In the fall of 2003 Bush insisted that no one in his administration had leaked classified information - and that if he learned that anyone had, he would take appropriate action.
"Listen," Bush said in response to a reporter's question in Chicago on Sept. 30, 2003, "I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action.
"There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington," Bush said then. "And if there is leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of."
There are about 4,000 people in the federal government with authority to classify information, according to the National Archives. The president and vice president have the power to declassify information, according to an executive order Bush had updated as recently as March 2003.
The president's authority to keep and reveal secrets also is inherent in his constitutional powers, says J. William Leonard, director of the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office, and the president does not have to follow any particular procedure in declassifying information.
"It's his authority in the first place," Leonard said.
While Bush's use of classified information may create a political problem for him, it's not a legal issue, said Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer who frequently represents CIA employees and others involved in national security issues. As the author of the executive order governing how information is classified, Bush can declassify something simply by declaring so, Zaid said.
"Since the president is the one who issues the order, ergo he obviously has the authority to classify and declassify information," Zaid said yesterday.
But members of Congress and others said the action by the president, surfacing at a time when his administration has launched investigations into leaks disclosing controversial anti-terror policies, was evidence that the White House was maintaining a double standard in connection with guarding the nation's secrets.
Bush had exercised his authority in cooperating with journalist Bob Woodward in writing Bush at War, an account of the response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "That book is replete with classified information" that Bush declassified by discussing it with Woodward, Zaid maintains.
Still, the new revelation has stirred a political storm.
Two Democrats, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, fired off letters to Bush demanding answers. Waxman asked whether the president had politicized intelligence.
"Two recent revelations raise grave new questions about whether you, the vice president, and your top advisers have engaged in a systematic abuse of the national security classification process for political purposes," Waxman wrote.
Mark Silva and Andrew Zajac write for the Chicago Tribune. The Los Angeles Times contributed to this article.