WASHINGTON — After two days of questions, the White House said Tuesday that President Bush continues to have confidence in Karl Rove, the presidential adviser at the center of the investigation into the leak identifying a female CIA officer.
Bush did not respond to a reporter’s question Tuesday about whether he would fire Rove, as Democrats demanded, in keeping with a June 2004 pledge to dismiss any leakers of Valerie Plame’s identity.
At a White House briefing later, spokesman Scott McClellan was pressed about Rove’s future.
“Any individual who works here at the White House has the confidence of the president. They wouldn’t be working here at the White House if they didn’t have the president’s confidence,” McClellan said.
The White House said two years ago that Rove wasn’t involved in the leak. According to a July 2003 e-mail that surfaced over the weekend, Rove told Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper that the woman “apparently works” for the CIA. It added that the woman had authorized a trip to Africa by her husband, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to check out allegations that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons.
At the time of Rove’s conversation with Cooper, Wilson had accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Cooper’s e-mail is now in the hands of federal prosecutors who are hunting down the leakers inside the Bush administration who revealed Plame’s name to the news media.
Democrats want Rove axed
The revelation about Rove prompted Democratic calls for Bush to follow through on his promise to fire leakers of Plame’s identity.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said Tuesday that “Karl Rove ought to be fired.” With Kerry on Capitol Hill was Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., a possible 2008 presidential contender, who indicated her agreement with Kerry’s view.
“I’m nodding,” she told reporters.
The issue triggered 61 questions during two press briefings Monday by McClellan. It was McClellan who had provided the previous assurances about no role for Rove, but he refused to repeat those assurances Monday.
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“Did Karl Rove commit a crime?” a reporter asked McClellan.
“This is a question relating to an ongoing investigation,” McClellan replied.
Choosing words carefully
McClellan gave the same answer when asked whether President Bush has confidence in Rove, the architect of the president’s successful political campaigns.
The investigation was ongoing in 2003 when McClellan assured the public Rove wasn’t involved, a reporter pointed out, but the spokesman refused to elaborate.
In September and October 2003, McClellan said he had spoken directly with Rove about the matter and that “he was not involved” in leaking Plame’s identity to the news media. McClellan said at the time: “The president knows that Karl Rove wasn’t involved,” “It was a ridiculous suggestion” and “It’s not true.”
Rove’s own public denials at the time and since have been more narrowly worded: “I didn’t know her name and didn’t leak her name,” Rove said last year.
Democrats pressed Bush to act.
“The White House promised if anyone was involved in the Valerie Plame affair, they would no longer be in this administration,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “I trust they will follow through on this pledge. If these allegations are true, this rises above politics and is about our national security.”
Democratic consultant Paul Begala, appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Tuesday, said Rove has both a legal problem and a political problem.
Grand jury involvement
He said the legal issue should be resolved by the grand jury. Begala also said the White House has a political problem because “people are going to look at this crowd and say, Gee, we can’t trust a thing they say after the WMD (weapons of mass destruction) controversy.’ “
New York Times reporter Judith Miller is in jail for refusing to reveal who in the administration talked to her about Plame.
Cooper had also planned to go to jail rather than talk, but at the last minute he agreed to cooperate with investigators when a source, Rove, gave him permission to do so. Cooper’s employer, Time Inc., also turned over Cooper’s e-mail and notes.
One of the e-mails was a note from Cooper to his boss in which he said he had spoken to Rove, who described the wife of former U.S. Ambassador and Bush administration critic Joe Wilson as someone who “apparently works” at the CIA, Newsweek magazine reported.
It said “Wilson’s wife” — not CIA Director George Tenet or Vice President Dick Cheney — authorized a trip by Wilson to Africa. The purpose was to check out reports that Iraq had tried to obtain yellowcake uranium for use in nuclear weapons.
Rove’s conversation with Cooper took place five days after Plame’s husband suggested in a New York Times op-ed piece that the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq. Wilson’s trip to Africa provided the basis for his criticism.
Robert Luskin, Rove’s lawyer, said his client did not disclose Plame’s name. Luskin declined to say how Rove found out that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA and refused to say how Rove came across the information that it was Wilson’s wife who authorized his trip to Africa.
On Tuesday, Joseph Wilson commented publicly for the first time since the new Cooper e-mail surfaced.
“I have said all along that Rove was intimately involved in the smear campaign launched after the [Novak] article appeared," he told NBC News in an off-camera conversation. "Now to find out he talked to Matt Cooper before then only compounds the outrage at the abuse of power.”
Groups want Rove's security clearances suspended
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and a private group, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, called on Bush to suspend Rove's security clearances, shutting him out of classified meetings.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., asked the Republican chairman of the House Government Reform Committee to hold a hearing at which Rove would testify.
Rove should resign or the president should fire him, said Tom Matzzie, Washington director of the liberal advocacy group, MoveOn PAC.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., asked Rove to detail any conversations he had about Plame before her name surfaced publicly in Novak's column.
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