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Declassification power disclosed

By Pete Yost
Associated Press / February 16, 2006

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WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney disclosed yesterday that he has the power to declassify sensitive government information, authority that could set up a criminal defense for his former chief of staff, I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby.

Cheney's disclosure comes a week after reports that Libby testified under oath he was authorized by superiors in 2003 to disclose highly sensitive prewar information to reporters. The information, about Iraq and alleged weapons of mass destruction, was used by the Bush administration to bolster its case for invading Iraq.

At the time of Libby's contacts with reporters in June and July 2003, the administration including Cheney, who was among the war's most ardent proponents, faced growing criticism.

No weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, and Bush supporters were anxious to show that the White House had relied on prewar intelligence projecting a strong threat from such weapons.

When special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald revealed Libby's assertions to a grand jury that he had been authorized by his superiors to spread sensitive information, the prosecutor did not specify which superiors.

But in an interview on Fox, Cheney said there is an executive order that gives the vice president, along with the president, the authority to declassify information. ''I have certainly advocated declassification," he said.