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Former aide accuses Bush on CIA leak

By Leonard Doyle in Washington

A three-paragraph extract from a book yet to be published has revealed that George Bush and his closest aides were "involved" in giving the press false information about the CIA leak case.

The revelation by Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary is already reviving the incessant drumbeat of left-wing Democrats for Mr Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney's impeachment. The chatter of the nation is now focused on whether the President lied.

The allegations are especially incendiary because they come from Mr Bush's dour and plodding former press secretary. Mr Bush, who hands out nicknames like sweets, called him "Scottie", and he was one of his longest-serving and, until yesterday, most loyal staff. In his forthcoming memoir, "WHAT HAPPENED: Inside the Bush White House and What's Wrong With Washington" an embittered Mr McClellan accuses five officials including Mr Bush, Karl Rove and Mr Cheney of involvement in deceiving the public. Tantalisingly the excerpts provide no detail about what they may have done: "I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby," Mr McClellan wrote.

"There was one problem. It was not true," Mr McClellan wrote before making the inflammatory claim: "I had unknowingly passed along false information."

"And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the Vice-President, the president's chief of staff and the president himself."

Mr McClellan, who has yet to finish writing his book, declined to comment further, leaving it to the political pundits to assess the importance of his revelations. However, he says he trusted the president who he claims to be still fond of.

Although Mr McClellan often speaks affectionately about his days in the White House, his anger at his former colleagues combined with a desire to make some money through the book appears to have trumped his loyalty to his former boss. Now a scandal that was dying of fatigue has been resuscitated, with the President at its very heart.

White House insiders have long whispered that Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the Vice-President's chief of staff, were behind the press spokesman's apparently unwitting lies when he suggested day after day that they had no involvement in the publication of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

A federal jury later found Mr Libby guilty of perjury and obstruction charges, and Mr Bush later commuted his 30-month sentence.

As recently as last March, the day Mr Libby was convicted, Mr McClellan was telling CNN that the president did not originally know that his aides were involved in smearing and outing the undercover agent a federal offence.

"I spoke with those individuals... and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this. It was also what the president believed to be true at the time based on assurances that we were both given. Knowing what I know today, I would have never said that back then."

When he quit the White House last year, he and Mr Bush had a mawkish embrace on the South Lawn.

"I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity," Mr Bush said. "One of these days he and I are going to be rocking on chairs in Texas, talking about the good old days and his time as the press secretary. And I can assure you I will feel the same way then that I feel now, that I can say to Scott: 'Job well done'."

But before that day, they may find themselves impeached, as many Democrats fervently hope, with Mr McClellan cast in the role of John Dean to Mr Bush's Richard Nixon.

As the writer John Nichols put it in The Nation yesterday: "It was Dean's willingness to reveal the details of what he described as 'a cancer' on the Nixon Presidency that served as a critical turning point in the struggle by a previous Congress to hold the 37th president to account.

"If the President and Vice-President knowingly participated in a scheme to attack a critic of their administration," Mr Nichols said, (and Joseph Wilson, the CIA agent's husband has revealed that the White House knew that the arguments Bush and Cheney used for attacking Iraq were false). "They have committed a distinct sort of offence that the House Judiciary Committee has already determined to be grounds for impeachment." Back in 1974, the committee voted to impeach Mr Nixon while detailing the president's involvement in schemes to attack political enemies and cover up for those attacks.

Mr Bush promised, back in 2003, that he would fire anyone in his administration who took part in the leak of Plame's name. What Mr McClellan reveals is that Mr Bush neglected to mention that he was one of those people.

"Needless to say, he didn't fire himself," said the political watchdog Common Cause. "Instead, he fired no one, stonewalled the press and the federal prosecutor in charge of the case, and lied through his teeth."

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