Bushies take aim at probe



WASHINGTON - President Bush's damage-control handlers are plotting a sophisticated war room offensive to fight back against possible indictments in the CIA leak probe.

Trying to change the subject yesterday, Bush announced a new Federal Reserve chairman and convened his cabinet to signal business as usual at his beleaguered White House.

Behind the scenes, however, Team Bush was finalizing its campaign to discredit and undermine special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's conclusions, sources told the Daily News.

The White House strategy is counting on major help from GOP allies and neocon commentators who turned on Bush for naming Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and are now looking for redemption with a miffed President.

An emerging theme in the Bush war room is arguing that his top political aide, Karl Rove, simply got tripped up on his recollections of whom he talked to and what he told them when questioned about the outing of CIA spy Valerie Plame. He shouldn't be indicted simply because of contradictory grand jury testimony, a source said.

Bush allies have already begun casting perjury and obstruction charges as irrelevant in a probe created to find out who leaked classified information.

The probe may also have big stakes for Vice President Cheney. One of the possible suspects is the veep's top aide Lewis (Scooter) Libby. The New York Times reported today that Libby wrote a note after a conversation with Cheney that indicated the veep informed him of Plame's identity. The conversation occurred several weeks before Plame's name became public and it would contradict Libby's testimony.

Yesterday, with Rove and Libby looking on grim-faced from the back rows of the Cabinet Room, Bush said, "This is a very serious investigation, and I haven't changed my mind about whether or not I'm going to comment on it publicly," Bush said.

Bush critics are also gearing up, pulling together statements from Republicans, including Bush himself, who supported perjury and obstruction allegations against President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Asked in 1999 about Clinton's impeachment by the House, Bush responded, "I would have voted for it. I thought the man lied."

A senior Senate Democratic aide said, "When it's about perjury and obstruction and it deals with sex, Republicans think it's worthy of impeachment. When it's about perjury and obstruction dealing with national security, they don't take it seriously."