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29 September 2003

No Evidence White House Leaked CIA Agent's Name, Spokesman Says

White House Report, Sept. 29: Bush wants Justice Department to pursue matter

There is no evidence indicating that White House personnel leaked the name of an undercover agent of the Central Intelligence Agency to a journalist, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters September 29.

McClellan said "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 was asked about the matter after NBC News reported that CIA Director George Tenet had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak.

McClellan also denied that Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, was behind the reported leak.

"[T]here is simply no truth to that suggestion. And I have spoken with Karl about it," the press secretary said.

"All we've seen is what is in the media reports. The media reports cite 'senior administration official,' or 'senior administration officials,'" the press secretary said.

"If there's specific information that comes to our attention, that's another matter. But there has not been any information beyond what we've seen in just anonymous media reporting to suggest that there was White House involvement," McClellan said.

President Bush wants anyone who has information about the leak to give that information to the Department of Justice, McClellan said, adding that Bush "believes leaking classified information is a very serious matter" that "should be pursued to the fullest extent." Publicly identifying an undercover agent is a criminal offense.

"The president expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct," McClellan said. "No one would be authorized to do such a thing."

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak published the intelligence officer's name shortly after her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, undermined Bush's claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger.

Wilson wrote in The New York Times in July 2003 that he went to Niger in February 2002 at the request of the CIA to assess a report that Iraq sought to buy uranium from that country. He wrote that he found the report groundless. The report was later dismissed by the International Atomic Energy Agency as based on forged documents.

The Niger uranium charge found its way into Bush's State of the Union speech last January as part of the U.S. case against Saddam Hussein, and only after Wilson went public did the White House admit Bush should not have included it.

CIA Director George Tenet took responsibility for not getting the White House to drop the Niger charge from the speech, in a controversy that consumed part of the summer.

Now the CIA has asked the Justice Department to look into whether one or more Bush administration officials leaked information to the news media exposing the secret identity of Wilson's wife.

Democratic candidates for the presidency and several Democratic members of Congress are demanding that a non-partisan independent counsel be appointed to lead an investigation into the matter.