Vice President Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, claims it was President Bush who authorized the leak of sensitive intelligence information on Iraq. Amy Katz takes a closer look at the story and what impact it may have on the Bush administration.
Court documents recently made public contend President Bush personally authorized the disclosure of classified information on Iraq's weapons program -- to refute critics of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The papers were filed by the prosecutor investigating who leaked the identity of a covert CIA officer to journalists in 2003. The documents contain grand jury testimony from Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former Chief of Staff. Libby testified Vice President Cheney told him that President Bush had authorized the release of intelligence on Iraq's weapons program -- declassifying what was classified intelligence. Libby was then supposed to secretly relay that information to journalists.
The White House is not disputing the allegations, but spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Friday, President Bush was justified in releasing the information.
"It was in the public interest that this information be provided, because there was debate going in the public about the use of intelligence leading up to the decision to go into Iraq."
President Bush has long been highly critical of those who leak government secrets. "If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of."
Despite recent developments, McClellan says President Bush still feels the same way. "The President believes the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. And I think that's why it is important to draw a distinction here. Declassifying information and providing it to the public when it is in the public interest is one thing. But leaking classified information that could compromise our national security is something that is very serious, and there is a distinction."
Experts say that since the intelligence in question was apparently declassified, nothing illegal was done. But they also say this is a major political problem for President Bush.
He apparently approved the release of the information to deal with a political problem -- a column in the New York Times newspaper by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who wrote that Iraq was not trying to acquire materials needed to make nuclear weapons, something he had been sent to Africa to investigate.
Thomas Mann is with the Brookings Institution, a non-profit policy research organization in Washington, D.C. "For a president who has denounced leaking, and promised to find out who in his administration did it and fire them, now to be shown to have approved selective use of classified information is to open him up to -- appropriately -- to charges of political expediency. It is a serious political problem for him."
In addition to the release of intelligence, the identity of then-covert CIA officer Valerie Plame was revealed. She is Wilson's wife.
The news that the leaks can seemingly be traced back to President Bush comes at a time when his approval ratings are below 40 percent -- at an all time low.
That could also be a factor in the November congressional elections according to John Fortier of the non-partisan policy research organization in Washington, D.C., The American Enterprise Institute. "It certainly could hurt him some more, but his overall numbers are certainly down, especially because of Iraq. This is related to Iraq, so it is going to hurt him, I think. The Republicans are also facing a mid-term election where they are likely to lose seats and maybe lose control of the part of the Congress."
Fortier says this is more controversial than other problems the President has had because, if it is true, it shows him being more concerned about the impression his policy is making on the public than with the desire to protect America. Until now, he says, President Bush has always been able to portray himself well when it comes to protecting the United States.