April 7, 2006 — -- I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, has surprised everyone by saying in sworn testimony that President Bush authorized the leak of highly classified intelligence on Iraq.
Special prosecutors are currently investigating charges of perjury and obstruction of justice against Libby.
"The president had authorized" him through the vice president to "disclose the relevant portions" to make a case that there was evidence of weapons of mass destruction, according to Libby. He then leaked parts of the highly classified National Intelligence Estimate to Judith Miller, a reporter for The New York Times.
The disclosure is especially surprising because Bush has railed consistently against government leaks.
"I've constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks, particularly leaks of classified information," Bush has said.
Legal experts say that if the president leaked information, he didn't break any laws because he has the power to declassify information. His actions, though, may have been irresponsible.
"At a minimum, the president was acting in a grossly reckless way to declassify any aspect of a National Intelligence Estimate without putting it through the process to make sure sources and methods were not compromised," said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law and national security scholar at George Washington University Law School.
"It's hard to know right now whether what the president leaked risked national security," said ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos.
"I think everybody will go through and scrub the document, but it is unlikely that any sources and methods were compromised here," he said.
Even though the president's leak may have been legal and not done any harm, "Democrats are not accepting that in any way, shape or form" and "are saying that the president has to come out and tell the whole story right now," Stephanopoulos said.
"You can't have it both ways," said Lanny Davis, who was special counsel to President Clinton from 1996 to 1998. "We need an explanation as to why, on the one hand it's bad to leak and, on the other hand, a classified document, it's OK to leak if you whisper in the ear of a New York Times reporter."
Libby's leaks of the NIE in 2003, were an effort by the administration to justify its case for invading Iraq and to combat criticism by Joseph Wilson who was questioning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities. The identity of Wilson's wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame, also made its way into the press at the same time, but this testimony from Libby does not address that leak.
"The rampant violation of national security of the country for political purposes by senior officials in the administration who still hold their security clearances, I think is an outrage," Wilson said.
Libby did not say that he had been told to reveal Wilson's wife's identity, which would be a crime.