President Bush admitted Monday that he declassified a prewar intelligence report on Iraq in 2003 in an attempt to silence critics who claimed the administration had exaggerated efforts by Saddam Hussein to obtain uranium to make nuclear weapons, according to an Associated Press report.
"I wanted people to see the truth and thought it made sense for people to see the truth," Bush said on Monday during a speech at Johns Hopkins University.
"You're not supposed to talk about classified information, and so I declassified the document. I thought it was important for people to get a better sense for why I was saying what I was saying in my speeches. And I felt I could do so without jeopardizing ongoing intelligence matters, and so I did."
It was Bush's first comment on the leak, which was revealed in a court filing by U.S. prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald last week in his ongoing investigation into who revealed the name of former CIA operative Valerie Plame (see "Former Cheney Aide Says Bush OK'd Iraq Intelligence Leak"). But, according to a New York Times report, the information that Bush approved for leaking was not as vital as it was portrayed.
According to the paper, the document leaked to reporters by former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby — who has been indicted for lying to the FBI and prosecutors over the Plame affair (see "Dick Cheney Aide 'Scooter' Libby Indicted In CIA Leak Case, Submits Resignation") — was not the "key judgment" Libby said he was told to portray it as. The filing by Fitzgerald shows the administration at odds with itself over the Iraq information. While President Bush and Vice President Cheney were working to portray the U.S. as acting on credible intelligence, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Times a week before the Libby leak that intelligence agencies had essentially rejected the notion that Iraq was vigorously seeking to acquire uranium from the African country of Niger.
According to the paper, "Powell's queasiness with some of the intelligence has been well known, but the new revelations suggest that long after he had concluded the intelligence was faulty, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby were still promoting it."
Monday's comments were Bush's first since the details about the leaking of the prewar intelligence report surfaced last week, with Libby testifying to a grand jury that he was told — through Cheney — that the president had authorized him to leak information from a classified document. The revelation that the leak was authorized by Bush was somewhat of a shock, as the president has strongly lashed out at "leakers" in the past, lambasting journalists and those in the administration who release information without authorization. Though Bush was authorized to declassify the report, in the past he has sought prosecution for those who leak sensitive information without authorization, including an ongoing probe into who revealed details of his domestic wiretapping program to the press in late 2005 (see "Bush Gave U.S. Agency Authorization To Spy On Americans").
A lawyer with knowledge of the case said that Bush declassified the information in 2003 to rebut critics of the Iraq war, according to the AP. But the lawyer said Bush did not specifically direct Libby to give the information about prewar intelligence to reporters.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer sent a letter to Bush on Monday asking for more details on how and why the document was declassified. "There are many questions that the president must answer so that the American people can understand that this declassification was done for national security purposes, not for immediate political gain," Schumer wrote.