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Reid: White House owes an explanation

Poll shows dimmer view of Bush's ability to manage effectively

Sen. Harry Reid said President Bush should be a man of his word and fire Karl Rove.



I. Lewis Libby
Dick Cheney
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Crime, Law and Justice

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate minority leader said Sunday that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney owe the country an explanation of "what's going on" in the administration and called for White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to be fired.

"I think not only should the president appear before the American public and explain what is going on and take a few questions from the press, but certainly the vice president should do that," Sen. Harry Reid said on CNN's "Late Edition."

The Nevada Democrat referred to past comments from the president that anyone found to have been involved in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to the media would be fired.

Bush later amended his comments to say that anyone guilty of a criminal act would be fired.

"Everyone knows Karl Rove is involved," Reid said. "If the president is a man of his word, Rove should be history."

Rove is widely believed to have been named as "official A" in the five-count indictment handed up Friday against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Libby resigned Friday as Cheney's chief of staff after a federal grand jury indicted him on five charges related to the leak probe: one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements.

A leading Republican cautioned that Rove hasn't been charged with any crime.

"Mr. Rove, like every other citizen, is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and until somebody says that he's done something wrong, he ought to be permitted to go about his business like anybody else," said Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rove was not indicted, but special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said the investigation of the leak affair would continue, and sources said Rove was not out of legal jeopardy.

Bush made a short statement Friday at the White House in which he called the legal proceedings "serious" and said the administration was focused on many issues.

"There was not a word of apology, not a word of explanation to the American people," Reid said. "The president's going to have to get a touch of reality."

Reid urged Bush to follow an example set by President Reagan when he was faced with the Iran-Contra scandal, and "clean house."

The two-year investigation into the leak raised questions about political retribution by the White House and one of its central points for going to war against Iraq -- the search for weapons of mass destruction.

Plame is married to Joe Wilson, a retired U.S. diplomat who charged that Bush administration officials, intent on building a case to depose Saddam Hussein, hyped unsupported claims that the Iraqi dictator bought uranium for use in nuclear weapons in the African nation of Niger.

"Everyone knows that Vice President Cheney and the president do not like anyone criticizing anything they do," Reid said. "Joe Wilson criticized the basis for the war in Iraq."

Wilson told CBS's "60 Minutes" on Sunday that his wife "felt like she had been hit in the stomach" when her identity was revealed in a 2003 newspaper column by Robert Novak, a CNN contributor.

The revelation resulted in "specific threats," he said, adding, "You can be sure that we discussed security at great length with various agencies."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said the investigation showed no one in the White House did anything illegal before the investigation.

"The allegation is that when they told the grand jury about the process they made some misstatements and false allegations," Graham said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

The former prosecutor said he thinks "the likelihood of Karl Rove being indicted in the future is virtually zero."

Sen. Charles Schumer, who appeared with Graham, said the nation's security was jeopardized by the leak.

"A criminal standard wasn't met. But that doesn't mean that real harm wasn't done," the New York Democrat said. "These agents risk their lives for us. They have operatives that risk their lives. And when you expose the name of such an agent, you do harm."

Schumer also called for the White House to make changes.

"They are at a real turning point," he said. "Thus far, they've admitted no mistakes at all. And that's not a good sign or a good attitude."

Some GOP lawmakers also expressed support for changes at the White House.

"You should always be looking for, you know, new blood, new energy, qualified staff," Sen. Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, told "Fox News Sunday." "I'm not talking about wholesale changes."

Poll: Indictment damages White House

A poll released Sunday night indicated Bush's approval rating has not been affected by the indictment, but the number of people believing he cannot manage the federal government effectively has increased.

The number of people with an unfavorable opinion of Cheney rose to 51 percent, up from 47 percent two weeks ago, the CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll said.

A majority -- 55 percent -- said they believe Cheney was aware of Libby's actions.

The indictment said Libby -- before discussing Wilson and Plame with reporters -- talked about the couple with several people in the White House, including Cheney.

The poll, however, indicated the public's views of Libby -- who until recently had kept a low profile -- were not well-formed.

Nearly half of those interviewed had no opinion of him personally and only one in five said they understood the case against him very well.

Perhaps as a result, 15 percent said they were unsure whether he did anything illegal; of the rest, 45 percent said they believe he broke the law, 31 percent said he did something unethical but not illegal and 8 percent said he did nothing seriously wrong.

Only 10 percent of respondents said they have a favorable opinion of Libby, versus 43 percent unfavorable and 47 percent unsure.

More than half -- 56 percent -- said the charges against Libby were a sign of low ethical standards in the Bush administration, compared with 38 percent who considered it an isolated incident.

Public sentiment about how the United States entered into the war in Iraq was also unfavorable to Bush, with 53 percent of respondents saying they believe his administration deliberately misled the public on weapons of mass destruction.

Nevertheless, Bush's approval rating was 41 percent, the same as it was before before the indictment, and views of his honesty remained stable at 49 percent versus 47 percent last month.

Only 43 percent said they believe he can manage the government effectively, compared with 53 percent who held that opinion in July.

The telephone poll of 800 adult Americans was conducted Friday through Sunday. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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