President Bush deflected questions today about the alleged role of one of his top advisers in leaking the identity of a CIA agent, saying he would not discuss the matter until an investigation is complete.
In a brief exchange with reporters at the White House after a Cabinet meeting, Bush refused to say whether he has spoken to the adviser, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, about the leak or whether he believes Rove acted improperly.
Bush stressed what he called "some good news today" about the U.S. economy, citing a report by the Office of Management and Budget that he said shows his administration is ahead of schedule in his efforts to cut the federal budget deficit in half by 2009. The OMB reports that the 2005 deficit "is $94 billion less than previously expected," Bush said.
The questions about Rove came as a federal grand jury in Washington continued an investigation into whether anyone in the Bush administration illegally leaked the name of a covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame, to the news media as part of an apparent effort to discredit criticism by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.
The White House has previously said Rove was "not involved" in the leak, but an internal Time magazine e-mail shows he mentioned that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent to Time reporter Matthew Cooper before she was publicly identified by name as an operative in a July 2003 op-ed piece by syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak. Rove, through his lawyer, has confirmed that he talked to Cooper but denied providing Plame's name or leaking classified information.
Asked today if he has spoken with Rove about the Plame matter and whether he believes Rove "acted improperly in talking about it with reporters," Bush said: "I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation. I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports. We're in the midst of an ongoing investigation, and I will be more than happy to comment further once the investigation is completed."
Pressed on the matter and asked if it was appropriate for his spokesman to deny Rove's involvement in 2003, Bush essentially repeated his previous statement.
Cooper is scheduled to testify before the grand jury today. He avoided being sent to jail for contempt when he agreed last week to obey a subpoena in the case by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald. However, a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, was jailed by U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan for refusing to testify. Miller, who never wrote about the Plame leak, declined to identify any confidential sources to whom she had promised anonymity. Cooper also had taken that stance, but said his source released him from any obligation shortly before last week's hearing.
In his opening remarks after the Cabinet meeting, Bush said a briefing by department heads had "reminded us about the strength of our economy."
He said the shrinkage of the budget deficit showed that "revenues coming in are greater than anticipated." Bush added: "It's a sign that our economy is strong, and it's a sign that our tax relief plan, our pro-growth policies are working."
Bush said that "we're ahead of projections now" on his goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009 "so long as Congress holds the line on spending."
He said there was also "good economic news when it comes to job creation," with the unemployment rate down to 5 percent and more than 2 million jobs created this year. "More Americans are working today than ever before in our nation's history," Bush said.
He said he plans to work with Congress in the coming weeks to secure an energy bill, pass a free trade agreement with countries in Central America and the Dominican Republic and press for legislation to reform the legal liability system.