By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 13, 2007
President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that "somebody" in his administration leaked the name of an undercover intelligence officer but declined to say whether he was disappointed in such an action and contended that it is time to move on.
Asked during a news conference whether he was disappointed that his advisers revealed the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame to the news media, the president did not answer directly. But he offered perhaps his fullest discussion of a case he has generally refused to address because it was in the courts.
Bush described as "fair and balanced" his decision to commute the prison term of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former aide to Vice President Cheney who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for his role in the leak of Plame's identity.
Bush went on to say that he had not spent "a lot of time" talking with people in his administration about court testimony in the Libby case. But he added: "I'm aware of the fact that perhaps somebody in the administration did disclose the name of that person, and I've often thought about what would have happened had that person come forth and said, 'I did it.' Would we have had this, you know, endless hours of investigation and a lot of money being spent on this matter?"
It was not clear to whom Bush was referring in his comments, because several officials other than Libby discussed Plame's identity with reporters, including senior White House adviser Karl Rove and former press secretary Ari Fleischer.
But the comment seemed aimed at former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage, who was the first person known to have mentioned Plame's name to a journalist, in a June 2003 conversation with Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward.
Armitage also mentioned Plame to columnist Robert D. Novak in what the columnist described as an "offhand revelation." Novak was the first to disclose publicly Plame's identity and CIA affiliation, in July 2003.
Armitage did tell senior State Department officials what he had done after he realized he might have been the source for Novak's column. One of them called then-White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to report that the State Department possessed information relevant to the leak investigation and had already contacted the Justice Department.
The aide, former State Department lawyer Will Taft, asked Gonzales if he wanted to know the details. Gonzales said no, according to "Hubris," a book on the case by journalists Michael Isikoff and David Corn.
Also yesterday, Bush's statement that he had commuted Libby's 30-month prison sentence because it was "excessive" drew a quizzical response from the trial judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton. In an opinion ordering Libby to begin serving supervised probation, Walton noted that the prison term was "consistent with the bottom end" of federal sentencing guidelines.
"The court is somewhat perplexed as to how its sentence could accurately be characterized as excessive," Walton wrote.
"Although it is certainly the president's prerogative to justify the exercise of his constitutional commutation of power in whatever manner he chooses," Walton wrote, ". . . the court notes that the term of incarceration imposed in this case was determined after a careful consideration of each of the requisite statutory factors."
Bush did not discuss his reasoning in depth yesterday. "It's been a tough issue for a lot of people in the White House, and it's run its course and now we're going to move on," he said.