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Libby Testifies Bush Authorized Declassification of Iraq Report

By David Johnston
and David E. Sanger
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff testified that he was authorized by President Bush, through Cheney, in July 2003 to disclose key portions of what until then was a classified prewar intelligence estimate on Iraq, according to a new court filing.

The testimony by the former official, I. Lewis Libby Jr., cited in a court filing by the government made late Wednesday, provides the first indication that Bush, who has long assailed leaks of secret information as a threat to national security, may have played a direct role in authorizing the disclosure of the intelligence report on Iraq. The disclosure occurred at a moment when the White House was trying to defend itself against charges that it had inflated the case against Saddam Hussein.

The president has the authority to declassify information, and Libby indicated in his grand jury testimony that he believed Bush’s instructions — which prosecutors said Libby regarded as “unique in his recollection” — gave him legal cover to talk with a reporter about the intelligence. Among the key judgments in the report, called a National Intelligence Estimate, was that Saddam Hussein was probably seeking fuel for nuclear weapons.

Libby did not assert in his testimony, first reported on the Web site of The New York Sun, that Bush or Cheney had authorized him to reveal the name of an undercover CIA officer, Valerie Wilson. Libby is scheduled to go on trial next year on perjury and obstruction charges connected to the disclosure of Wilson’s name.

The White House refused to discuss Libby’s account, or say whether it differed with Bush or Cheney’s recollections of events, which the two men described in interviews with prosecutors. “We’re not commenting on an ongoing legal proceeding,” said Scott McClellan, Bush’s press secretary.

Democrats seized on the disclosure, and demanded that Bush — who has said he was determined to get to the bottom of the leak case — now disclose his role. “In light of today’s shocking revelation, President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information,” said the Democratic leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said: “If the disclosure is true, it’s breathtaking. The president is revealed as the leaker in chief.”