The controversy over the leak of the identity of a covert CIA officer in 2003, involving questions about the actions a close adviser to President Bush, shot back into the spotlight at the U.S Congress Thursday. Democrats intensified calls for President Bush to fire Karl Rove, while Republicans accused Democrats of seeking to use the issue for political gain.
Political drama played out on the floors of both the House of Representatives and Senate, and in news conferences throughout the day.
Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame is the CIA officer whose identity was revealed in 2003, appeared at one of those to accuse the White House of conducting a smear campaign, and repeat his call for President Bush to fire Mr. Rove. "Irrespective of whether a law has been violated, it's very clear to me that the ethical standards to which we should hold our senior public servants [have] been violated. And [it is] for that reason that I have called, not for Karl Rove's resignation, but for the president to honor his word that he would fire anybody who was involved in the leak," he said.
Mr. Wilson, who was an ambassador in Africa and charge d'affaires in Iraq, angered the Bush administration before the United States and allies invaded Iraq, by publicly questioning the president's assertion that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium in Africa.
Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, asserts Mr. Rove violated high standards senior government officials are expected to abide by. "I think Karl Rove has violated that standard simply by doing what has been reported, and telling a reporter that Joe Wilson's wife was a member of the CIA."
Described by President Bush as the political architect behind his presidency, Mr. Rove has denied identifying Ms. Plame by name to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. It is a federal crime to knowingly and intentionally reveal the name of someone working undercover for the CIA.
President Bush has refused to comment in detail citing an ongoing federal investigation, although White House spokesman Scott McClellan said earlier this week the president still has confidence in Mr. Rove.
Three Senate Republicans responded with their own news conference, among them Senator Norm Coleman. "I would urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, to cool the rhetoric, to focus on the business of the people which we are getting done, which is a good thing, [which] the public expects us to do, and let the special counsel do his work," he said.
The rhetoric was not cooled. Senate debate over homeland security legislation ground to a halt as Democrats battled with Republicans over an amendment proposing to strip high-level security clearances from any government official who discloses the identity of a covert U.S. agent.
Senator minority leader Harry Reid accused the White House of a cover-up. "Instead of dealing with the problem, this administration, this White House, and the majority here in the Senate, want to divert attention from this breach of national security," he said.
"The Democratic leadership chose raw, partisan party politics over protecting American lives and they filed their political amendment," responded Senate Majority leader Bill Frist responded:
House Democrats Thursday introduced a resolution of inquiry demanding the White House and other government departments turn over documents and electronic information relevant to the case.
"How did this information get to the White House? Somebody in the intelligence community, or the State Department, or the Defense Department, must have told Karl Rove and others. How did that happen, why did that happen? It is bad enough if it happens, but if it happens for what appear to be gratuitous political reasons, that is a disgrace," said Democratic Congressman Rush Holt.
The criminal investigation into the leak of the CIA officer's identity has resulted in one journalist, Judith Miller of the New York Times, being jailed for refusing to disclose the identify of her source on the story.
Time magazine reporter Mathew Cooper testified this week before the federal grand jury in the same case after his unidentified source released him from his commitment to maintain confidentiality.
About 100 demonstrators staged a protest outside the White House Thursday calling for Mr. Rove's resignation.