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Spokesman says Bush continues to trust Rove amid allegations

WASHINGTON—President Bush continues to have confidence in his close adviser Karl Rove despite allegations that Rove improperly revealed the identity of a CIA officer, a White House spokesman said Tuesday.

Bush himself ignored a reporter's shouted question about Rove at the end of a brief photo session in the Oval Office. But spokesman Scott McClellan responded when asked whether Bush continued to trust his longtime friend and chief political strategist, who ran his two presidential campaigns and now serves as White House deputy chief of staff.

"Yes. Any individual who works here at the White House has the president's confidence," McClellan said. "They wouldn't be working here if they didn't have the president's confidence."

For the second day in a row, McClellan refused to say whether Bush stands by his vow more than a year ago to fire anyone who leaked classified information. McClellan said he didn't want to jeopardize the criminal investigation into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's name to the news media in 2003.

News reports over the weekend revealed that Rove was the source of at least one leak, to Time magazine. Rove's attorney confirmed that Rove had told a reporter that administration critic Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, though he didn't name her or her job.

It would be a felony to knowingly identify an active undercover officer. It isn't known whether Plame remained an active undercover officer at the time or whether the source of the leaks knew she was an undercover officer.

McClellan offered only one other comment on Rove: "Everybody who is working here is helping us to advance the agenda, and that includes Karl in a very big way."

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who was Rove's deputy in the White House and the president's choice to run the national party, weighed in. He said Rove was trying to help the Time reporter by discrediting a story line that supported Plame's husband and his criticisms of the Bush administration's rationale for war in Iraq.

"The bottom line is Karl Rove was discouraging a reporter from writing a false story based on a false premise, and the Democrats are engaging in blatant partisan political attacks," Mehlman said in a statement posted on the Republican National Committee's Web site.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats criticized Rove, and Republicans—for the most part—hewed to the White House line that it would be improper to comment during a criminal investigation.

"Even if Karl Rove didn't say her name point blank, by identifying Ambassador Wilson's wife as working for the CIA, he revealed classified information," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., his party's 2004 presidential nominee. "All anyone has to do then is go (to) his biography or his curriculum vitae, and boom, you've got her name. So this administration deliberately released her identity.

"Karl Rove ought to be fired," he concluded.

"I'm nodding," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who was standing near Kerry.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Rove needed to answer more questions, but that there wasn't enough evidence to warrant firing him.

"I'm not ready to go that far at this point," Schumer said. "The information that I have seen thus far, which is no different than what you've seen, doesn't automatically state that he violated the law or violated the breach. And that's why we need a further explanation."

Senate Republicans largely declined to comment.

"I don't know all the facts," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.

However, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that while it was too early to determine whether his panel would examine Rove's role in the leak of Plame's name, he conceded that the matter is potentially very serious.

"Yeah, we're concerned," he said. "The key to it is whether it was knowingly or inadvertent. ... If it's on purpose, it is a very serious problem."

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents James Kuhnhenn and Michael Barnett contributed to this article.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050711 ROVE bio

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): LEAKPROBE

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Karl Rove

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