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Democrats question Bush-Rove meeting on CIA leak


Reuters

WASHINGTON - Democrats asked the White House on Wednesday for details of President George W. Bush's private conversations in 2003 with top political adviser Karl Rove after conflicting reports about whether Bush was aware of any role by Rove in the outing of a covert CIA operative.

Rove and Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, are at the center of federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, challenged the administration's prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Fitzgerald is wrapping up the nearly two-year investigation but a government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no charges in the CIA leak investigation were expected this week.

White House officials have been discussing what to do if Rove is indicted and is forced to step down.

Bush and Cheney were interviewed last year by Fitzgerald and White House spokesman Scott McClellan said earlier this week that the prosecutor has not asked to question either the president or vice president a second time.

In a letter to Bush on Wednesday, Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, asked for details about the president's conversations with Rove after The New York Daily News reported that the president was initially furious with when Rove conceded in 2003 that he had talked to the press about the Plame leak.

The Daily News account appeared to contradict assertions earlier this month by sources close to the case that Rove had kept his role from Bush, assuring him in a brief conversation in the fall of 2003 that he was not involved in any effort to punish Wilson by disclosing his wife's identity.

The Daily News said those earlier reports implying Rove had deceived Bush about his involvement in the Wilson counterattack were incorrect and were leaked by White House aides trying to protect the president.

"I urge you to immediately and publicly clear up the record," Schumer wrote.

"When was the president told?" asked the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.

NEWS ACCOUNT CHALLENGED

McClellan has refused to provide details about Bush's private conversation with Rove, though he has referred to it publicly. Around that time McClellan also flatly denied that Rove and Libby had any involvement in the leak, but reporters have since identified them as sources.

McClellan on Wednesday broke with his usual practice of refusing to comment on the leak case, saying of the Daily News report: "I would challenge the overall accuracy of that news account."

When reporters pressed him on which facts he was challenging, though, McClellan refused to say.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller and other witnesses have been questioned by investigators about whether Cheney was aware or authorized Libby to talk to reporters about Wilson.

Two legal sources involved in the case said investigators also asked witnesses what Bush knew about the leak.

Wilson says White House officials outed his wife, damaging her ability to work undercover, to discredit him for accusing the Bush administration of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war in a New York Times opinion piece on July 6, 2003.

After initially promising to fire anyone found to have leaked information about Plame, Bush offered a more qualified pledge in July, saying, "If someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration."

(Additional reporting by Jim Vicini, Caren Bohan and Steve Holland)

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