Democratic Party leaders called on Tuesday for the dismissal of President George Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, after evidence surfaced implicating him in the leak of a CIA undercover agent's identity.
President Bush, who pledged last year to take action against anyone found responsible for the leak, ignored a journalist's question about Rove's future.
But White House spokesman Scott McClellan, having refused to discuss the issue on Monday, insisted Bush still had confidence in Rove. "Any individual who works here at the White House has the president's confidence. They wouldn't be working here if they didn't have the president's confidence," he told reporters.
The White House reticence was in sharp contrast to strong statements it issued in 2003 denying Rove's involvement in the leak.
A grand jury was due to convene Wednesday (local time) to hear the latest evidence in the investigation sparked by the leak. It has been looking at whether administration officials disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame - a CIA undercover agent working in a counter-proliferation unit - to journalists two years ago, apparently to discredit criticism by her husband, Joseph Wilson, of the decision to go to war in Iraq.
An e-mail by Time reporter Matt Cooper to his editors in July 2003 and published by Newsweek magazine on Sunday named Rove as the source. Cooper said Rove had told him on "double-super-secret background" that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, acknowledged the e-mail's authenticity, but said it showed that his client had not actually provided Wilson's maiden and professional name, Plame. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee distributed to its supporters "talking points" defending Rove and complaining of a political witch hunt.
More top Democrats on Tuesday joined a chorus of calls for his dismissal. Senator John Kerry, Bush's opponent in last year's election, declared at a congressional press conference: "Karl Rove ought to be fired." Hillary Clinton, a likely Democratic contender in 2008, nodded her agreement.
Political observers said it was too early to judge whether the controversy would cost Rove his job. The reaction of centrist Republican politicians could be pivotal. So far, they have stayed silent, though the New York Times quoted "several prominent Republicans" as being "concerned about the possible effects on Bush and his agenda ... because Rove's stature makes him such a tempting target for Democrats."
The scandal was sparked two years ago by an article by a conservative commentator, Robert Novak.
The article, on July 14, 2003, looked at Wilson, a former US ambassador who a few days earlier had published a commentary questioning one of the claims made by Bush that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of massive destruction as a justification for going to war in Iraq.
Wilson discovered the claim referred to reports of uranium deals in Niger. He had visited the country the previous year on a CIA mission to look for evidence of such deals, but had found none.
Wilson's commentary, four months after the invasion, caused uproar. The administration played down his claims. Novak questioned the seriousness of his mission. He wrote that he had been told by "two senior administration officials" that Wilson's trip had been authorized by his wife, Valerie Plame, who was directly involved in monitoring the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Source: China Daily