Video: Bush: CIA leak investigation ‘serious’

updated 7/13/2005 2:15:23 PM ET 2005-07-13T18:15:23

President Bush said Wednesday that he will withhold judgment about top aide Karl Rove’s involvement in leaking the identity of a CIA agent until a federal criminal investigation into the matter is complete.

“This is a serious investigation,” Bush said at the end of a meeting with his Cabinet, with Rove sitting just behind him. “I will be more than happy to comment on this matter once this investigation is complete.

“I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports,” he said.

Bush’s comments follow the disclosure that Rove talked about the officer in a July 11, 2003, conversation with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. Cooper wrote an article in 2003 in which he identified the officer as Valerie Plame, although Rove did not discuss her by name.

Bush's statement was a surprise for some White House advisers and senior Republicans who had expected the president to deliver a vote of confidence for Rove, his deputy chief of staff.

Two Bush advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not want to pre-empt the president, said shortly before his remarks that the president intended to signal his support of Rove — without prejudging the merits of the case — during that picture-taking session. Indeed, they said, he was prepared to do so a day earlier but the question was not posed in the question-and-answer session Tuesday.

Bush has confidence in Rove, aides say
However, other senior aides to the president said he had been prepared to show his confidence in Rove but, they said, the question from reporters focused on the investigation. Yet, Bush has never appeared constrained to limit his answers strictly to questions asked. The aides said Bush does have full confidence in Rove.

Bush said last year he would fire anyone found to have leaked Plame’s identity.

Bush refused to directly answer questions about whether he had spoken to Rove about his discussion with Cooper.

“I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate with this investigation,” Bush said. Rove sat stoically behind Bush during the questions about his involvement.

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Bush spoke shortly after Cooper showed up at U.S. District Court on Wednesday for a meeting with the grand jury investigating the leak. His appearance lasted 2 1/2 hours.

Few details from Cooper
"I testified openly and honestly," Cooper said outside the courthouse, without divulging details of what transpired there. "I have no idea whether a crime was committed or not. That's something the special counsel's going to have to determine," he said.

Cooper had refused to reveal his source for the story but agreed to do so after a confidentiality agreement was waived by Rove. That came just before Cooper could have been sent to jail for not cooperating with the investigation into who in the Bush administration leaked Plame's name and whether that constituted a crime.

Another reporter, Judith Miller of The New York Times, is in prison after refusing to disclose her source to investigators.

Cooper implored special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to wrap up the case soon so the grand jury can be dismissed. When that happens, Miller will be freed.

White House reaction
In September and October 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said he had spoken to Rove about the Plame matter and that Rove wasn’t involved in the leak. McClellan refused for a second day Tuesday to discuss the denials of two years ago, saying that to do so would impinge on the ongoing criminal investigation of the leak.

Bush ignored a question Tuesday about whether he would fire Rove now that it’s known his adviser did talk to Cooper. But McClellan said later that “any individual who works here at the White House has the confidence of the president.” McClellan said that includes Rove.

First lady Laura Bush, talking to reporters while traveling in Africa on Wednesday, called Rove “a very good friend” whom the Bushes have known for many years.

“It would be irresponsible for me to speculate on any of it,” she said, “so I think I’ll leave the speculation to you all and I’ll leave the investigation” to the prosecutor.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan maintained Bush didn't express his confidence in Rove because he wasn't directly asked if he supports him.

"Every person who works here at the White House, including Karl Rove, has the confidence of the president," McClellan said.

Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, said Rove did not disclose Valerie Plame’s name, a point that Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., called a distinction without a difference.

“The fact that he didn’t give her name, but identified the ambassador’s wife ... doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who that is,” Biden said on CNN’s “Inside Politics.” “If that occurred, at a minimum, that was incredibly bad judgment, warranting him being asked to leave.”

Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said it’s time for Rove to leave.

White House allies weighed in, with expressions of support for Rove from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman said Rove was the victim of partisan political attacks by Democrats.

E-mail evidence
An e-mail by Cooper that surfaced over the weekend in Newsweek magazine said Rove spoke of the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson as being someone who apparently works at the CIA and who arranged a trip for her husband to Africa.

Cooper’s e-mail said Rove warned him away from the idea that Wilson’s trip had been authorized by CIA Director George Tenet or Vice President Dick Cheney.

The RNC chairman said Rove “was discouraging a reporter from writing a false story based on a false premise.”

Rove’s conversation with Cooper took place five days after Plame’s husband suggested in a New York Times op-ed piece that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

Eight days after the op-ed piece, Plame’s name and her connection to the CIA first appeared in a newspaper column by Robert Novak.

The column said two administration officials told Novak that Wilson’s wife had suggested sending him to investigate whether Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Niger. Cooper’s byline appeared on an article a few days later naming Plame.

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