Knight Ridder, June 02, 2004
WASHINGTON - President Bush has held discussions with a private attorney about possibly representing him in an ongoing grand jury investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA officer to a newspaper columnist, the White House confirmed Wednesday.
"He has had discussions with an outside attorney," said Allen Abney, a White House spokesman. "In the event that he needs advice he would retain him."
CBS News, which first reported the consultation, identified the attorney as Jim Sharp.
The president's decision to consult an outside attorney is an indication that the search for who gave newspaper columnist Robert Novak the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame has reached into the White House.
Plame is the wife of Joe Wilson, a former ambassador who was asked by the CIA to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from the African country of Niger. Wilson traveled to Niger in February 2002 and determined that the reports were unfounded.
Still, Bush mentioned the alleged purchase in his State of the Union speech in January 2003, and a fierce battle over the information broke out after Wilson wrote in The New York Times last July that he had found the allegation unsubstantiated.
Wilson claims that Plame's name was revealed to Novak as retaliation for Wilson's column in the Times. It is a violation of federal law to reveal the name of a CIA operative. The CIA officially requested in September that the FBI investigate the leak.
Since then, speculation in Washington over who might have revealed the name has focused on officials in Vice President Dick Cheney's office and on Bush political adviser Karl Rove. Wilson has named three Bush administration officials as possible suspects, including Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Elliott Abrams, a Mideast specialist on the National Security Council, and Rove.
On Dec. 30, Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose campaign Rove worked for when Ashcroft was running for U.S. senator of Missouri, removed himself from the investigation and appointed the U.S. attorney for Chicago, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, to oversee that case.
Since that time, a grand jury has heard testimony from witnesses and has combed through thousands of pages of documents but has returned no indictments.
Abney couldn't explain why Bush had talked to an outside attorney, but the consultation of an outside attorney is likely related to a decision during the Whitewater investigation of the Clinton administration, in which White House attorneys couldn't assert executive privilege if asked about their conversations with the president on a possibly criminal matter. A private attorney, however, would be able to assert attorney-client privilege.