Court documents: Libby testified that Bush OK'd intelligence leak
Lawyers for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby are seeking material about the leaking of Valerie Plame's name.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide testified that President Bush authorized the release of parts of a classified report on Iraq to rebut criticism of the case for the 2003 invasion, federal prosecutors disclosed in documents released Thursday.
The information did not name CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose 2003 exposure triggered an investigation that led to the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Libby is charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents investigating Plame's exposure. Her outing came just days after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had publicly questioned Bush's assertion that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa for a nuclear weapons program, prosecutors in Libby's case told a federal judge. (Watch what the court document says Libby said about Bush -- 3:05)
Wilson's account of a 2002 trip to Niger to investigate the Iraqi uranium allegations "was viewed in the Office of Vice President as a direct attack on the credibility of the vice president (and the president) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq," special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wrote. (Read the court papers -- PDF)
Libby "undertook vigorous efforts to rebut this attack" in the following week, prosecutors stated. As part of that effort, he told a grand jury, Cheney told him that Bush had authorized the release of portions of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, Fitzgerald wrote. (CNN's David Ensor on what is in the court documents)
Libby told a grand jury investigating the Plame leak that the NIE -- a classified intelligence summary not widely distributed within the U.S. government -- "was 'pretty definitive' against what Ambassador Wilson had said and that the vice president thought that it was 'very important' for the key judgments of the NIE to come out," the court papers state.
As president, Bush has the authority to release any classified document. But Democrats quickly jumped on the information in Fitzgerald's pleading, accusing Bush of using that authority for political purposes.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said Bush and Cheney need to "clear the air" about the issue.
"At the very least, President Bush and Vice President Cheney should fully inform the American people of any role in allowing classified information to be leaked," Schumer told reporters. "Did they believe they had the right to do this and, if so, in what circumstances? Or is this just something that may have been done in order to accommodate the president's momentary political needs?"
And in a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler quizzed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about whether Bush could declassify documents "for political reasons."
"The president is going to make the determination as to what's in the best interest of the country," Gonzales replied.
The White House refused to comment on the matter.
Bush has long criticized leaks of secret information, and had threatened to fire anyone found to have leaked Plame's identity.
"Now if the president leaked, for whatever purpose, we ought to know that -- and we ought to know what distinguishes his leaking information from all the others who leaked information and were condemned by the president," Schumer said.
After testimony from reporters implicated Libby and another top aide, White House political adviser Karl Rove, Bush said only that anyone who "committed a crime" would be dismissed. Rove has not been charged with a crime, but Fitzgerald has said his investigation remains open.
Portions of the NIE were declassified after the invasion of Iraq to bolster the administration's case that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had amassed weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. resolutions -- the administration's major case for war. No such weapons were found after Hussein's government collapsed in April 2003.
At the time of Wilson's disclosures, administration officials were in the process of declassifying parts of the NIE so they could hand it out to all the press.
Thursday's filing paraphrases Cheney as raising concerns that Wilson's trip was "in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife" amid incorrect reports that Cheney had dispatched Wilson. Wilson, a former ambassador to Gabon, had said that the CIA sent him to Niger to answer a question raised by Cheney's office.
"Disclosing the belief that Mr. Wilson's wife sent him on the Niger trip was one way for defendant to contradict the assertion that the vice president had done so, while at the same time undercutting Mr. Wilson's credibility if Mr. Wilson were perceived to have received the assignment on account of nepotism," Fitzgerald wrote.
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak disclosed Plame's identity in a column published less than a week after Wilson went public. He cited two "senior administration officials" as the source of the disclosure.
Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate whether the exposure violated a federal law protecting the identities of undercover CIA agents. Libby is charged with lying about how he first learned Plame worked for the CIA but has not been charged with leaking of her name.
Libby discussed Wilson's account with reporter Judith Miller, then a writer for The New York Times, on July 8, 2003 -- two days after Wilson's allegations appeared in the Times. The conversation "occurred only after the vice president advised defendant that the president specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the NIE."
The filing by Fitzgerald is in response to efforts by Libby's defense lawyers to get access to a wide variety of classified information they argue is necessary to his defense. Fitzgerald opposes those requests, arguing that Libby's attorneys want "to provide an irrelevant distraction from the issues of the case."
CNN's Kevin Bohn and John King contributed to this report.
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