In a message sent to all White House aides, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales said the Justice Department has opened an investigation into the matter, and that the department would soon send a letter to the White House indicating with greater specificity the materials it may want to see.
"In the meantime, you must preserve all materials that might in any way be related to the department's investigation," Gonzales' message stated. "The president has directed full cooperation with this investigation."
The CIA agent is the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, who said this summer that during an earlier trip to Niger he found no basis for President Bush's State of the Union speech claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium in Africa.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan declined to say whether Bush has spoken with any of his staff about the matter. But McClellan said nothing has come to the attention of the White House that might indicate a White House aide had leaked the information.
Meanwhile, efforts by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to offer an amendment to the fiscal 2004 District of Columbia appropriations bill regarding the CIA leak today complicated plans to bring the floor. The Schumer amendment would be a nonbinding "sense of the Senate" resolution calling on Attorney General John Ashcroft to appoint a special counsel to investigate who leaked the name of the CIA agent.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the two sides had agreed to two hours of debate on the Schumer amendment, at which point Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., would lodge a point of order.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., questioned the ability of Ashcroft to direct a Justice Department investigation into the leak. "If he won't even go after [Enron CEO] Ken Lay, why would he go after someone who appointed him?" Daschle said of Aschroft.
The rhetoric was equally charged on the House side. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., asserted that if a similar leak occurred during the Clinton administration, Republicans would be issuing subpoenas and launching an investigation, and "[former Government Reform Committee Chairman] Dan Burton [R-Ill.] would be in high dudgeon."
Hoyer called the preliminary probe launched by the Justice Department "a step in the right direction," but said the appointment of an independent counsel "would be well-advised. John Ashcroft is a very political attorney general ...very partisan."
But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, today said Democrats' call for an independent counsel "makes no sense," pointing out that the White House is very upset about the matter and is "trying to get to the bottom of this-nobody's covering anything up-no one is obstructing anything."
As for whether Ashcroft is too partisan to conduct a credible independent investigation, DeLay remarked, "I imagine those charges are coming from partisan people."