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Bush acknowledges declassifying intelligence

Critics: White House should explain why information was released

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President Bush said Monday that he declassified information because "I wanted people to see the truth."

SPECIAL REPORT

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Monday that he had declassified intelligence documents in 2003 to help explain his administration's reasons for going to war in Iraq.

"I thought it was important for people to get a better sense of what I was saying in my speeches," Bush said, answering a question from an audience member at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. "And I felt I could do so without jeopardizing ongoing intelligence matters."

Bush said he had authorized the release of the documents because some Americans questioned his reasons for going to war. (Watch as Bush explains his decision -- 2:02)

"So I wanted people to see the truth," he said. "And I thought it made sense for people to see the truth."

Court papers released last week said that a former aide to Dick Cheney, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, testified before a grand jury that the vice president told him in 2003 Bush had authorized the release of portions in the National Intelligence Estimate.

Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, is charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents investigating the exposure of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson. Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was a critic of the Iraq war.

Patrick Fitzgerald, prosecutor in the Libby case, wrote in the court papers that there was an effort by "multiple" White House officials to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of the Iraq war -- a reference to Wilson.

The court documents do not suggest Bush approved the leaking of the agent's identity.

On Sunday, Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on Bush and Cheney to tell the country "exactly what happened."

"The president may be entirely in the clear, and it may turn out that he had the authority to make the disclosures which were made, but that it was not the right way to go about it because we ought not to have leaks in government," Specter told "Fox News Sunday." "We ought not to have them."

Also Sunday, on ABC's "This Week," Wilson urged the White House "to come clean."

In the interview, Wilson called on Bush and Cheney to "release the transcripts of their testimony to the prosecutor."

He added, "I'm not going to sit here and accuse the president of the United States of ... betraying the national security of the country."

Wilson told ABC, "When you selectively leak pieces of the National Intelligence Estimate, and when you attribute pieces in the body to key judgments, you are furthering that disinformation campaign. That's what Mr. Libby did."

In 2003, Wilson publicly questioned Bush's assertion in a State of the Union address that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program.

The administration later acknowledged that U.S. intelligence did not back up the assertion and that it should not have been included in the president's speech.

Some U.S. intelligence at the time bolstered Wilson's position that the uranium claim was not supported by evidence. But the information that the White House released, selected from the National Intelligence Estimate, supported the administration's stance.

Some Democratic critics have said the president approved leaking sensitive intelligence for political reasons despite repeated public pronouncements that he would punish anyone in his administration found to have leaked classified information.

Questions also have arisen over when the documents officially became declassified.

While the White House points out that the president has the right to declassify information, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters on July 18, 2003, that the documents had become declassified that day -- 10 days after Bush, according to the court papers, approved their release to the news media.

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