Why Does Bush Need a Lawyer?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 3, 2004; 10:47 AM

So President Bush has consulted with a private attorney regarding the ongoing grand jury investigation of who leaked a CIA officer's identity.

But why? What does this say about the status of the investigation? And who is this lawyer nobody's ever heard of?

So many questions, including the first one Bush faced this morning in his joint news conference with the Australian prime minister.

Terence Hunt of the Associated Press asked: "Mr. President, why have you consulted an attorney in the CIA leak investigation? Have you received any indication from prosecutors that they want to question you? And what can you tell them might shed some light on this case?"

"I've told our administration that we'll fully cooperate with their investigation," Bush said. "I want to know the truth, and I'm willing to cooperate myself, and you need to refer your questions to them. In terms of whether or not I need advice from the counsel, this is a criminal matter. It 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'll probably hire him."

Bush wouldn't say if he had been contacted by prosecutors.

John Roberts of CBS News unleashed the story last night: "CBS News has learned that President Bush has sought an outside attorney to represent him in the investigation into who in the administration leaked the cover of a covert C.I.A. operative to the media last year. Believing that the president is likely to be asked to either submit to an interview or even testify before a grand jury, White House officials late today confirmed that the president has put Washington attorney Jim Sharp on hot standby. . . .

"So far, no one has suggested that President Bush had anything to do with the leak or even knew about it until it after it had become public. But the fact that he has retained an outside attorney in the event the grand jury comes calling has now elevated this investigation to the very highest levels."

Eric Lichtblau and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times: "It was unclear on Wednesday night why Mr. Bush waited until what appears to be the last stages of the investigation into the leak before he consulted with a lawyer. One administration official speculated that the president must have had some indication that investigators now want to question him."

A grand jury convened by U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald of Chicago, acting as a special prosecutor in this case, is investigating who leaked Valerie Plame's status as an undercover CIA operative to the press. The leak was apparently an attempt to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, who was a critic of the White House's case for invading Iraq.

Lichtblau and Sanger write that "the president himself has not been seen as a potential target of the investigation. . . . He could, however, become a witness if prosecutors believe he had information about the events that led to the disclosure of Ms. Plame's name or if he had personal records that might aid in the inquiry."

Mike Allen explains in The Washington Post: "The White House counsel's office advises the president in his official capacity, but presidents can retain outside lawyers to represent their personal interests."

Peter Wallsten and Richard B. Schmitt write in the Los Angeles Times: "Attorneys close to the case but unfamiliar with Fitzgerald's plans said Wednesday they viewed Bush's consultation with a private attorney as a clue that the prosecutor intended to question the president in some fashion. Fitzgerald could consider it necessary to interview Bush to have a record under oath of his view of events surrounding the leak, the lawyers said."

Legal talking head Jeff Toobin was on CNN this morning. Soledad O'Brien asked him: "Who is Jim Sharp?"

"Jim Sharp -- He's not part of the very high-profile group of Washington lawyers," Toobin said. "He is a well-known Washington lawyer, however. . . . I knew him because in the late '80s in the Iran/Contra investigation he represented Richard Secord. . . . He's had a successful white collar crime practice for a long time, very solid lawyer. Not flashy, not famous, but not a huge surprise that the president would hire someone like him."

Secord. How many of you remember that name? A retired Air Force general, Secord was the chief operative for then-Marine lieutenant colonel Oliver L. North, back when North, working out of the basement of Ronald Reagan's West Wing, engineered covert sales of arms to Iran, with some of the proceeds being covertly used to provide arms to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, and the rest covertly going into Swiss bank accounts.

NBC White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell spoke with talk-radio host Don Imus this morning.

Imus: "So the president's hired a lawyer to stave off impeachment or what is it? Have I got the story wrong?"

O'Donnell: "Well, They're drawing a distinction here. They say that he's had discussions with a private attorney but he's not yet retained the attorney, Jim Sharp."

Imus: "Oh."

O'Donnell: "And the president is not the target of the C.I.A. leak investigation, but what it does indicate is that the president could seem to face questioning from the federal grand jury about what he knows, and this grand jury has been meeting since January and they've been interviewing top White House officials, they've subpoenaed journalists and now it's gone all the way to the top and the president may have to face questioning."

What else do we know about Sharp? He goes by Jim or James E. He was an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington about 30 years ago. Since then he's been in private practice, and now has his own K Street firm, called Sharp & Associates. It's a low-profile, white-collar defense practice in Washington. Well, not so low-profile any more.

A Global War

Amy Goldstein writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush said Wednesday that the effort to defeat terrorists in the Middle East is the epicenter of a global 'clash of political visions' that echoes World War II and other epic 20th-century struggles against totalitarianism in Europe."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush's speech was the second in a series of what the White House is billing as major presidential addresses on Iraq leading up to the transfer of authority from the Americans to a new Iraqi government on June 30. The president's remarks appeared to try to strike a balance between frightening Americans and offering himself as the only choice to lead the nation out of danger and to shore up his credentials as commander in chief in an election year when polls show support for the Iraq war and his presidency declining."

Barrie McKenna writes in Toronto's Globe and Mail: "Mr. Bush's speech was short on specifics and long on rhetoric. Indeed, he seemed to skip over large swaths of history as he offered parallels between the Second World War and the global war on terrorism."

The speech was a commencement address at the Air Force Academy. Pam Zubeck writes in the home-town Colorado Springs Gazette: "President Bush, speaking Wednesday to 968 Air Force Academy graduates, again cast the war on terror as a fight between good and evil.

"He didn't, however, detail a plan to defeat terrorists and entrench democracy in the Middle East."

Here's the text of the speech.

Some key lines:

• "The best way to protect America is to stay on the offensive."

• "This is the great challenge of our time, the storm in which we fly. History is once again witnessing a great clash."

• "[W]e are denying the terrorists the ideological victories they seek by working for freedom and reform in the broader Middle East."

• "We have overcome great challenges, we face many today, and there are more ahead. This is no time for impatience and self-defeating pessimism. . . . By keeping our word, and holding firm to our values, this generation will show the world the power of liberty once again."

In his speech, Bush sort of generally lumped together World War II, the Cold War, the war on terror and the war in Iraq.

But in some cases, the analogy was murky.

For instance, he didn't explicitly address how the war in Iraq, at least initially, was related to the war on terror. Critics say it was a vendetta and has been a distraction and a hindrance to the greater campaign against terror.

And while Bush suggested in his speech that those fighting the American occupation are at the forefront of the terrorist movement now, he acknowledged in an interview released yesterday by Paris Match (see below) that not all of them are terrorists -- some are simply opposed to occupation.

Also, when he said that "as in the struggles of the last century, civilized nations are waging this fight together" that is obviously true about the war against terrorism in general, but obviously not true about the war in Iraq.

Chalabi Watch

Walter Pincus and Dana Priest write in The Washington Post: "National security adviser Condoleezza Rice yesterday promised Congress a full investigation into allegations that an Iraqi politician supported by the Pentagon told Iran the United States had broken the code it used for secret communications, and U.S. officials said the revelation destroyed an important source of intelligence. . . .

"The allegations against Chalabi have hit as controversy grows over his role in helping to supply the United States with intelligence about Iraq before the war, and over his efforts to position himself politically in Iraq after the invasion."

Press secretary Scott McClellan studiously avoided any comment on Chalabi yesterday in his gaggle, which you can read here.

Just how close were Bush and Chalabi anyway?

Tuesday in the Rose Garden (here's the text), Bush distanced himself from Chalabi: "My meetings with him were very brief. I mean, I think I met with him at the State of the Union and just kind of working through the rope line, and he might have come with a group of leaders. But I haven't had any extensive conversations with him."

But one of Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum's readers noticed that in this transcript from Bush's February interview with Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press, he had noted that "right here in the Oval Office I sat down with Mr. Pachachi and Chalabi. . . . "

And here's another Chalabi mention, from the text of Bush's remarks to reporters in Air Force One on his way back from the Thanksgiving trip to Baghdad:

"Q Mr. President, we were told you got to see Mr. Chalabi today?

"THE PRESIDENT: I did see Chalabi. . . . I shook a lot of hands, saw a lot of kids, took a lot of pictures, served a lot of food and we moved on to see four members of the Governing Council -- the names are here. Talibani is the head of it right now, so he was the main spokesman. But Chalabi was there, as was Dr. Khuzaii, who had come to the Oval Office, I don't know if you all were in the pool that day, but she was there -- she was there with him, and one other fellow, and I had a good talk with them."

Caption Contest

Some readers, either by e-mail or during my stimulating Live Online chat yesterday, sent in captions for the sequence of photos that I linked to in yesterday's column, which showed Bush wrestling with a blown-out umbrella.

Here are some of the funny ones.

• "Who gave me this umbrella?" "Secretary Powell, sir." (Reader from Manhattan.)

• "Chalabi! I'd know his work anywhere." (Anonymous.)

• "STAY THE COURSE" (Nancy McMichael, Washington D.C., who specified this photo.)

And folks, it looks like we may need another caption contest. Here's an odd photo from yesterday's goings-on at the Air Force Academy. E-mail me at froomkin@washingtonpost.com.

But I'm off tomorrow, so it will have to wait until next week -- and that's assuming you come up with any funny ones.

Exploiting the Religion Gap

David D. Kirkpatrick writes in the New York Times: "The Bush campaign is seeking to enlist thousands of religious congregations around the country in distributing campaign information and registering voters, according to an e-mail message sent to many members of the clergy and others in Pennsylvania. . . .

"Liberal groups charged that the effort invited violations of the separation of church and state and jeopardized the tax-exempt status of churches that cooperated."

Susan Page has a USA Today cover story on the "religion gap," which she writes is "the leading edge of the 'culture war' that has polarized American politics."

The Upcoming Trip

After a joint news conference this morning with the prime minister of Australia, Bush is off to Italy and France -- and then to the Group of Eight summit in Sea Island, Ga.

William Neikirk writes in the Chicago Tribune: "If confrontations with allies can be avoided and demonstrations over Bush's policies muted, the White House hopes the trip will bolster the president's sagging poll numbers, a source of concern with the election five months away."

The key, Niekirk writes, is that the kinds of high-level meetings and ceremonies and summits that Bush has on his calendar "usually bring out chumminess and diplomatic nicety among the leaders -- and an eagerness to avoid confrontation -- which should work in Bush's favor."

The question, then, is whether the dominant imagery will be of anti-Bush demonstrations, or world leaders gripping and grinning.

Elaine Sciolino writes in the New York Times: "In an effort to repair the rift with France over Iraq, President Bush is calling President Jacques Chirac a friend and saying that he was never angry with the French for opposing the American-led war and occupation in Iraq.

"In an interview with the weekly magazine Paris Match that appears as its cover article on Thursday, Mr. Bush also said that not all of the Iraqis attacking American and other foreign troops in Iraq are terrorists."

Tom Rachman writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush plans to visit the site of an infamous Nazi massacre here Friday while marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied liberation of Rome. The tribute will arouse mixed feelings among Italians, many of whom still feel gratitude to America but are angered by U.S. policy in Iraq."

Caren Bohan writes for Reuters: "A trip to Europe to commemorate D-Day this week will give President Bush a chance to shore up his battered standing in the world, but he also faces political risk if he fails to enlist more help in stabilizing Iraq. . . .

"Analysts say the trip could give Bush a lift in opinion polls and help him counter criticism from Democratic rival John Kerry that he has 'shredded' U.S. credibility abroad."

But those same analysts tell Bohan that "any boost in Bush's approval ratings may prove fleeting if after this trip -- and another this month to Ireland and Turkey -- little is accomplished on Iraq and the U.S. death toll keeps climbing."

Cheney Watch

Susan Cornwell reports for Reuters: "House Democrats urged a special counsel on Wednesday to probe whether Vice President Dick Cheney broke the law through any involvement in the award of a government contract in Iraq to his old company, Halliburton Co."

Here's the text of the letter from the Democrats to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Rice Watch

Carolyn Lochhead writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that the national security adviser's star may be dimming.

"Condoleezza Rice is the face -- smooth, comforting and imperturbable -- that the Bush administration puts forward when things get rough. And things have been very rough of late.

"Wednesday's round of network interviews was typical, as the national security adviser and Bush confidante calmly declared that 'Iraq has turned a corner.' "

But, Lochhead writes: "Former Democratic Vice President Al Gore called her incompetent last week, giving voice in public to what some foreign policy analysts in Washington have been mumbling in private for months about the former Stanford University provost, figure skater and classical pianist once considered by the White House to have a shot at the California governorship."

The Quiet Medal Flip-Flop

Richard Leiby writes in The Washington Post: "After pressure from troops who wanted recognition for fighting in Iraq and in Afghanistan -- and not just in one all-encompassing 'Global War on Terrorism' -- President Bush quietly signed legislation Friday night establishing separate new medals for their service."

Bill sponsor Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.) "called the Global medal a 'purely political' device that sought to more closely connect the Iraq war to the fight against al Qaeda. He criticized Bush's decision to sign the law without fanfare: 'In Texas we would call it chicken[poop],' he told us yesterday."

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