WASHINGTON - The Justice Department is investigating allegations that White House officials revealed the identity of a CIA agent whose husband had questioned President Bush's claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa.
The matter has been referred to the department, which "will now take appropriate action, whatever that is," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
She said she was unaware of any White House involvement in the matter.
"I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate," Condoleezza Rice told "Fox News Sunday."
She pledged White House cooperation in the inquiry.
A senior Bush administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the Justice Department has received a letter from CIA Director George Tenet to look into the matter.
The department and the FBI now are trying to determine whether there was a violation of the law and, if so, then whether a full-blown criminal investigation is warranted, the official said.
In July, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller asking him to order an immediate criminal investigation into government leaks that might have unmasked the CIA agent.
"To reveal an agent's identity is a despicable and dastardly act ... that could endanger lives or the security of the country," Schumer said Sunday in a telephone interview. "There has to be a thorough and complete and fearless investigation that goes wherever it leads."
The flap began in January when Bush said in his State of the Union address that British intelligence officials had learned that Iraq had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium in Africa.
In an opinion piece published in July by The New York Times, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson said he told the CIA long before the president's address that the British reports were suspect.
A week after Wilson went public with his criticism, syndicated columnist Robert Novak, quoting anonymous government sources, said Wilson's wife was a CIA operative working on the issue of weapons of mass destruction.
The administration has since said the 16-word assertion should not have been in the speech.
A senior administration official cited in a Washington Post report Sunday said that two top White House officials called at least a half-dozen journalists and revealed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife. Disclosing the name of an undercover CIA agent could violate federal law.
"I know nothing about any such calls and I do know that the president of the United States would not expect his White House to behave in that way," Rice told NBC's "Meet the Press."
Powell told ABC's "This Week" that he thought that if the CIA believed the identity of one of its agents have been revealed, it had an obligation to ask the Justice Department to look into the matter.
Contacted by phone, Wilson said Sunday he thinks it's safe to assume that the CIA would not refer the matter to the Justice Department unless it thought a crime might have been committed. He said if White House officials were to blame, their motives were easy to decipher.
"It's pretty clear to me that, knowing that they could not shut me up because I had already told my story, the purpose for doing this was to intimidate others and keep others from stepping forward," Wilson said.
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press