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Bush Backs Justice Dept. Probe into Alleged Leak of CIA Officer's Name

The White House says the U.S. Justice Department will conduct an impartial investigation into allegations that someone in the Bush administration leaked the name of a CIA officer. There are growing calls for an independent prosecutor to look into the affair.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans now believe a special prosecutor should be named to look into the allegations. According to the most recent public opinion poll, less than one-third of those questioned believe that investigation should stay with the Justice Department.

Some congressional Republicans have joined Democratic colleagues in calling on Attorney General John Ashcroft to name a special prosecutor, because Mr. Ashcroft is a political appointee of the president and, they say, may not appear to be impartial.

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says President Bush still believes the Justice Department can conduct an unbiased investigation.

"The president believes that the career Justice Department officials at the Department of Justice, the ones who have a vast amount of experience in these issues, are in the best position to get to the bottom of this. And that is exactly what he wants those officials to do," he said.

The Justice Department, at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency, is investigating whether someone in the Bush administration leaked the name of a covert CIA officer, whose husband questioned the president's claims over Iraq's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The officer's husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, says he suspects the president's senior political adviser Karl Rove was involved in the leak. 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 says the suggestion that Mr. Rove was involved in the affair is "ridiculous." He says some of the people surrounding this affair are, "sensationalizing the issue for partisan political gain."

"The leaking of classified information is a very serious allegation, and the president has made it very clear that he wants to get to the bottom of this," he noted. "Unfortunately, there are some who are looking through the lens of political opportunism. There are some who are seeking partisan political advantage."

Since the investigation began, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie has given a series of television interviews questioning Mr. Wilson's motives, saying the former ambassador is "obviously prone to think the worst of this White House."

Mr. Wilson has been an out-spoken critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He was to have appeared at a news conference with Democratic legislators this week, but that event was canceled.

The allegations began in July following an opinion piece Mr. Wilson wrote questioning the president's claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa. Several days later, syndicated newspaper columnist Robert Novak printed the name of Mr. Wilson's wife - the CIA officer - which Mr. Novak says was given to him by two "senior administration officials."

Mr. Novak this week said his role in the affair has been distorted. He says he got the information during an interview with administration officials and not as part of a planned leak. Mr. Novak says he was never warned that disclosing the name of Mr. Wilson's wife 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.