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Like Clinton, will Bush face the grand jury?
Updated: 2004-06-03 13:57

U.S. President George W. Bush has consulted a Washington D.C. lawyer about possibly representing him in the grand jury investigation of who leaked the name of a covert CIA operative last year, White House officials said Wednesday night.

There was no indication that Bush was a target of the leak investigation, but the president's move suggested he anticipates being questioned about what he knows.

U.S. President George W. Bush poses with Paul Doran of Rochester, New York, while attending the graduation ceremony for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 2, 2004.[Reuters]
A federal grand jury has questioned numerous White House and administration officials to learn who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to the news media. Wilson has charged that officials made the disclosure in an effort to discredit him.

"The president has made it very clear he wants everyone to cooperate fully with the investigation and that would include himself," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

He confirmed that Bush had contacted Washington attorney Jim Sharp. "In the event the president needs his advice, I expect he probably would retain him," McClellan said.

Journalists Subpoenaed

A number of journalists have received federal subpoenas to face questioning about the leak, and FBI officials have visited the White House to interview officials. There was no indication Bush had been questioned yet.

Bush has been an outspoken critics of leaks, saying they can be very damaging, but he has expressed doubts that the government's investigation will pinpoint who was responsible. While Bush has said he welcomed the investigation, it has been an awkward development for a president who promised to bring integrity and leadership to the White House after years of Republican criticism and investigations of the Clinton administration.

U.S. President George W. Bush returns to the White House in Washington, June 2, 2004. [Reuters]
Even though he has a White House counsel, Bush is dependent on outside lawyers for private matters. A memo distributed to the staff last year reminded officials that the counsel's office works solely for the president in his official capacity and is not a private attorney for anyone.

Democrats Attacking Bush

Democrats seized on the news to criticize the president. "It speaks for itself that the president initially claimed he wanted to get to the bottom of this, but now he's suddenly retained a lawyer," said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "Bush shouldn't drag the country through grand juries and legal maneuvering. President Bush should come forward with what he knows and come clean with the American people."

Plame was first identified by syndicated columnist and TV commentator Robert Novak in a column last July. Novak said his information came from administration sources.

Wilson has said he believes his wife's name was leaked because of his criticism of Bush administration claims that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Niger, which Wilson investigated for the CIA and found to be untrue.

Federal Crime

Disclosure of an undercover officer's identity can be a federal crime. The grand jury has heard from witnesses and combed through thousands of pages of documents turned over by the White House, but returned no indictments.

The probe is being handled by Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, appointed after Attorney General John Ashcroft stepped aside from case because of his political ties to the White House.

Absent a breakthrough from the documents or a cooperating witness, prosecutors may be forced to try to identify the leaker through Novak or other reporters. However, journalists pressed by the prosecution could assert a First Amendment privilege to protect their sources.

Wilson has suggested in a book that the leaker was Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney. But Wilson's book, "The Politics of Truth," give no conclusive evidence for the claim.

The White House denies the claim and accuses Wilson of seeking to bolster the campaign of Democrat John Kerry, for whom he has acted as a foreign policy adviser.

Wilson also said it's possible the leak came from Elliott Abrams, a figure in the Reagan administration Iran-Contra affair and now a member of Bush's National Security Council. And Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, may have circulated information about Wilson and Plame "in administration and neoconservative circles" even if Rove was not himself the leaker, Wilson writes.

Bush expressed doubt last year that the leaker would be found.

"You tell me: how many sources have you had that's leaked information, that you've exposed or had been exposed? Probably none," Bush said last October. "I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official," Bush said then. "I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth."

But Bush said, "This is a large administration and there's a lot of senior officials."

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