WASHINGTON — U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday suggested that the person or people responsible for leaking the identity of a CIA operative might never be found (see GSN, Oct. 7).
The U.S. Justice Department is currently investigating the leak of the name and CIA status of the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson. In July, Wilson wrote a commentary in the New York Times criticizing some of the evidence offered by the Bush administration to justify going to war with Iraq.
Since reports surfaced two weeks ago that the CIA had requested an investigation into the leak, the White House has repeatedly stated its desire to find those responsible. During a brief meeting with the press yesterday, however, Bush said he did not know if the investigation would discover who had been responsible for the leak.
“This town is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don’t know if we’re going to find out the ‘senior administration official.’ Now, this is a large administration, and there’s a lot of senior officials,” Bush said.
The media may play a role in the success, or failure, of the leak investigation, according to Bush.
“I have no idea whether we’ll find out who the leaker is, partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers,” the president told the assembled reporters at the press conference. “But we’ll find out,” he added.
Bush also said yesterday that he hoped the leak investigation would be done as thoroughly and as quickly as possible.
“I want to know the truth. I want to see to it that the truth prevail,” he said.
White House staff members had an internal deadline of 5 p.m. yesterday to provide the counsel’s office with any materials that might be relevant to the investigation. Justice has set a deadline of Oct. 17 for the White House to provide the gathered materials, with intermediate deadlines set before then, the Washington Post reported today.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday that the counsel’s office would now begin to examine the collected materials and weed out those deemed to be irrelevant to the investigation to help expedite Justice’s efforts.
“What the counsel’s office will do is look through his information to make sure it’s responsive to the request from the Department of Justice so that we can assist them in moving forward as quickly as they possibly can to get to the bottom of this,” McClellan said.
McClellan also said, however, that the White House would not withhold those materials that had been deemed irrelevant if Justice requested them.
“They’re welcome to look at the other documents — that’s not an issue — that are not responsive to their request. But what we want to do is not overburden them with large amounts of documents that have no responsiveness to their request or no relevance to this investigation,” he said.
In addition, the U.S. State Department has been requested to preserve any documents that might be relevant to the investigation, spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday. No deadline has yet been set for the department to provide such materials to Justice, he said.
During yesterday’s White House press briefing, McClellan specifically cleared three senior Bush administration officials of having anything to do with the leak — Bush’s senior political adviser Karl Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and National Security Council official Elliott Abrams.
“They are good individuals. They are important members of our White House team. And that’s why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved,” McClellan said.
In addition, McClellan also continued to suggest that the White House would not conduct its own internal investigation into the leak.
“The president wants the career officials at the Department of Justice, who are charged with looking into matters like this, to get to the bottom of this,” he said. “They are the appropriate officials to look into this. They have vast experience in looking into matters like this because they are involved in these types of matters, and that’s exactly what they’re doing,” McClellan added.