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White House staff to take ethics refresher course

Beset by a tide of scandal and with one senior aide facing criminal charges, President George W Bush has ordered all his White House senior staff to take a refresher course in ethics.

The move, revealed on Saturday, is likely to be lauded by Republicans and derided by Democrats. It comes after a grim few months for Bush that has seen his second term declared by many critics to be a lame duck less than a year after his inauguration.

Particular damage has been inflicted by the Plamegate scandal, which involved the leak of a CIA agent’s identity by top official Lewis ”Scooter” Libby, who has resigned to fight a court case that could see him facing a lengthy jail term.

With Plamegate perhaps in mind, the internal memo announcing the courses said the briefings would place special emphasis on the rules governing the handling of classified information. The courses will be held this week, which might still be too late for several White House officials, including Bush’s political guru, Karl Rove, who is still under investigation by the investigation into Plamegate.

The courses will be mandatory for anyone in the White House who holds any level of security clearance. The week after will see further general ethical conduct courses held for other members of staff.

”The President has made clear his expectation that each member of his Executive Office of the President [EOP] staff adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of all rules governing ethical conduct for EOP staff,” the memo said. It added sternly: ”There will be no exceptions.”

Plamegate has been a political disaster for Bush, greatly weakening his political clout as the White House was forced to deal with a two-year inquiry into who leaked the name of agent Valerie Plame to the press.

Plame is married to former diplomat Joe Wilson, who became a vocal critic of the build-up to the Iraq war. Wilson believes that his wife’s name was published in order to punish him for his views and discourage other anti-war critics from speaking out.

But Plamegate is far from the only ethical issue to have beset Bush in recent months. The president’s close friend and political ally, Tom DeLay, has been forced to resign his post in the Republican party to fight a criminal probe into campaign finance fraud allegations.

That scandal has seen DeLay appear in court and have a smiling mugshot taken in a Texas jail plastered across the front pages of United States newspapers. Meanwhile, another leading Republican, Senator Bill Frist, has also become mired in accusations of insider trading. – Guardian Unlimited Â

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