Court documents made public in Washington Thursday contend that President Bush personally authorized the disclosure of classified information on Iraq's weapons program to rebut critics of the U.S.-led invasion. The court papers were filed by prosecutors investigating who leaked the identity of a covert CIA officer to journalists in 2003.
The court papers filed by prosecutors contain grand jury testimony from Lewis Scooter Libby, the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Libby testified that Vice President Cheney told him that President Bush himself had authorized the release of classified intelligence information on Iraq's weapons program. Libby was supposed to secretly relay that information to journalists in order to counter critics of the Iraq war.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the release of the court papers, citing a policy of not commenting on ongoing legal proceedings.
Lewis Libby faces five counts of perjury, lying and obstruction of justice in allegedly misleading officials who are investigating the outing of former CIA covert officer Valerie Plame.
Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson who emerged as a prominent critic of the Iraq war after casting doubt on Iraq's reported efforts to buy uranium from Niger as part of an effort to build nuclear weapons.
Wilson contends that Libby was part of an administration effort to punish and discredit him by revealing his wife's covert status with the CIA.
The court papers do not allege that either President Bush or Vice President Cheney authorized Libby to reveal Valerie Plame's identity to reporters.
The court filing by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald does not suggest that the president broke any law by authorizing the leaks of classified material.
But critics point out that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have long objected to leaks of classified information and in some cases have supported criminal investigations to find out who did the leaking.
Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said both the president and vice president should inform the public about what role if any they had in authorizing the leaking of classified information.
"Now the president has said he would fire anyone who would leak this kind of information. But it now seems that he authorized leaks just like this in the first place. The American people deserve the truth," he said.
Legal analysts say the revelations about President Bush's purported role in authorizing the release of the information could make it more likely that both he and Vice President Cheney could be called as witnesses when Lewis Libby goes on trial.
Libby's lawyers are seeking the release of a large number of classified documents as part of his defense.
Libby has denied misleading investigators and says Valerie Plame's covert CIA status was not a major focus of his confidential discussions with journalists.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified that she spoke with Libby about the Plame matter in July of 2003. The newly released court documents indicate that meeting took place just after Vice President Cheney told Libby that the president had authorized the disclosure of some classified information about Iraq.
In his testimony to the grand jury, Libby described the president's authorization as, in his words, unique in his recollection.