What Bush did to Joe Wilson

New details surface about the president's role in the outing of CIA employee Valerie Plame.

Published July 5, 2006 5:13PM (EDT)

The National Journal's Murray Waas, citing unnamed sources, reports the following:

President Bush told prosecutors in the CIA leak investigation that he instructed Vice President Dick Cheney "to disclose highly classified intelligence information that would not only defend his administration but also discredit [Joseph] Wilson."

To recap the back story, Wilson, a former ambassador, went to Niger on behalf of the CIA to investigate a pre-war claim about Iraq's nuclear weapons program. He didn't find anything to back up the nuclear claims, and he later became a vocal critic of the Bush Administration's rationale for war. The White House responded by leaking two things to the media: details from a classified assessment of Iraq's weapons programs and the identity of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, who secretly worked for the CIA.

Waas' latest scoop, if it is right, shows that at least some of the retribution was ordered from the top. One of Waas' sources says Bush told Cheney, "Get it out," or "Let's get this out." Libby later testified that Cheney gave him similar instructions about the classified pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

But the President apparently claimed that his oversight of the attack on Wilson only went so far. Waas writes, "Bush told investigators that he was unaware that Cheney had directed I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, to covertly leak the classified information to the media instead of releasing it to the public after undergoing the formal governmental declassification processes."

Bush also claimed that he did not direct the disclosure of Plame's secret CIA identity. Waas writes, "Bush said he had no information that Cheney had disclosed Plame's identity or directed anyone else to do so."

Libby has been charged with perjury and obstruction charges in connection with the CIA leak investigation. He is set to go to trial early next year. If the past is prologue, we can expect more leaks from the investigation before then.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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