The White House on Thursday defended President Bush’s decision to insert himself into Tom DeLay’s legal case, saying Bush was employing “presidential prerogative” when he declared the former House majority leader was innocent of criminal charges in Texas.
On Wednesday, Bush was asked during an interview on Fox News Channel whether he believed DeLay was innocent. “Yes, I do,” Bush replied.
DeLay, R-Texas, was forced to step down as the No. 2 House leader in late November after he was indicted on a state charge of conspiracy to violate election laws. A second grand jury indicted him on charges of conspiracy to launder money and money laundering. The initial charge has been dismissed, but a judge has let stand the later charges.
“We don’t typically tend to get into discussing legal matters of that nature. But in this instance, the president chose to respond to it,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “Call it presidential prerogative.”
Bush and his aides have refused to answer almost any question related to a CIA leak case, saying it would be inappropriate.
Accused of being inconsistent
Bush’s support of DeLay drew criticism from Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who told the president in a letter, “You were willing to break your stated policy of not commenting on pending investigations to express clear and unequivocal support for Tom DeLay.”
McClellan denied there was any inconsistency between the president’s remarks in the DeLay case and the White House’s “no comments” in the CIA matter, because the CIA case involves a continuing investigation affecting the Bush administration and the DeLay’s is further along in the legal process. McClellan also noted that the White House has commented previously on legal matters, such as charges against former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
A special prosecutor has been looking into whether anyone in the administration revealed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame in 2003 to punish her husband for his criticism of the president on the Iraq war.
Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, has been indicted on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI, and the prosecutor continues to examine the involvement of Karl Rove, the president’s deputy chief of staff and top political adviser.
‘No comment’ strategy
From the start of the CIA leak probe in 2003, the White House issued denials that Rove and Libby were involved. Those statements gave way to the current “no comment” strategy following revelations in July that Rove and Libby had been sources for Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper in a story that identified Plame, the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, as a CIA employee.
Plame’s identity was exposed eight days after her husband accused the administration of twisting prewar intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq regarding weapons of mass destruction.
In the days leading up to the leaked stories, Rove also spoke with conservative columnist Robert Novak about the CIA status of Wilson’s wife.
This week, Novak said that he is confident that Bush knows who leaked Plame’s name and that the public should “bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is.”
In response, Wilson said, “For the first time in 29 months I agree with Bob Novak. The president needs to answer one simple question: Does he know?”