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White House Staff Ordered to Preserve Material for Intelligence Probe - 2003-10-01

White House officials have been ordered to preserve all material that might be related to a Justice Department investigation into allegations that someone leaked the name of a covert CIA employee. The husband of the CIA employee had publicly challenged the president's claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Africa.

White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez has ordered the presidential staff to preserve all documents and notes that might pertain to the investigation.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says no one has come forward with anything relating to the alleged leak. He says investigators have not yet questioned anyone at the White House and no one from the administration has hired outside counsel. "We will cooperate fully with the investigation and make sure that we preserve the integrity of the investigation, so that is where things are right now," he said.

CIA Director George Tenet asked the Justice Department to investigate whether someone from the Bush administration leaked the name of a covert CIA officer in retaliation for her husband questioning the president's claims over Iraq's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The CIA employee's husband, former U.S. ambassador Joe Wilson says he suspects the president's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, was involved in leaking his wife's name to the media. Mr. Wilson says he does not know whether Mr. Rove was the source of that information, but believes that the president's long-time adviser condoned the action.

Mr. McClellan said the suggestion of Mr. Rove's involvement is ridiculous. "He was not involved and that allegation is not true in terms of leaking classified information, nor would he condone it," he said.

Some Republicans say Mr. Wilson's allegations are politically motivated as campaigning heats up for next year's presidential election. Mr. McClellan said he will not speculate on Mr. Wilson's motives, but said no one wants to get to the bottom of this more than the president.

Ambassador Wilson, who spoke out against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, was to have appeared Wednesday at a news conference with Democratic legislators, but that event was canceled.

The allegations began in July after syndicated newspaper columnist Robert Novak printed the CIA employee's name, which he said was given to him by two senior administration officials.

In his newspaper column Wednesday, Mr. Novak writes that his role in the affair has been distorted. He says he got the information during a broader interview with administration officials and not as part of a planned leak. Mr. Novak says the CIA did not say that disclosing Mr. Wilson's wife's name would endanger her or anyone else at the CIA.

Intentionally disclosing a covert operative's name violates federal law and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $50,000 in fines.