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An angry Bush trying to plug leaks to media

Bush meets with CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, left to right, in the Oval Office Sunday.
Bush meets with CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, left to right, in the Oval Office Sunday.  

By John King
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Angered at leaks from classified briefings, President Bush ordered key department heads last week to restrict their briefings of members of Congress to the four major leaders and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, sources told CNN on Monday.

He also called the four leaders to explain his decision and said he was furious that sensitive intelligence material that was shared with Congress was being repeated to the news media, two sources familiar with the calls told CNN.

The top Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, expressed approval of the new policy.

"The president told me about it, and I agree," Daschle said. "It's unfortunate, but there's no choice. Some people just can't resist talking."

A Democratic aide in the House said Gephardt would support Bush's judgment.

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"You have to give the White House the benefit of the doubt, and if that means keeping secure information close to the vest, then that's what they have to do," the aide said.

While saying she was not critical of the directive, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said she hopes there would be some "proportionality" in the policy because there is some information that only committee members should know and other information that all members should know.

Pelosi, who will continue to have access to the classified material, said information flow helps keep members "on board" with the president's policies.

In a memo dated October 5, Friday, Bush told major department heads:

"This approach will best serve our shared goals of protecting American lives, maintaining the proper level of confidentiality for the success of our military, intelligence and law enforcement operations and keeping the leadership of the Congress appropriately informed about important developments."

The memo, signed by the president, was sent to the secretaries of state, treasury and defense, the attorney general and the directors of the CIA and the FBI.

Under the headline: "Disclosures to the Congress," the president said only the department or agency heads or "officers expressly designated by you may brief members of Congress regarding classified or sensitive law enforcement information."

He went on to restrict those briefings to the House speaker, the Senate majority leader, the House minority leader and the Senate minority leader, as well as the chairman and ranking members of the intelligence committees.

"This morning, I informed the House and Senate leadership of this policy which shall remain in effect until you receive further notice from me," the President said, ending the memo.


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