President Bush on Monday declared “complete confidence” in his top political adviser, scandal-scarred Karl Rove, despite his alleged role in leaking a covert CIA operative’s identity.
Federal investigators are trying to determine who outed covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose name first appeared in a column by newspaper journalist Robert Novak on July 14, 2003.
“Karl’s got my complete confidence. He’s a valuable member of my team,” Bush said in his strongest defense yet of Rove, the architect of his presidential campaigns.
Bush made his comments in a roundtable interview with several Texas newspapers, portions of which were posted online by Knight Ridder Newspapers.
Plame’s husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, said the leak was meant to discredit him for criticizing Bush’s Iraq policy in 2003 after a CIA-funded trip to investigate whether Niger helped supply nuclear materials to Baghdad.
Rove was the first person to tell a Time magazine reporter that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA, but did not disclose her name, according to the reporter.
NOVAK BREAKS SILENCE
Novak broke his silence on the case on Monday to challenge a former CIA spokesman who said that he had warned Novak not to publish the agent’s name.
Bill Harlow, the former CIA spokesman cited by Novak, told the Washington Post last week that he had testified before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published.
Harlow said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson’s wife had not authorized the trip to Niger and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed, the Post reported.
Novak, in his column on Monday, brushed aside Harlow’s comments about warning him.
“That is meaningless. Once it was determined that Wilson’s wife suggested the mission, she could be identified as ‘Valerie Plame’ by reading her husband’s entry in ‘Who’s Who in America,”‘ Novak wrote, referring to a publication that compiles information about prominent people.
Novak wrote that he “never would have written those sentences (in July 2003) if Bill Harlow, then-CIA Director George Tenet or anybody else from the agency had told me that Valerie Plame Wilson’s disclosure would endanger her or anybody else.”
The White House has refused in recent weeks to comment on the case after initially denying that Rove involved.
“Why don’t you wait and see what the true facts are?” Bush said on Monday in the roundtable interview.
Democrats have urged Bush to fire Rove or revoke his access to classified information. It is against the law in some cases to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA officer.
The special prosecutor investigating the case could also be considering charges of obstruction of justice or perjury.
Bush said last month that he would fire anyone found to have acted illegally in the case, but critics accused him of lowering the “ethics bar.” Bush and his aides have at times in the past been broader in saying that those involved in the leak would face consequences.