A leading Republican urged President Bush Sunday to “tell the American people exactly what happened” in a leak of information aimed at countering criticism of his reasons for taking America to war in Iraq.
The president, whose popularity is slumping, is on the defensive because of a prosecutor’s disclosure that Bush authorized a former top official, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, to share intelligence data on Iraq in 2003 with a reporter to defend his decision to invade Iraq.
Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Fox News Sunday that “there’s been enough of a showing here with what’s been filed of record in court that the president of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people.
“The president has the authority to declassify information. So in a technical sense, if he looked at it, he could say this is declassified, and make a disclosure of it,” said Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, speaking from Cartagena, Colombia.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan has insisted that Bush had the authority to declassify intelligence and rejected charges from Democrats that he did so selectively for political purposes.
But Specter urged Bush to address the topic himself.
“I think that it is necessary for the president and the vice president to tell the American people exactly what happened,” he said.
“There has to be a detailed explanation precisely as to what Vice President (Dick) Cheney did, what the president said to him, and an explanation from the president as to what he said so that it can be evaluated,” said Specter.
“The president has justifiably criticized the Congress for leaking and, of course, the White House has leaked.”
The case is rooted in an investigation in which Libby, Cheney’s former top aide, is accused of obstruction of justice and perjury in an investigation designed to discover who leaked the identity of then-CIA officer Valerie Plame.
According to court papers made public last week, Libby testified to a federal grand jury that Cheney had told him Bush authorized him to give secret information to a New York Times reporter.
Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, said the administration leaked his wife’s identity in retaliation for his assertion that the president knowingly gave the American people information about Iraq’s alleged nuclear program that U.S. intelligence services knew was untrue.
Wilson, speaking on ABC television’s “This Week,” called on Bush to release transcripts of Bush and Cheney’s testimony to the prosecutor.
“It seems to me it is long past time for the White House to come clean on all of this,” he said.
Inspectors who scoured Iraq after the U.S. invasion failed to find any signs of a nuclear program.