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Bush acknowledges talking to attorney over CIA leak probe

'I want to know the truth'

President Bush says he wants to find out who leaked the name of a CIA operative to the media.
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CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Bush's talks with a private attorney.
George W. Bush
White House
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Valerie Plame

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush acknowledged Thursday that he has spoken to a private attorney about the investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA operative.

"This is a criminal matter," Bush told reporters, before departing for a trip to Europe. "This is a serious matter. I have met with an attorney to determine whether or not I need his advice. And if I deem I need his advice, I will probably hire him."

"I want to know the truth, and I'm willing to cooperate myself," Bush added.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan on Wednesday identified the Washington attorney as Jim Sharp and said the president would retain him if called to testify before the grand jury investigating the matter.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Vice President Dick Cheney's office said he would consult Washington attorney Terrence O'Donnell if he needed legal counsel in the CIA leak investigation.

Kevin Kellems, the spokesman, declined to say whether Cheney had already sought O'Donnell's advice or had any preliminary conversations with him about the case.

Kellems said O'Donnell, a partner at the Washington firm of Williams & Connolly, "has been the vice president's personal attorney for many years."

Federal law prohibits disclosing the identity of a covert agent.

Last July, syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who is also co-host of CNN's Crossfire, identified CIA operative Valerie Plame in a column. Novak attributed the information to administration sources, but he has refused to identify who gave him the information, insisting his sources must remain confidential.

Plame is the wife of Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador and career Foreign Service officer.

In numerous media appearances and a book, Wilson has alleged that administration officials blew Plame's cover in retaliation after he disputed claims that the deposed Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein tried to obtain uranium from Niger.

Wilson visited Niger in early 2002 on behalf of the CIA to investigate a British report alleging Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake -- uranium ore -- to develop nuclear weapons.

Wilson reported finding no evidence to support the allegation. Roughly a year later, Bush cited the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium connection in his 2003 State of the Union address as part of the rationale for going to war with Iraq.

Wilson later wrote about his Niger visit in an op-ed piece in The New York Times that cast further doubt on the British report, which had been discredited after U.N. weapons inspectors found it was based at least in part on forged documents.

Although Bush has since backed off the State of the Union statement, Wilson's revelations helped fuel allegations the Bush administration exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq before the war.

Wilson has since endorsed Bush's Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and campaigned on his behalf.

The probe is being led by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald from Chicago, who was appointed as special prosecutor after Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself to avoid a conflict of interest.

CNN's John King and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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