regarding Wilson. In all three conversations, Libby told the reporters about Wilson's wife, both Miller and Cooper have testified.

Her CIA status was publicly disclosed by conservative columnist Robert Novak eight days after her husband accused the Bush administration of twisting prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat from weapons of mass destruction.

Libby says he needs extensive classified files from the government to demonstrate that Plame's CIA connection was a peripheral matter that he never focused on, and that the role of Wilson's wife was a small piece in a building public controversy over the failure to find WMD in Iraq.

Fitzgerald said in the new court filing that Libby's requests for information go too far and the prosecutor cited Libby's own statements to investigators in an attempt to limit the amount of information the government must turn over to Cheney's former chief of staff for his criminal defense.

The court filing was first disclosed by The New York Sun.

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