Responding to the July 2003 outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, the White House made an unqualified pledge to fire any administration official involved in leaking Plame's identity. But CBS News and the Los Angeles Times reported this pledge as narrower than it actually was, claiming that President Bush would fire anyone who "illegally leaked" Plame's identity. In doing so, they joined The New York Times and The Washington Post, which had similarly narrowed the White House's pledge as evidence grew that White House senior adviser Karl Rove was apparently involved in the Plame leak.
On the July 15 edition of the CBS Evening News, reporter Gloria Borger stated that "the president has come out and publicly said that he would fire somebody who illegally leaked the name of a covert CIA operative." Similarly, the Los Angeles Times reported in a July 18 article that "Bush said he would fire anyone responsible for any illegal leaks."
But the White House's pledge to fire anyone involved in leaking Plame's identity did not hinge upon any determination of illegal activity. During a September 29, 2003, press conference, White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters, "If anyone in this administration was involved in it [the leaking of Plame's identity], they would no longer be in this administration." Bush himself stated on September 30, 2003, that he would "take the appropriate action" against "anybody in my administration who leaked classified information."
After the appearance of Borger's assertion and the Los Angeles Times article, Bush himself narrowed his prior pledge at a July 18 press conference to cover only those administration officials who "committed a crime." The New York Times noted that Bush's new statement constituted a departure from prior White House promises to fire anyone involved in the leak:
President Bush changed his stance today on his close adviser Karl Rove, stopping well short of promising that anyone in his administration who helped to unmask a C.I.A. officer would be fired.
"If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration," Mr. Bush said in response to a question, after declaring, "I don't know all the facts; I want to know all the facts."
For months, Mr. Bush and his spokesmen have said that anyone involved in the disclosure of the C.I.A. officer's identity would be dismissed. The president's apparent raising of the bar for dismissal today, to specific criminal conduct, comes amid mounting evidence that, at the very least, Mr. Rove provided backhanded confirmation of the C.I.A. officer's identity.
From the July 15 edition of the CBS Evening News:
JOHN ROBERTS (anchor): Gloria, the criminal case aside, is Karl Rove in a potentially tough spot here?
BORGER: Oh, he's in a very tough spot here. As you know, John, he's very close to this president, but the president has come out and publicly said that he would fire somebody who illegally leaked the name of a covert CIA operative. So this case has to play itself out. People are telling me we will probably hear from the special counsel this summer.
From a July 18 Los Angeles Times article by Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten:
Bush said he would fire anyone responsible for any illegal leaks. Democrats have called on Bush to fire Rove, now a deputy White House chief of staff, or at least to revoke Rove's security clearance.