WASHINGTON: US President George W Bush owes the US public a thorough explanation of his decision to leak classified information to justify the Iraq invasion, a powerful Republican lawmaker said yesterday.
"It was not the right way to go about it, because we ought not to have leaks in government," Senator Arlen Specter told Fox News yesterday.
"I think that it is necessary for the president and the vice president to tell the American people exactly what happened," Specter said.
Specter was commenting on court documents in the investigation over the exposure of secret CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity which revealed this week that Bush had authorised White House staff members to selectively leak information to reporters from the top secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).
According to a document filed by federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, top former White House official I Lewis "Scooter" Libby told investigators that Vice President Dick Cheney had informed him that Bush had authorised intelligence leaks.
The document said that "the vice president advised defendant (Libby) that the president specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the NIE."
Libby is suspected of involvement in an effort to leak Plame's name to journalists to discredit her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, who had contested the Bush administration's claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons and cited this to justify the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Specter acknowledged Bush may have been within his rights to authorise intelligence leaks.
"The president has the authority to declassify information. So in a technical sense, if he looked at it, he could say this is declassified, and make a disclosure of it," he said.
"But we ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people."
Speaking on ABC's "This Week" programme, Wilson said the White House should "come clean" to the American people on how it used selective intelligence in a "disinformation campaign" to justify the Iraq war, "twisting intelligence to support political decisions."
Wilson said the White House was well-informed of high level intelligence community doubts before the war about information that Iraq sought uranium to build a nuclear weapon.