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White House Starts Ethics Briefings


White House staff is starting mandatory ethics briefings on handling classified information after a top advisor was indicted on charges of lying about the leak of the identity of a CIA official.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the hour-long briefings include standards of ethical conduct and rules governing access to classified information including the disposal and transport of such material.

Mr. McClellan says the president ordered the mandatory briefings late last month, just days after Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Lewis Libby was indicted on five counts relating to his alleged role in revealing the name of a CIA official.

That official's husband has been critical of the Bush administration's justification for invading Iraq and says the White House revealed his wife's identity in retaliation.

Mr. Libby has pleaded not guilty to all charges and says he is confident he will be cleared. If convicted, the 55-year-old faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and more than $1 million in fines.

Given the indictments and the continuing investigation of senior political advisor Karl Rove, Mr. McClellan says Mr. Bush felt this is an appropriate time for a White House refresher on the ethics of dealing with classified information.

"The president made this decision in light of recent circumstances that we should take this action, and that is why he directed the Counsel's Office to proceed with these refresher briefings," said Scott McClellan.

White House Counsel Harriet Miers' office will brief some 3,000 members of the White House staff but not the president or vice president.

This first week of ethics briefings are for those who hold security clearances, including Karl Rove. Asked if the president still has confidence in Mr. Rove, Mr. McClellan said he would not comment on an ongoing investigation other than to say that everyone who works at the White House does so at the pleasure of the president.

"Karl Rove is continuing to perform his duties as Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor," he said. "We appreciate all that he is doing."

Mr. McClellan says the president takes the issue of handling classified information very seriously.

Asked if President Bush is considering a pardon for Mr. Libby if he is found guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice or making false statements, Mr. McClellan again said this is an ongoing investigation.

"It is a very serious matter and we are going to continue to cooperate," explained White House spokesman. "That is what the president directed us to do and that is what we are doing."

Mr. McClellan says everyone who works at the White House understands the president's expectations that they adhere to the highest ethical standards.

More than half the people responding to an ABC News - Washington Post poll say Mr. Libby's indictment is a sign of broader ethical problems within the Bush administration. Nearly two thirds give the president a negative rating for his handling of ethics in government.

While less than 40 percent of Americans approve of his overall performance, only one third think the president did something wrong in the events surrounding the leak of the CIA agent's identity.

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