Fri, Jun 04, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Bush consults own lawyer regarding leaked agent name


US President George W. Bush has consulted an outside lawyer about possibly representing him in the grand jury investigation of who leaked the name of a covert CIA operative last year, White House officials said.

There was no indication that Bush was a target of the leak investigation, but the president's move suggested he anticipates being questioned about what he knows.

A federal grand jury has questioned numerous White House and administration officials to learn who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to the news media. Wilson has charged that officials made the disclosure in an effort to discredit him.

"The president has made it very clear he wants everyone to cooperate fully with the investigation and that would include himself," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday.

He confirmed that Bush had contacted Washington attorney Jim Sharp. "In the event the president needs his advice, I expect he probably would retain him," McClellan said.

A number of journalists have received federal subpoenas to face questioning about the leak, and FBI officials have visited the White House to interview officials. There was no indication Bush had been questioned yet.

Bush has been an outspoken critics of leak, but he has expressed doubts that the government's investigation will pinpoint who was responsible in this case. While Bush has said he welcomed the investigation, it has been an awkward development for a president who promised to bring integrity and leadership to the White House after years of Republican criticism and investigations of the administration of former President Bill Clinton.

Even though he has a White House counsel, Bush is dependent on outside lawyers for private matters. A memo distributed to the staff last year reminded officials that the counsel's office works solely for the president in his official capacity and is not a private attorney for anyone.

"It speaks for itself that the president initially claimed he wanted to get to the bottom of this, but now he's suddenly retained a lawyer," said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "Bush shouldn't drag the country through grand juries and legal maneuvering. President Bush should come forward with what he knows, and come clean with the American people."

Plame was first identified by rightist columnist and TV commentator Robert Novak in a column last July. Novak said his information came from Bush Administration sources.

Wilson has said he believes his wife's name was leaked because of his criticism of Bush Administration claims that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Niger, which Wilson investigated for the CIA and found to be untrue.

Disclosure of an undercover officer's identity can be a federal crime. The grand jury has heard from witnesses and combed through thousands of pages of documents turned over by the White House, but has returned no indictments.

The probe is being handled by Chicago US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Attorney General John Ashcroft declined to handle the case because of his political ties to Bush.

Absent a breakthrough from the documents or a cooperating witness, prosecutors may be forced to try to identify the leaker through Novak or other reporters. However, journalists pressed by the prosecution could assert a First Amendment privilege to protect their sources.

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