Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bush called for a criminal investigation to ‘get to the bottom’ of the CIA leak scandal. It turns out he may be the bottom.

Farewell, Fig Leaf
Bush called for a criminal investigation to ‘get to the bottom’ of the CIA leak scandal. It turns out he may be the bottom.
By Eleanor Clift

April 7, 2006 - President Bush promised to restore honor and dignity to the White House. It was a not-so-veiled reference to the indiscretions of his predecessor. Bush relied on the trust that stemmed from his supposedly higher character to take the nation to war, a war we have since learned was waged on mostly made-up intelligence.

Lewis (Scooter) Libby’s claim that it was the president who authorized the leaking of classified information for political gain may not mean that Bush did anything illegal, but it sure strips away the last fig leaf of his moral standing. It places the president at the center of a schoolyard fight to bully retired ambassador Joseph Wilson into shutting up about the administration’s lies that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Africa. Wilson had traveled to Niger and reported back to the CIA that the claim was false, yet Bush made the alleged purchase a centerpiece of his case for war.

According to testimony by Libby—Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff—Bush gave the go-ahead through the vice president for the otherwise secretive and always dutiful Libby to leak the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to New York Times reporter Judith Miller. The leak set in motion the chain of events that led to the unmasking of Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife, as an undercover CIA officer who had been working for an energy-related front company while investigating nuclear proliferation. It is a serious crime to reveal the identity of a covert operative, and Bush called for a criminal investigation to “get to the bottom” of the scandal. It turns out he may be the bottom.

There is no evidence that Bush specifically authorized the leaking of Plame’s identity, and the White House is refusing to comment on an ongoing court case. But it’s not that far a reach to imagine that the president gave his tacit support to the leak. There’s nothing this administration won’t do under the guise of battling terrorism. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified on Capitol Hill this week that he wouldn’t rule out the president allowing warrantless wiretapping on Americans without the fiction that they are conversing with someone overseas. The only way the American people can stop Bush’s imperial expansion of power short is to turn out in massive numbers to take back one or the other body of Congress from Republican control.

Rebuilding public support for the war in Iraq is Bush’s top priority, and with his credibility crumbling, it looks like a mission impossible. Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, when asked about Iraq at a recent seminar in Delaware organized by Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, told the audience that whatever high expectation of success they might have had for Iraq, they should cut it in half. Those attending the “Biden seminar” thought that was a significant admission from a Republican who serves on the Armed Services Committee. When Graham left to take the train back to Washington, Biden was asked why he doesn’t talk more about the failures in Iraq. “Same reason I didn’t talk about Vietnam,” Biden said as he recounted the exchange at a luncheon Tuesday at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “It drove liberals crazy.”

Then, as now, Biden explained, most people’s minds are made up. Dwelling on defeat gives the other side propaganda points. “Ninety-five percent of the American people have formed their view [on Iraq]. Some are hoping against hope it can be pulled out [from disaster]. Others are convinced it is gone.” Given the skill with which this administration turned doubts about war against the Democrats in the last two elections, Biden says he doesn’t want to give Bush and Karl Rove an opening to say, “but for those Democrats, we could have done it.” He gets asked all the time why Democrats are afraid to just stand up and say we’ve lost in Iraq. “Because Bush lost,” says Biden. “This is Bush’s war, beginning, middle and end.”

Besides, Biden isn’t entirely certain Iraq is lost. When pressed, he says that achieving a good outcome there is the equivalent of a “three-point shot at the buzzer” from the far court. “But it’s possible.”

Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972 at age 29, has served with seven presidents. Assessing Bush in response to a question, he says that one of the things that he notices about the president is “a strong sense of conviction that grows from being able to beat [his drinking problem].” This is a president whose strength is a willingness to stand alone. If only he were doing it in the service of the duty and honor he once stood for instead of a bankrupt policy.