New York Times
WASHINGTON, July 11 - The White House went on the defensive today amid a barrage of questions from Democrats and reporters about the presidential adviser Karl Rove and whether he had disclosed the name of a covert intelligence operative in retaliation for criticism of the administration's Iraq policy.
President Bush's chief spokesman, Scott McClellan, declined to repeat his earlier assertions that Mr. Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff, had nothing to do with leaking the name of the operative, Valerie Plame of the Central Intelligence Agency, to get back at her husband, a former United States ambassador who had publicly challenged Bush administration policy.
Nor would Mr. McClellan repeat his earlier statements that any White House staff person who had leaked the name should be fired.
"The president directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation, and as part of cooperating fully with the investigation, we made a decision that we weren't going to comment on it while it is ongoing," Mr. McClellan said at a news briefing.
His comments came as Democrats began to intensify the pressure on the White House.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, said President Bush should follow his promise to preside over an ethical administration, and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York demanded that Mr. Rove tell the public in detail what his role was.
Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey said the intentional disclosure of a covert agency's identity amounted to an "act of treason," while Representative Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, called for a Congressional hearing.
The spotlight was focused on Mr. Rove over the weekend, when Newsweek reported on its Web site that Mr. Rove had spoken with at least one reporter about Ms. Plame's role at the C..I.A., although without identifying her by name, a few days before the columnist Robert D. Novak identified her in a column about her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV.
Newsweek's weekend disclosure seemed, at the very least, to call into question Mr. Rove's own earlier statements, and the White House's, that he had nothing whatever to do with disclosing Ms. Plame's identity shortly after her husband wrote in a 2003 Op-Ed article in The New York Times that he had found no evidence that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Niger to further its nuclear ambitions.
The affair has been brewing in Washington for two years. It reached a new intensity this month with the jailing of a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, who never wrote an article about the affair but resisted demands from prosecutors to reveal whom she had talked to about it.
Another reporter, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, avoided jail when his company yielded a demand to turn over his notes on the matter. Mr. Novak, meanwhile, has appeared to be under no threat of jail, for reasons that are not clear. He has said he will be able to clear things up one day.
Meanwhile, several Democratic lawmakers demanded action immediately.
"I agree with the president when he said he expects the people who work for him to adhere to the highest standards of conduct," Mr. Reid said. "The White House promised if anyone was involved in the Valerie Plame affair, they would no longer be in this administration. I trust they will follow through on this pledge. If these allegations are true, this rises above politics and is about our national security."
Mr. Schumer, in his letter to Mr. Rove, said it was time for him to tell all. "I urge you to come forward to honestly and fully discuss any and all involvement you have had with this incident," Mr. Schumer wrote to Mr. Rove. "I believe this is a very serious breach of trust with a woman who has spent her career putting her life on the line to protect our country's freedom."
Mr. Lautenberg said President Bush "should immediately suspend Karl Rove's security clearances and shut him down by shutting him out of classified meetings or discussions," Reuters reported. And Mr. Waxman told Reuters that "the recent disclosures about Mr. Rove's actions have such serious implications that we can no longer responsibly ignore them."
Mr. McClellan declined repeatedly, in response to hostile questions, to go beyond his statements that he could not discuss the Plame affair while the investigation into the disclosure of her name was continuing. Mr. McClellan would not budge even as he was reminded of his, and the president's, previous expressions of confidence in Mr. Rove.
Democrats are virtually certain to keep up the pressure, given the White House's earlier categorical denials about Mr. Rove, and given Mr. Rove's status as a key presidential adviser who helped to devise Mr. Bush's successful re-election strategy.