The White House faced mounting Democratic calls for President Bush to sideline or fire his top political aide Karl Rove on Monday over his involvement in a CIA leak scandal.
After publicly defending Rove two years ago, the White House responded to the barrage by saying it would not comment at the request of the prosecutors investigating who leaked the identify of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
“The White House promised if anyone was involved in the Valerie Plame affair, they would no longer be in this administration. I trust they will follow through on this pledge,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said.
Other Democrats urged Bush to sideline Rove by suspending his access to classified information and said the deputy White House chief of staff should “clear the air” by answering questions from Congress. Another lawmaker said the intentional disclosure of a covert agent’s identity amounted to an “act of treason.”
The attacks were prompted by reports that Rove was one of the secret sources who spoke to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. The Washington Post on Monday quoted Rove’s lawyer as saying that his client did not mention Plame by name.
Plame’s name was leaked, her diplomat husband said, because of his criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war. Rove’s lawyer was not immediately available to comment.
“The president should immediately suspend Karl Rove’s security clearances and shut him down by shutting him out of classified meetings or discussions,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat.
“It is time for the President to keep his word. Karl Rove should be fired and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York. Several other Democrats have also called on Rove to explain his role or resign.
Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and the ranking minority member of the House Government Reform Committee, called for a congressional hearing to hear testimony from Rove, who is widely seen as the architect of Bush’s election victories.
“The recent disclosures about Mr. Rove’s actions have such serious implications that we can no longer responsibly ignore them. The intentional disclosure of a covert CIA agent’s identity would be an act of treason,” Waxman said.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, wrote the White House asking Rove to “tell Americans what he knew, when he knew it, and who he may have told about Valerie Plame’s identity in order to clear the air once and for all.”
A U.S. federal judge had ordered Cooper, along with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, to testify in the case and reveal their sources. Cooper avoided a jail sentence last week by agreeing to testify. Miller refused to testify and was jailed.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who was inundated with questions about Rove at his daily news briefing, declined to comment when asked whether Bush continued to have confidence in Rove. “You’re asking this question in the context of an ongoing investigation, and I would not read anything into it,” McClellan said of his refusal to comment.
McClellan also refused to say whether Rove’s job could be changed, or whether Bush stood by his pledge to fire anybody found responsible for the leak.
“I think we all want to see the prosecutors get to the bottom of this matter, the president wants to see the prosecutors get to the bottom of this matter,” McClellan said.
A grand jury investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, a Justice Department prosecutor, is seeking to determine who in the Bush administration leaked Plame’s name to the media in 2003 and whether any laws were violated.
McClellan would not address what critics said were contradictory statements issued in the past by the White House and now by Rove’s lawyer.
“I am well aware of what was said previously. I remember well what was said previously, and at some point, I look forward to talking about it. But until the investigation is complete, I’m just not going to do that,” McClellan said.
In September and October 2003, McClellan rejected as “ridiculous” any suggestion that Rove was involved in the Plame leak.
When asked at an Oct. 10, 2003, briefing whether Rove and two other White House aides had ever told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA, McClellan said: “I spoke with those individuals… and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this… the leaking of classified information.”