Saturday, April 08, 2006

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer

So I thought George W. Bush was against leaks.

And that he was especially against leaks of classified information.

"If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is," the president said a couple of years ago.

Bush took that stance again and again in the Valerie Plame case, and said he would fire anyone who was found to have committed a crime by leaking classified stuff.

On that score, Bush is probably safe from having to fire himself, despite Scooter Libby's accusation yesterday that the president, through Dick Cheney, had authorized him to feed classified CIA data to Judy Miller. The reason: It's legal for the president to declassify something that otherwise would remain super-secret.

Politically, it's a mess.

The president finds it acceptable to authorize the sharing of government secrets with a New York Times reporter when it's advantageous to the administration? And have the vice president's chief of staff carry it out? What else don't we know about this case?

From the moment this was broken yesterday morning by National Journal's Murray Waas and the New York Sun's Josh Gerstein , television has been all over it, the Democrats have been all over it, and the White House is going to have to figure out a way to respond.

I'll be watching to see how much of the pushback comes from anonymous aides.

Some MSM [Main Stream Media] coverage:

"The testimony, cited in a court filing by the government late Wednesday, provides the first indication that Mr. Bush, who has long assailed leaks of classified information as a national security threat, played a direct role in the disclosure of the intelligence report on Iraq at a moment that the White House was trying to defend itself against charges that it had inflated the case against Saddam Hussein," says the New York Times .

"If Mr. Libby's account is accurate, it also involves Mr. Bush directly in the swirl of events surrounding the disclosure of the identity of an undercover C.I.A. officer."

Los Angeles Times : "Experts in national security law say a decision by President Bush to authorize the leak of classified information to a reporter probably would not be illegal. "But if Bush did so -- as a former top White House aide has testified he did -- there could be significant damage to the credibility of a president who has repeatedly and publicly expressed his abhorrence of leaks. . . .

"But the experts also said that if the testimony of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was true, Bush's actions violated a traditional unwritten understanding that any declassification decision would be made in close consultation with intelligence officials."

Boston Globe : "The possibility that Bush authorized a selective leak to a single correspondent suggests a desire to shape the news to the administration's ends -- a possible misuse of the president's national security powers. . . .

"Such tactics are hardly unusual in politics, but would seem to damage the credibility of a president who has built a reputation for forthrightness, and who has gone further than previous presidents both in keeping information secret and in launching Justice Department investigations of alleged leakers."

Chicago Tribune : "It was Bush himself, answering a reporter's question in Chicago after speaking with business leaders at the University of Chicago, on Sept. 30, 2003, who said: 'Listen, I know of nobody -- 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. And this investigation is a good thing.

" 'Leaks of classified information are a bad thing,' Bush said then. 'And we've had them -- there's too much leaking in Washington. That's just the way it is. And we've had leaks out of the administrative branch, had leaks out of the legislative branch, and out of the executive branch and the legislative branch, and I've spoken out consistently against them and I want to know who the leakers are.' ''

Hey, no fair, using the guy's own words against him!

American Prospect's Greg Sargent surmises a campaign coverup:

"The thing about the Plame investigation that never quite seemed to make sense was this: Why would Libby or Rove deliberately mislead the grand jury, risking perjury charges when it wasn't clear the leak was a crime?

"Thanks to Waas, for the first time, we may now know for a fact that Rove and other Bush advisers viewed the truth about the run-up to war as something that could destroy his re-election prospects. It is entirely plausible that Bush advisers calculated that if it came out that they'd outed Plame, Congress would have been forced by the resulting firestorm to run a far more aggressive investigation of Bush's pre-war deceptions -- and possibly uncover the smoking gun Waas reports on, among other things. Remember, Libby and Rove testified in early 2004, during the heat of a presidential campaign which Rove himself had apparently concluded was at risk if existing hard evidence of Bush's deceptions surfaced.

"So it seems plausible that Libby and Rove sought to minimize the chance of the aggressive congressional oversight that might have resulted if it became known that they'd outed Plame. In short, misleading the grand jury about Plame may simply have been a key piece of a broader effort to get past the election before the truth about the run-up to the war surfaced to sink his campaign."

Americablog's John Aravosis says Bush is guilty of that which he rails against:

"While it's not clear whether Bush did or didn't authorize Libby to leak Valerie Plame's name, we now know that Bush himself is a leaker - Bush thinks leaks of classified information are a-okay and a worthwhile and acceptable tool of politics. And Bush himself is directly responsible for leaking classified information to - whom? - why REPORTERS! The very people who Bush now has the Justice Department investigating for receiving leaks of classified information regarding secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. So, Bush authorized leaks of classified information to reporters, yet he's investigating people in his administration for leaking classified information to reporters. It's good to be king."

Andrew Sullivan says the White House went nuclear for little reason:

"Cheney's judgment in this matter is extremely odd. Who really cared about Joseph Wilson's op-ed? Why the extreme defensiveness and then recklessness of the Plame leak? We're either talking extreme hubris here, or someone who felt he had a lot to hide. Or an admixture of the two."

Salon's Joe Conason says this one is beyond spin:

"Compared with other deceptions that George W. Bush has perpetrated in the years since he promised to restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office, this one cannot be spun away as a misunderstanding, a 'misunderestimate' or a mistake. From the moment that the Justice Department opened its probe of the disclosure of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert CIA identity to the press, Bush insisted that he wanted to find and punish the culprits, especially if any of them were among his White House staff. He claimed to consider the leaking of classified information to be a matter of the utmost seriousness."

Georgia10 at Kos says someone ain't leveling here:

"Did the President personally authorize the selected release of classified information meant to manipulate public opinion about Iraq? Or did Cheney lie? If Cheney corroborates Scooter Libby's story, he implicates the President. If he denies it, he calls his former Chief of Staff a liar.

Blogger Austin Bay begs to differ:

"The sudden press flap over Scooter Libby's alleged 'revelation' that President Bush declassified intelligence information related to Iraq is silly but all too predictable. The entire flap relies on mixing terms and 'misunderstanding by innuendo' -- a technique of demagoguery, not journalism. The flap is yet more evidence that the national press is more interested in playing "gotcha" with the Bush Administration than reporting the news. . . .

"CNN is exploring another angle: that the White House is 'hypocritical' because it has come down hard on leaks. But a word is missing in this accusation: "unauthorized." The White House has indeed come down hard on anyone leaking classified information. The White House has also been tough on executive branch employees who pass information via unauthorized leaks. The president wants to control the dissemination of information and has made that clear. The information released today said that what Libby leaked as declassified and authorized -- but try getting that clear on a T.V. squawk show where the game is gotcha."

So there's no hypocrisy because Bush's leaks are authorized and the others are unauthorized? C'mon.

Seems to me Bush's defenders are all going legalistic on us. National Review's Byron York :

"I confess to being a little baffled by the excitement. . . . As for leaking portions of the National Intelligence Estimate, yes, it was classified, although it would later be declassified. But it should be remembered that when the president decides to make something public, then it can be made public."

That's right, and if we had learned that Bill Clinton had leaked CIA data to Sidney Blumenthal at the New Yorker to justify the war in Bosnia, I'm sure conservatives would have yawned and said the prez was merely exercising his legal powers.

Anyone see a contradiction between these next two paragraphs?

"Senate Republicans killed an immigration bill yesterday that they said would grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and then cast doubt on the fate of a new bill that would grant the same amnesty to a slightly smaller portion of illegals," says the Washington Times .

"'We've made huge progress,' Majority Leader Bill Frist said of the new bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mel Martinez of Florida, that would give a direct path to citizenship for workers who have resided illegally in the U.S. for five years or more."

So much for compromise.