Wed, Oct 01, 2003 - Page 1 News List

US Justice will investigate leak

AP , WASHINGTON

The US Justice Department has launched a full-blown criminal investigation into who illegally leaked the name of a CIA officer, and President George W. Bush directed his White House staff on Tuesday to cooperate fully.

The White House staff was notified of the investigation by e-mail after the Justice Department decided late Monday to move from a preliminary investigation into a full probe. It is rare that the department decides to conduct a full investigation of the alleged leak of classified information.

White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales told the staff: "You must preserve all materials that might in any way be related to the department's investigation."

The disclosure of the intelligence officer's identity by syndicated columnist Robert Novak came shortly after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, undermined Bush's claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa. In what turned out to be a major embarrassment, Bush acknowledged he could not back up his statement.

The Wilson case has parallels in Britain where Prime Minister Tony Blair's aides leaked the name of a government scientist, David Kelley, to the British Broadcasting Corp Kelley had questioned Blair's evidence on Iraqi weapons and later commited suicide after his name was made public.

"The president has directed the White House to cooperate fully with this investigation," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters. "The president wants to get to the bottom of this."

Senior staff members were told of the investigation at their morning staff meeting, and then Gonzales sent an e-mail to all the staff notifying them of the probe.

The justice department notified the counsel's office late Monday that it was launching an investigation but said the White House could wait until the next morning to notify staff and direct them to preserve relevant material, McClellan said.

The investigation stems from a CIA complaint two months ago that one of its agent's identities had been disclosed. Justice gets about 50 such complaints from the CIA each year about leaks of classified information and few ever get beyond a preliminary investigation.

The White House said that leaking classified information was a serious matter that should be "pursued to the fullest extent" by the Justice Department. But White House officials denied they leaked the CIA officer's identity.

"There's been nothing, absolutely nothing brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement, and that includes the vice president's office as well," McClellan said.

In particular, McClellan said it was "ridiculous" to suggest that Karl Rove, Bush's top political operative, was involved, as Wilson once charged. "He wasn't involved," McClellan said of Rove. "The president knows he wasn't involved ... It's simply not true."

Department if they had relevant information, officials said.

Novak, the columnist, said on CNN that his report was based on conversations with two senior administration officials while he was looking into Wilson's trip to Africa to investigate the uranium story. The officials told Novak that Wilson's wife had suggested the mission for her husband, the columnist said.

He said the CIA confirmed her role and "asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else."

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