The US Justice Department has launched a formal investigation into who leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent after her husband criticised the pre-war case for invading Iraq.
The controversy centres on the disclosure in July that the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson was an undercover CIA operative specialising in weapons of mass destruction.
US President George Bush ordered all White House staff on Tuesday to fully cooperate with the investigation, according to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales.
They are expected to save any materials potentially tied to the case, including emails, telephone logs, internal memos and personal notes regarding who leaked information that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA.
Wilson said his wife’s name, Valerie Plame, was publicised by administration officials seeking to discredit him or get revenge after he accused the White House of exaggerating the alleged threat posed by Iraq.
Baghdad’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction was Washington’s main justification for invading Iraq.
The former ambassador said Bush’s top political advisor Karl Rove condoned the leak, a stance denied by the White House.
Wilson wrote in The New York Times in July that he went to Niger early in 2002 at the CIA’s request to assess a report that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) later dismissed the allegation as based on forged documents.
The Niger uranium charge found its way into Bush’s State of the Union speech in January this year as part of the US case against Iraq. Only after Wilson went public did the White House admit Bush should not have included it and blamed the CIA.
Bush's top political advisor Karl
Rove (R) said to okayed leak
“The president as much as anyone wants to get to the bottom of this and wants to see this pursued to the fullest extent,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
The Justice Department planned to send a letter to the White House later on Tuesday outlining more specific instructions on the materials needed, such as phone logs and emails.
The White House on Monday rejected the appointment of an independent council to investigate the matter, as demanded by Democrats, saying career Justice Department lawyers were quite capable of handling the case.
However, McClellan said on Tuesday that such a decision would be made by the Justice Department.
A leak of classified information is a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Connecting the leak to the White House would be another embarrassment for Bush in the Iraq saga.
The fact that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA was published by the columnist, Robert Novak, shortly after Wilson’s article appeared in The New York Times.
Novak said he would not reveal his source.