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The White House on the CIA Leak

In February 2002, the CIA sponsored a retired ambassador to go to the African country of Niger to verify reports that Iraq was trying to buy uranium, an element needed to produce nuclear weapons. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson returned with a conclusion that debunked the uranium claim.

On July 14, 2003, conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote a column called "Mission to Niger" about Wilson''s trip to Africa. On paragraph 6 of his column, he wrote:

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report.
Valerie Plame turns out to have been a undercover agent at the CIA. There is a federal law that makes it a crime for a government official to knowingly disclose the name of a undercover agent.

Critics claim that the Bush administration's leak of Valerie Plame's identity was a political smear campaign against Wilson because he had publically criticized a major tenet of the administration's case for war.

As it turns out, Novak was only one of several reporters who had received phone calls about Plame. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate whether or not top government officials had indeed leaked Plame's identity. The White House repeatedly denied involvement and has endorsed Fitzgerald's investigation.

At an event at the University of Chicago on September 30, 2003, President Bush was asked about the investigation into the CIA leak. He answered:

Let me just say something about leaks in Washington. There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of... I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business.
Again, in June 2004, Bush was asked by a reporter, "[D]o you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have [who leaked the agent's name]?"

Bush replied, "Yes. And that's up to the U.S. Attorney to find the facts."

For a full timeline of the events, including the latest developments, visit the NEW YORK TIMES' Timeline of a Leak.

Read below to see the official response from White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan to questions about the leak from the past two years:

White House Press Briefing
September 16, 2003

Q: On the Robert Novak-Joseph Wilson situation, Novak reported earlier this year, quoting "anonymous government sources" telling him that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative. Now, this is apparently a federal offense, to burn the cover a CIA operative. Wilson now believes that the person who did this was Karl Rove. He's quoted from a speech last month as saying, "At the end of the day, it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs." Did Karl Rove tell that...

McCLELLAN: I haven't heard that. That's just totally ridiculous. But we've already addressed this issue. If I could find out who anonymous people were, I would. I just said, it's totally ridiculous.

Q: But did Karl Rove do it?

McCLELLAN: I said it's totally ridiculous.


White House Press Briefing
September 29, 2003

Q: Scott, has the President tried to find out who outed the CIA agent? And has he fired anyone in the White House yet?

McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, that's assuming a lot of things. First of all, that is not the way this White House operates. The President expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing. Secondly, I've seen the anonymous media reports, and if I could find out who "anonymous" was, it would make my life a whole lot easier. But...

Q: Does he think it didn't come from here?

McCLELLAN: But we've made it very clear that anyone who has information relating to this should report that information to the Department of Justice.

Q: Does he doubt it came from the White House?

McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q: Does he doubt?

McCLELLAN: Well, there's been no information that has been brought to our attention, beyond what we've seen in the media reports, to suggest White House involvement.

McCLELLAN: Well, again, keep in mind what I said earlier, that it's my understanding that in a situation like this, that if information was forwarded to the Department of Justice, the first step would be to look at it to determine whether or not it warrants looking into further. So that's what I understand the process is on something like this.

Q: Scott, what do you say to people out there who are watching this, perhaps, and saying, you know, I voted for George Bush because he promised to change the way things work in Washington. And, yet, his spokesman...

McCLELLAN: And he has.

Q: And, yet, his spokesman is saying that there's no internal, even, questioning of whether or not people were involved in this and he's just letting that be handled at the Justice Department, and letting it be more of a criminal investigation, as opposed to almost an ethical...

McCLELLAN: Dana, I mean, think about what you're asking. If you have specific information to bring to our attention...

Q: No, but you say that...

McCLELLAN: ...that suggests White House involvement. There are anonymous reports all the time in the media. The President has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.


White House Press Briefing
July 11, 2005

Q: Scott, you have said that you, personally, went to Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Elliot Abrams to ask them if they were the leakers. Is that what happened? Why did you do that, and can you describe the conversations you had with them? What was the question you asked?

McCLELLAN: Unfortunately, in Washington, D.C., at a time like this, there are a lot of rumors and innuendo. There are unsubstantiated accusations that are made. And that's exactly what happened in the case of these three individuals. They're good individuals, they're important members of our White House team, and that's why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt of that in the beginning, but I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you, and that's exactly what I did.

Q: So you're saying categorically those three individuals were not the leakers or did not authorize the leaks; is that what you're saying?

McCLELLAN: That's correct. I've spoken with them.

Q: All right, let me follow up. Did the President direct you to check with those individuals to find out if they were the leaker?

McCLELLAN: What the President has directed is for the White House...

Q: Did the President ask you to ask those individuals whether they were the leaker?

McCLELLAN: The President made it very clear that we should cooperate fully with the Department of Justice. And in that, keeping with that direction, I am making sure that we are doing that, from my standpoint. And I think part of cooperating fully is looking into these unsubstantiated accusations that were made to make it clear to everybody that those individuals were not involved.

Q: But I still want to nail down, because I don't think this is clear. Does the President want you, or will he, himself, or does he want someone else within the administration, besides the two of you, to individually poll senior staff members to find out who the leaker is?

McCLELLAN: First of all, keep in mind that there has been no information brought to our attention, beyond what's in the media reports. to suggest that there was White House involvement. As the President talked about earlier, there are a lot of senior administration officials in Washington, D.C. And the President wants the career officials at the Department of Justice, who are charged with looking into matters like this, to get to the bottom of this. And we are doing everything we can to assist them get to the bottom of this. They are the appropriate officials to look into this. They have vast experience in looking into matters like this, because they are involved in these types of matters. And that's exactly what they are doing.

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