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White House to screen leak material

The White House said Tuesday its lawyers would spend up to two weeks screening responses from 2,000 staff members asked what they knew, if anything, about the disclosure of an undercover CIA officer’s identity.

White House lawyers will spend up to two weeks screening responses turned in by roughly 2,000 staff members who were asked what, if anything, they knew about the unauthorized disclosure of an undercover CIA officer’s identity. But President Bush voiced some doubt Tuesday that the source of the leak would ever be found.

“I DON’T know if we’re going to find out the senior administration official” said to have leaked the name, Bush told reporters. “I don’t have any idea. I’d like to. I want to know the truth.”

But, he said, “this is a large administration, and there’s a lot of senior officials.”

“I have no idea whether we’ll find out who the leaker is,” he told reporters, “partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers.”

The White House sought to collect the last of the documents by a self-imposed deadline of 5 p.m. ET Tuesday but acknowledged that it probably would not be able to do so.

“I expect there may be some that have some extenuating circumstances,” such as personal or work-related travel, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. Nevertheless, White House chief of staff Andrew Card was sending a memo reminding all staff members of the deadline.

“We are working hard to make sure the Justice Department has the information that they requested, and this is one step in that process,” McClellan said.

All White House staffers must certify either that they have produced relevant documents or that they have no such documents. The order covers materials such as electronic records, telephone logs, correspondence, computer records, notes and calendar entries.


FBI investigators are trying to determine who leaked to three journalists the identity of a CIA operations officer who has served overseas. She is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV.

Wilson has accused the administration of retaliation after he published an article disputing Bush’s claims that Iraq had tried to acquire nuclear weapons material in Africa.

The claims, which Wilson had investigated in Niger on a mission for the CIA, were part of Bush’s case for war. The White House later said the evidence was unsubstantiated.

McClellan said the White House counsel’s office would review the documents before giving them to Justice Department investigators, a process he said could take up to two weeks.

“I think it’s standard practice that in any administration the counsel’s office would be the point of contact with the Department of Justice and that they would make sure that the material turned in is responsive to the request,” McClellan said. “We’ll be turning information in to the Department of Justice over the next couple of weeks.”

But Democrats questioned the White House’s intentions.

“I am very troubled by the fact that the White House counsel seems to be a gatekeeper, and I want to know what precautions Justice is taking to ensure that it gets all relevant information from the administration,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

He said Justice Department officials had set some specific deadlines, but he would not specify what they were.


McClellan firmly ruled out any role by three administration officials in the leak: political adviser Karl Rove; Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby; and National Security Council official Elliott Abrams. The spokesman said he had spoken to all three officials about the leak.

“This is a very serious allegation that has been made,” McClellan said. “It is a criminal matter being investigated by the Department of Justice, and no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States.”

But asked how confident he was that the leaker could be caught, McClellan told reporters: “I think all of us in this room know that sometimes it can be difficult to determine anonymous sources.”

Officials at the Defense and State departments and at the CIA have also been asked to preserve any relevant documents.

The Pentagon went a step further and set a deadline of 5 p.m. Tuesday for collecting relevant documents, just as the White House did. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said his department had simply been asked to “preserve and maintain” such documents.

Bush said Monday he hoped the inquiry would deter future leaks of sensitive information.

“There’s a lot of leaking in Washington, D.C. — it’s a town famous for it,” he said at a news conference with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki. “This investigation in finding the truth, it will not only hold someone to account who should not have leaked ... but also hopefully will help send a clear signal we expect other leaks to stop, as well.”

Some White House officials worked deep into Monday evening sifting through paper documents, e-mail messages and other records covered by the request.

“Inside the White House, we’ve said, ‘Gather all the information that’s requested and get it ready to be analyzed by the Justice Department,’” Bush said.

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