New York Times | July 18, 2005
By David Stout
WASHINGTON President George W. Bush changed his stance Monday on the involvement of White House officials in the CIA controversy, saying that if any had committed a crime in connection with the public leak of the identity of an operative, that person would lose his position.
"If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration," Bush said in response to a question, after declaring, "I don't know all the facts; I want to know all the facts."
For months, Bush and his spokesmen have said that anyone involved in the disclosure of the CIA officer's identity would be dismissed. The specification of commission of a crime apparently raises the bar for dismissal.
Evidence has mounted that, at the very least, Karl Rove, now deputy White House chief of staff, provided confirmation of the CIA officer's identity.
In the months after the name of the officer, Valerie Plame Wilson, was made public in July 2003, the White House said repeatedly that no one working for the administration had been part of the disclosure. Wilson's husband, Joseph Wilson IV, a former ambassador, has asserted that his wife was unmasked and her career consequently damaged, in retaliation for his criticism of the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq.
Joseph Wilson has also said he suspects that Rove, one of the president's most trusted political advisers and an architect of Bush's successful re-election strategy, had a role in the disclosure.
Matthew Cooper, a Time magazine reporter, says in a first-person account in the magazine this week that Rove was the first person to tell him that Joseph Wilson's wife was an officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. Cooper writes that Rove used indirect language - not mentioning Valerie Wilson by name, for instance - but that he supplied information nonetheless.
Some Democrats have called for Bush to dismiss Rove. The Democrats assert that Rove may have violated a federal law that bars the deliberate disclosure of the name of a covert CIA agent.
Naming and the law
Adam Liptak of The New York Times reported earlier:
Neither of the two White House officials who discussed a CIA officer with a reporter for Time magazine appears to have named her.
But that fact by itself, legal experts said, does not provide the officials with a defense against charges under a 1982 law that makes it a crime to identify covert operatives in some circumstances.
"The statute does not require that the name be disclosed," Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel for the CIA who is now in private practice at Arnold & Porter in Washington, said Sunday. "It just says that you cannot intentionally disclose any information identifying a covert agent."
It is more significant, experts said, that no evidence has yet come to light establishing that the officials knew that the agent - Valerie Wilson, who is sometimes referred to by her maiden name, Valerie Plame - was or had been a covert officer or that they conveyed her covert status to reporters.
In his account in Time magazine and in television appearances on Sunday, Cooper gave a detailed account of his interactions with Rove and I. Lewis Libby, who is chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.
Both men, Cooper said, addressed questions raised by an Op-Ed article by Joseph Wilson that was published in The New York Times in July 2003. In the article, the former ambassador said that a trip he took to Africa in 2002 for the CIA had led him to conclude that some of the intelligence related to the Iraqi nuclear weapons program had been "twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat" when the Bush administration made its case for going to war.
It was the fact that Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the agency, rather than her name or covert status, that Rove conveyed, Cooper said.
"Before that conversation," he said on CNN, "I had never heard about anything about Joe Wilson's wife."
"After that conversation," he said, "I knew that she worked at the CIA" and that she worked on issues involving weapons of mass destruction.
"But as I made clear to the grand jury," he said, "I'm certain Rove never used her exact name and certainly never indicated she had a covert status."
Cooper said his later conversation with Libby had been along the same lines. "Like Rove," Cooper wrote in an article published Monday in Time, "Libby never used Valerie Plame's name or indicated that her status was covert."
The 1982 law was prompted by the 1975 assassination of Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens. He had been identified 18 months earlier in a magazine called CounterSpy.