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Inside Politics

Bush consults private attorney over CIA leak probe

White House: President wants cooperation

President Bush has said he wants to find out who leaked the name of a CIA operative to the media.
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CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Bush's talks with a private attorney.
George W. Bush
White House
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has had "discussions" with a private attorney in connection with a federal grand jury investigation into who leaked the identity of a CIA operative, a White House spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Bush would seek advice from Washington attorney Jim Sharp and retain him if the president is called to testify before the grand jury, said spokeswoman Claire Buchan.

"The president has always encouraged everyone in the White House to cooperate with the investigation, and that would mean him, too," Buchan said.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan added there is no indication that Bush is the target of the leak investigation.

Bush has said previously that he does not know who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who is also co-host of CNN's "Crossfire."

Novak attributed the information to administration sources, but he has refused to identify who gave him the information, insisting his sources must remain confidential.

"I'd like to know who leaked," Bush said in October. "And if anybody's got information inside our government or outside our government who leaked, you ought to take it to the Justice Department, so we can find the leaker."

Federal law prohibits disclosing the identity of a covert agent, triggering an investigation into the leak. Such a disclosure is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

The probe is being led by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald from Chicago, who was appointed special prosecutor after Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself to avoid a conflict of interest. A federal grand jury has been looking into the case.

Plame is the wife of Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador and career Foreign Service officer.

In numerous media appearances and a book, he has alleged that administration officials blew Plame's cover in retaliation after he disputed claims that the deposed Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein tried to obtain uranium from Niger.

Wilson visited Niger in early 2002 on behalf of the CIA to investigate a British report alleging Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake -- uranium ore -- to develop nuclear weapons.

Wilson reported finding no evidence to support the allegation.

Roughly a year later, Bush cited the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium connection in his 2003 State of the Union address as part of the rationale for going to war with Iraq.

Wilson later wrote about his Niger visit in an op-ed piece in The New York Times that cast further doubt on the British report, which had been discredited after U.N. weapons inspectors found it was based at least in part on forged documents.

Although Bush has since backed off the State of the Union statement, Wilson's revelations helped fuel allegations the Bush administration exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq before the war.

Wilson has since endorsed Bush's Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and campaigned on his behalf.

Responding to the White House's disclosure about Bush's discussions with Sharp, Democratic National Committee spokesman Jano Cabrera issued a statement saying that the president "should come forward with what he knows and come clean with the American people."

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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