President Bush told the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case that he directed Vice President Dick Cheney to personally lead an effort to counter allegations made by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that his administration had misrepresented intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq, according to people familiar with the president's statement.
Bush also told federal prosecutors during his June 24, 2004, interview in the Oval Office that he had directed Cheney, as part of that broader effort, to disclose highly classified intelligence information that would not only defend his administration but also discredit Wilson, the sources said.
But Bush told investigators that he was unaware that Cheney had directed I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, to covertly leak the classified information to the media instead of releasing it to the public after undergoing the formal governmental declassification processes.
Bush also said during his interview with prosecutors that he had never directed anyone to disclose the identity of then-covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife. Bush said he had no information that Cheney had disclosed Plame's identity or directed anyone else to do so.
Libby has said that neither the president nor the vice president directed him or other administration officials to disclose Plame's CIA employment to the press. Cheney has also denied having any role in the disclosure.
On October 28, 2005, a federal grand jury indicted Libby on five felony counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice, for allegedly concealing his own role, and perhaps that of others, in outing Plame as a covert CIA officer.
One senior government official familiar with the discussions between Bush and Cheney -- but who does not have firsthand knowledge of Bush's interview with prosecutors -- said that Bush told the vice president to "Get it out," or "Let's get this out," regarding information that administration officials believed would rebut Wilson's allegations and would discredit him.
A person with direct knowledge of Bush's interview refused to confirm that Bush used those words, but said that the first official's account was generally consistent with what Bush had told Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
Libby, in language strikingly similar to Bush's words, testified to the federal grand jury in the leak case that Cheney had told him to "get all the facts out" that would defend the administration and discredit Wilson. Portions of Libby's grand jury testimony were an exhibit in a recent court filing by Fitzgerald.