WASHINGTON - An angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair, sources told the Daily News.
"He made his displeasure known to Karl," a presidential counselor told The News. "He made his life miserable about this."
Bush has nevertheless remained doggedly loyal to Rove, who friends and even political adversaries acknowledge is the architect of the President's rise from baseball owner to leader of the free world.
As special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald nears a decision, perhaps as early as today, on whether to issue indictments in his two-year probe, Bush has already circled the wagons around Rove, whose departure would be a grievous blow to an already shell-shocked White House staff and a President in deep political trouble.
Asked if he believed indictments were forthcoming, a key Bush official said he did not know, then added: "I'm very concerned it could go very, very badly."
"Karl is fighting for his life," the official added, "but anything he did was done to help George W. Bush. The President knows that and appreciates that."
Other sources confirmed, however, that Bush was initially furious with Rove in 2003 when his deputy chief of staff conceded he had talked to the press about the Plame leak.
Bush has always known that Rove often talks with reporters anonymously and he generally approved of such contacts, one source said.
But the President felt Rove and other members of the White House damage-control team did a clumsy job in their campaign to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, the ex-diplomat who criticized Bush's claim that Saddam Hussen tried to buy weapons-grade uranium in Niger.
A second well-placed source said some recently published reports implying Rove had deceived Bush about his involvement in the Wilson counterattack were incorrect and were leaked by White House aides trying to protect the President."Bush did not feel misled so much by Karl and others as believing that they handled it in a ham-handed and bush-league way," the source said.
Now assuming this story is true, how does this revelation square with the following statement by the President to the Press:
Q Mr. President, on another issue, the CIA leak-gate. What is your confidence level in the results of the DOJ investigation about any of your staffers not being found guilty or being found guilty? And what do you say to critics of the administration who say that this administration retaliates against naysayers?
PRESIDENT BUSH: First of all, I'm glad you brought that question up. This is a very serious matter, and our administration takes it seriously. As members of the press corps here know, I have, at times, complained about leaks of security information, whether the leaks be in the legislative branch or in the executive branch. And I take those leaks very seriously.
And, therefore, we will cooperate fully with the Justice Department. I've got all the confidence in the world the Justice Department will do a good, thorough job. And that's exactly what I want them to do, is a good, thorough job. I'd like to know who leaked, and if anybody has got any information inside our government or outside our government who leaked, you ought to take it to the Justice Department so we can find out the leaker.
I have told my staff, I want full cooperation with the Justice Department. And when they ask for information, we expect the information to be delivered on a timely basis. I expect it to be delivered on a timely basis. I want there to be full participation, because, April, I am most interested in finding out the truth.
And, you know, there's a lot of leaking in Washington, D.C. It's a town famous for it. And if this helps stop leaks of -- this investigation in finding the truth, it will not only hold someone to account who should not have leaked -- and this is a serious charge, by the way. We're talking about a criminal action, but also hopefully will help set a clear signal we expect other leaks to stop, as well. And so I look forward to finding the truth.
Q What about retaliation? People are saying that it's retaliation --
PRESIDENT BUSH: I don't know who leaked the information, for starters. So it's hard for me to answer that question until I find out the truth. You hear all kinds of rumors. And the best way to clarify the issue is for full participation with the Justice Department.
These are professionals who are professional prosecutors who are leading this investigation, and we look forward to -- look, I want to know. I want to know, and the best way to do this is for there to be a good, thorough investigation, which, apparently, is going to happen soon. And all I can tell you is inside the White House, we've said, gather all the information that's requested and get it ready to be analyzed by the Justice Department.