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Bush Defends Iraq Intelligence Release


President Bush acknowledged Monday that he did declassify intelligence information on Iraq's weapons program, as part of an effort to rebut domestic critics of the Iraq war.

For the first time, President Bush commented on the disclosure from prosecutors last week that he had authorized former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby to declassify portions of an intelligence report on Iraq.

The president took questions after a speech in Washington that focused on the war on terror, and Mr. Bush was asked why the information was declassified. "I wanted people to see what some of those statements were based on. I wanted people to see the truth, and I thought it made sense for people to see the truth. That is why I declassified the document," he said.

Mr. Bush did not comment on Lewis Libby's allegation that the president, through Vice President Dick Cheney, had authorized him to leak the declassified information to reporters, saying he could not comment on a pending investigation.

The president's decision to talk about the declassification for the first time came in the wake of calls by opposition Democrats and some Republicans for an explanation as to why the material was released.

Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania appeared on Fox News Sunday. "There has to be a detailed explanation precisely as to what Vice President Cheney did, what the president said to him, and an explanation from the president as to what he said, so that it can be evaluated," he said.

The release of the information came in 2003, at a time when the Bush administration was being pressed to justify the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, since no weapons of mass destruction were found by international inspectors.

Lewis Libby has testified that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney authorized him to leak portions of the intelligence estimate to reporters as part of an effort to counter critics, like former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Wilson had accused the administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq's mass weapons capabilities in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Wilson also blames the White House for leaking the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame, who, at one time, was a covert officer with the CIA, as part of an effort to retaliate against him.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating the case, and has charged Libby with lying to investigators in connection with his alleged role in the Plame matter, which Libby denies. Libby's trial is scheduled for early next year.

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