WASHINGTON - President Bush said Monday that if anyone in his administration committed a crime in connection with the public leak of the identity of an undercover CIA operative, that person will "no longer work in my administration."
At the same time, Bush again sidestepped a question on the role of his top political adviser, Karl Rove, in the matter.
"We have a serious ongoing investigation here and it's being played out in the press," Bush said at an East Room news conference.
Bush, appearing with visiting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, spoke a day after Time magazine's Matthew Cooper said that a 2003 phone call with Rove was the first he heard about the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson apparently working for the CIA.
Bush said in June 2004 that he would fire anyone in his administration shown to have leaked information that exposed the identity of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame. On Monday, however, he added the qualifier that it would have be shown that a crime was committed.
Asked at a June 10, 2004, news conference if he stood by his pledge to fire anyone found to have leaked Plame's name, Bush answered, "Yes. And that's up to the U.S. attorney to find the facts."
A tempest has swirled around the leak of the CIA agent's name, apparently by Bush administration officials, in July 2003.
Some Democrats have called for Rove, whose title is deputy chief of staff, to be fired. They have suggested that he violated a 1982 federal law that prohibits the deliberate exposure of the name of a CIA agent.
"It's best people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions. I don't know all the facts. I want to know all the facts," Bush said Monday. "I would like this to end as quickly as possible. If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration."
It was the second time that Bush, when asked specifically about Rove's involvement in the matter, passed up an opportunity to come to his adviser's defense.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Bush shouldn't wait for charges to be filed to take action.
"The standard for holding a high position in the White House should not simply be that you didn't break the law," he said. "It should be a lot higher and if Mr. Rove or anyone else aided and abetted the leaking of the name of an agent, even if they don't meet the narrow criminal standard, the president should ask for their resignation."
Bush has appeared with Rove at his side several times over the past week. And White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said Rove - as well anyone who works now at the White House - continues to have the president's confidence.
The president did not respond directly to a reporter's question on whether he disapproved of Rove's telling a reporter that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction issues.
Rove has not disputed that he told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked for the agency. But he has insisted through his lawyer that he did not mention her by name, nor did he intend to "out" her.
Cooper said Sunday that a 2003 phone call with White House political adviser Karl Rove was the first he heard about the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson apparently working for the CIA.
Giving a first-person account of his role in a case that nearly landed him in jail, the reporter disclosed that Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, also was a source for the story mentioning Plame.
Cooper recalled that Rove told him, "I've already said too much" after revealing that the wife of the former ambassador apparently was with the CIA.
Cooper speculated in the piece, released Sunday, that Rove could have been "worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else."
"I don't know, but that signoff has been in my memory for two years," Cooper wrote. The White House and Rove's lawyer have stressed that Rove never mentioned Plame by name.
At issue in a federal grand jury investigation into whether someone in the administration violated a federal statute by publicly disclosing the identity of Plame as an undercover CIA operative.
The White House had insisted for nearly two years that neither Rove nor Libby had any connection with the leak. For the last two weeks, however, it has steadfastly declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing probe by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald probe.
It took the same tack Sunday, as spokesman David Almacy declined specifically to comment about Libby, citing an independent counsel's ongoing investigation of the case.
Writing an account of a conversation he had with Libby, Cooper said, "Libby replied, 'Yeah, I've heard that too' or words to that effect" when he asked if Libby had heard anything about Wilson's wife sending her husband to Africa to investigate the possible sale of uranium to Iraq for nuclear weapons.
As part of Fitzgerald's criminal investigation, Cooper testified about his conversation with Libby in a deposition at his lawyer's office in August 2004. Libby, as Rove did this month, provided a specific waiver of confidentiality. In a grand jury appearance last Wednesday, Cooper gave his account of what Rove told him.