The Department of Justice has launched a formal investigation into "possible unauthorized disclosures" by the White House of the identity of a covert CIA agent.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan says President Bush has directed his staff members to cooperate fully with the investigation and ordered them to preserve all materials that could be relevant.
The investigation stems from the disclosure that the wife of former U-S Ambassador Joseph Wilson was an undercover CIA operative specializing in weapons of mass destruction. Ambassador Wilson believes White House officials deliberately exposed his wife's identity to several journalists to discredit him or retaliate against him after he accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the threat from Iraq.
Intentionally disclosing the identity of a covert operative is a felony under US law, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The former ambassador challenged pre-war assertions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program in a July commentary in the New York Times. Afterward, he says, White House officials called several journalists and told them that his wife is a covert CIA operative. Her name then appeared in a July 14th column by journalist Robert Novak. End
Today (Tuesday), Democratic Senator Charles Schumer (of New York) said disclosing the identity of a covert agent could jeopardize that person's life, her contacts, her future and US national security interests. He and several other Democratic lawmakers are calling for a special independent investigation -- outside the Justice Department.
Attorney General John Ashcroft confirmed that the Justice Department is investigating the alleged press leak. Citing the criminal nature of the ongoing investigation, he declined to make any further comment.
On Monday, Mr. McClellan said the White House had no evidence any of its officials was involved in leaking the name of the CIA officer, and he rejected calls for an independent investigation.