Bush authorised Iraq 'leak', White House aide testifies

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The Independent US

A senior White House official has told prosecutors that President George Bush authorised the dissemination of previously classified intelligence about Iraq's purported weapons arsenal to the media .

Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney, is in court charged with obstructing a federal leak investigation. He testified that he had been given permission to share the contents of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about Saddam Hussein's weapons capabilities.

He also said he was authorised to talk about Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador who had been publicly critical of Mr Bush's conduct over Iraq.

Mr Libby's claims are contained within court papers that were made public yesterday.

However, there is nothing in the papers which suggests Mr Libby claims either Mr Bush or Mr Cheney authorised him to reveal the identity of Mr Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA operative.

Mr Libby was charged last October with five counts in relation to the leaking of Ms Plame's identity - something which constitutes a federal offence.

Among the charges, to which Mr Libby has pleaded not guilty, are perjury and obstruction of justice, though he has not been charged with actually leaking Ms Plame's identity.

Mr Libby's testimony, given to a grand jury before he was charged, reveals that the authorisation from Mr Bush led to him speaking with Judith Miller, who was then a reporter with The New York Times, and discussing with her the contents of the NIE on Iraq.

Ms Miller, who wrote a series of articles about Saddam's purported weapons capabilities that proved to be badly wrong, last year spent 85 days in jail after refusing to reveal her sources to investigators.

She subsequently testified to federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald after receiving personal permission from Mr Libby to identify him as a source of some of her information.

Yesterday's disclosure, first reported by The New York Sun, is likely to have more political implications for Mr Bush, rather than presenting him with legal difficulties.

Some legal experts had speculated that Mr Libby's defence could subpoena Mr Bush and Mr Cheney to testify on his behalf. But it seems presidential authority provides Mr Bush with the power to declassify whatever information he chooses.

The President has previously railed about the leaking of information, however, ordering inquiries after embarrassing information had been passed to the media.

Earlier this year the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation to discover who leaked the Bush administration's secret domestic eavesdropping programme.