Congressional Democrats are calling on President Bush to fire one of his most trusted political advisers in connection with the leak of a covert CIA officer's name two years ago. After initially defending adviser Karl Rove, White House officials are now refusing to comment, citing an ongoing criminal investigation into the case.
Several opposition Democrats say Karl Rove should either tell what he knows before Congress or resign.
Mr. Rove's lawyer has acknowledged that the deputy White House chief of staff did speak confidentially with a reporter two years ago about CIA agent Valerie Plame, but that Mr. Rove did not identify her by name.
Knowingly revealing the name of an undercover CIA agent is a federal crime.
A special prosecutor has been trying to find out who in the Bush White House leaked Ms. Plame's identity to syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Ms. Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Before the Iraq war began, Mr. Wilson publicly questioned the president's assertion that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium in Africa. The former ambassador says the leaking of his wife's covert CIA identity was done by the White House in retaliation.
Democrats are now stepping up pressure on the White House by demanding that Karl Rove either testify at congressional hearings or resign. They are also reminding the president of his vow to fire anyone who willfully leaked the information.
This is Democratic Congressman Robert Menendez of New Jersey. "The White House should not aid and abet those within it in exposing CIA agents who work for this country and defend it from danger, and therefore it is time for Karl Rove to walk the plank (resign)," he said.
Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Hillary Clinton of New York also said Mr. Rove should be fired.
For the second straight day Tuesday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was peppered with questions about Karl Rove's role in the leak investigation.
Mr. McClellan says the president continues to have confidence in Karl Rove, a key political adviser whose service to Mr. Bush goes back to his days as Texas governor. "The president has said no one wants to get to the bottom of this more than he does. We want to see it come to a successful conclusion. The best way to help the investigation come to a successful conclusion is for me not to get into discussing it from this podium. I do not think that helps advance the investigation," he said.
But Democrats note that Mr. McClellan's response was far different when he was asked about Mr. Rove's involvement in the case in September of 2003, two months after Valerie Plame's identity was revealed. "I have known Karl for a long time and I did not even need to go ask Karl because I know the kind of person that he is and he is someone who is committed to the highest standards of conduct," he said.
Mr. Rove's lawyer denies that his client did anything wrong because he never identified Ms. Plame by name when talking to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.
To be in violation of U.S. law, a person would have to intentionally divulge a CIA operative's identity while the agency was trying to maintain the agent's cover.
Mr. Rove himself denied any wrongdoing in a television interview several months ago. "I did not know her name and I did not leak her name," he said.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller was sent to jail last week by a federal judge for contempt of court after she refused to disclose her confidential source on the leak story. Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper narrowly avoided jail time when his confidential source released him from a commitment to maintain secrecy. That will permit him to testify before the grand jury probing the leak.
The author of the original story that divulged Ms. Plame's identity, columnist Robert Novak, will not say if he has testified before the grand jury or if he is cooperating with prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.