A leading Congressional Republican says President Bush and Vice-President Cheney
should talk to the American people about their involvement in the disclosure of intelligence information on Iraq.
The call came from Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
During an appearance on the Fox News Sunday television program, he was asked about revelations President Bush authorized the release of classified intelligence information that was used as part of an effort to discredit critics of the war in Iraq.
"We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people," said Senator Specter.
The revelations came to light in court papers filed last week in the case of Lewis Libby, the vice-president's former chief of staff. The prosecutor in the case said Libby, also known as Scooter, testified before a grand jury that he was authorized by the president to reveal information from a secret intelligence document on Iraq to reporters in 2003.
Libby said he got word of the authorization from the vice-president.
Senator Specter said under U.S. law, the president has the legal authority to declassify intelligence information. He made clear the problem is not the legality of the action, but the intent.
"... and I think that there needs 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 added.
The White House has rejected the notion that President Bush declassified intelligence materials selectively for political reasons. But some critics clearly remain skeptical, including Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic Party presidential nominee.
"This was not declassification in order to really educate America. This was declassification in order to mislead America," he told on NBC's Meet the Press.
All this information came out in the course of an investigation into just who revealed the identity of a now-retired CIA officer named Valerie Plame. Libby is accused of lying to investigators and obstructing justice in the case.
No one has ever accused the president or vice president of directly ordering the Plame disclosure. But her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, is a long time critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policy who openly questioned the president's pre-war contention that Saddam Hussein was seeking materials necessary to build nuclear weapons.
Wilson told ABC's This Week program that the administration clearly had a disinformation campaign designed to counter critics of the war.
"Indeed, it seems to me it is long past time for the White House to come clean on all of this," he said.
Wilson said transcripts of President Bush and Vice President Cheney's closed-door testimony to investigators in the case should be released to the public.