Lewis Libby (file photo) (epa)
For three years, U.S. President George W. Bush has strongly denied charges that his administration exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and that it illegally leaked classified intelligence on Iraq to defend its decision to go to war. Now, a former senior White House aide has testified that Bush himself authorized that leaking. The revelations, made in newly released court documents, come as Bush's approval ratings plummet to an all-time low in a sign that his Republican Party faces an uphill battle to retain control of Congress in key elections this fall.
PRAGUE, April 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition Democrats are seizing on the latest revelations, accusing Bush of hypocrisy.
That's because Bush frequently denounces leaking classified information to the media, often vowing to punish officials who did so, as in this instance from September 2003: "If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of."
But in court documents released late on April 5, the former top aide of Vice President Dick Cheney said that Bush himself authorized the aide to give a reporter for "The New York Times" top-secret intelligence about Iraq in a bid to counter mounting criticism of the president's decision to go to war.
The court papers quote Lewis "Scooter" Libby as saying that Cheney told him that Bush had authorized him to disclose that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium in a bid to build nuclear weapons.
The leak was intended, Libby alleged, to refute an opinion piece in "The New York Times" by Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador. In his article, Wilson said he had traveled to Africa to investigate alleged nuclear purchases by Iraq and found nothing. Wilson said he concluded it was "highly doubtful" that Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain uranium from Africa for nuclear arms.
Libby's testimony is par of an investigation into whether government officials may have illegally disclosed the identity of Wilson's wife, who was an undercover CIA agent, to punish him for his article.
Libby has been charged on five counts of perjury in the case and now faces trial.
'Momentary Political Needs'?
Speaking on April 6, Senator Charles Schumer (Democrat, New York) called on Bush and Cheney to explain their roles in any leaks of classified information.
"At the very least, President Bush and Vice President Cheney should fully inform the American people of any role they played in allowing classified information to be leaked," he said. "Did they believe they have the right to do this and if so, in what circumstances? Or is this just something that may have been done to accommodate the president's momentary political needs?"
The White House has so far refused to comment on Libby's testimony.
The president does have the authority to declassify material. But questions remain as to whether there could have been violations in the way in which it was declassified.
Regardless, the revelations are unwelcome for a president that faces an increasingly skeptical American public.
A new poll released on April 6 by AP-Ipsos shows Bush's approval rating at just 36 percent, his lowest ever. Record lows were also recorded in Americans' approval of Bush's foreign policy (40 percent) and the war in Iraq (35 percent).
If Bush's ratings spill over onto Republican candidates, the Democrats could stand a chance at regaining control of Congress in elections this November.
And a Democratic-led Congress could subject the administration to high-profile investigations of the use of prewar intelligence on Iraq and the CIA leak case.