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Bush renews backing of Rove, criticizes armed citizens’ patrols

WASHINGTON – President Bush expressed “complete confidence” in adviser Karl Rove on Monday, offering the first public endorsement since his embattled aide’s name surfaced as one of the administration officials who may have had a hand in unmasking an undercover CIA agent.

In an interview with five Texas newspapers, Bush urged observers not to “prejudge” a leak investigation that carries potential legal and political peril for his administration. “We’re in the midst of a serious investigation,” he said. “There is a very fine lawyer looking into all this, all the allegations.”

Speaking on the eve of his annual August retreat to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush also criticized the idea of armed citizens’ patrols on the Mexican border, and said he never asked Supreme Court nominee John Roberts his views on abortion.

The president, whose popularity has hit record lows in recent polls, returns to Texas on the heels of legislative victories, including passage of an energy bill, a Central American free trade measure and increased highway spending.

He faces numerous headaches during his retreat, however, including his stalled Social Security overhaul, the ongoing war in Iraq and a congressional GOP revolt over stem cell research.

Hanging over the White House this summer is the investigation into the news leak disclosing CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.

A special prosecutor is investigating whether administration officials illegally leaked the name of Plame, the wife of a critic of Bush’s Iraq policy. That critic, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, challenged the administration’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

The probe could also involve allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice. Investigators are trying to determine how Rove and other officials might have learned of Plame’s position, and whether their efforts violated a law making it illegal to disclose the names of undercover CIA agents.

In giving Rove a vote of confidence, Bush – who has also been interviewed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor – said too many people are making judgments based solely on news reports. “I will be glad to comment on the particulars of this investigation once it’s finished,” he said.


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