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Ashcroft cites progress in CIA leak probe

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

Ashcroft says only two people know where the leak came from.
Ashcroft says only two people know where the leak came from.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General John Ashcroft said Thursday progress has been made in a highly publicized investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA operative, and he expressed hope the case could eventually be resolved.

Ashcroft appeared to be more optimistic the probe might succeed than President Bush, who has openly expressed doubt the leaker would be discovered.

"There are only two persons who know where the leak came from," Ashcroft told reporters at a news conference. "It does make these cases difficult, but not impossible."

The CIA operative, Valerie Plame, was named in a July 14 syndicated newspaper column by journalist Robert Novak, a CNN contributor. He cited two senior administration officials as his sources.

Plame's husband, retired career diplomat Joseph Wilson, accused White House officials of leaking his wife name to punish him and intimidate others after he wrote a critical op-ed article about the administration's handling of prewar intelligence on Iraq. Administration officials have disputed that charge.

Investigators have interviewed White House and CIA officials as well as Wilson and his wife as part of the probe.

"Anyone who purposefully leaks information that has been classified is ... subordinating national security," Ashcroft said.

"I have directed and will do everything possible to ensure a professional, thorough, prompt and complete investigation."

Justice Department prosecutors and FBI investigators involved in past leak investigations say most such investigations are unsuccessful.

The attorney general gave no indication he intends to bow to calls from Democratic critics demanding he appoint a special counsel to lead the investigation because of his close political ties to White House staffers.

"I have not ruled out any options," Ashcroft told reporters.

He stressed that the leak investigation is under the direct supervision of 30-year career prosecutor and Justice Department veteran John Dion, who has been honored by both Democratic and Republican attorneys general.

Ashcroft aides expressed anger at a New York Times report Thursday that said "several senior criminal prosecutors at the Justice Department" have privately criticized Ashcroft for not recusing himself or appointing a special prosecutor in the case.

"You can always find a critic, but not one single person involved in this investigation has expressed either formally or informally the need for recusal or the appointment of a special prosecutor," said Mark Corallo, Ashcroft's chief spokesman.

"And even among all those with access to information in the case nobody has raised any such concern."

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, the leading proponent of appointing a special counsel in the matter, failed in an attempt Thursday to win Senate backing of a resolution endorsing the idea when the measure was ruled out of order and no vote was taken.

"It should come as no surprise that career prosecutors are taking issue with the ad hoc way this investigation is proceeding," Schumer said earlier.

"From conflicts of interest to inexplicable delays the actions so far of the attorney general and the Justice Department make it far less likely that the culprit will be found and that justice will be served."

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