Subject: Ashcroft under pressure to quit CIA leak probe
Date: Fri Oct 3, 2003 6:45 pm
Ashcroft under pressure to quit CIA leak probe By James Harding in Washington Published: October 3 2003 1:32 | Last Updated: October 3 2003 1:32
John Ashcroft, the US attorney-general, came under increasing pressure on Thursday to step aside from the investigation into the alleged leak by Bush administration officials of the name of a CIA agent.
As the White House seeks to defend its integrity from charges of vengeful leaks to the press and an apparent conflict of interest in the investigation, Mr Ashcroft has quickly become the focus not only of outraged Democrats but even of a few alarmed Republicans.
Arlen Specter, a senior Republican on the Senate judiciary committee, was quoted on Thursday by CNN as saying that Mr Ashcroft should think about stepping away from the case: "Recusal is something Ashcroft should consider," he said.
Mr Specter's office later issued a statement saying he had been misquoted and did not call for Mr Ashcroft's withdrawal. Instead, the office said, Mr Specter had said that recusal was a "matter that has to be decided by the individual himself and cited analogous situations of recusal by a judge or a senator".
Mr Ashcroft, a career Republican and a political appointee of the president, heads the Department of Justice, which is running the investigation into the leak.
Mr Ashcroft is close to Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, whose name has been linked to the scandal. Mr Rove has worked as a political consultant for Mr Ashcroft.
The White House said this week that the suggestion that Mr Rove leaked the name was "ridiculous". Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who originally suggested Mr Rove was to blame, has backed away from his allegation and now says he believes Mr Rove simply "condoned" the leak.
After Mr Wilson criticised President George W. Bush for including a false assertion that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger in the State of the Union address, the name and identity of his wife - Valerie Plame, a covert operative for the CIA - appeared in the press.
Robert Novak, a syndicated columnist, said "two senior administration officials" had told him that Ms Plame had suggested to the CIA that her husband be sent to Niger in 2002 to investigate claims of an Iraqi effort to source nuclear material. Mr Wilson found no evidence for the claims.
The Department of Justice launched an investigation into the leak last week. The disclosure of the name and identity of a CIA operative is a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
But the first public opinion polls published on Thursday showed Americans were sceptical that Mr Ashcroft's Justice Department would conduct a full and fair investigation into its political masters at the White House.
Seven out of 10 people interviewed in the Washington Post/ABC poll said a special counsel rather than the Justice Department should investigate the leak of the CIA undercover officer's identity.http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/FullStory&c=StoryFT&cid=1059480307797
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