The same prez who now wants to prosecute whoever blew the whistle on his warrantless domestic spying operations (aka “Snoopgate”) is alleged to have given Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, permission to leak information--including reports about Saddam Hussein’s storied weapons of mass destruction--from a classified “National Intelligence Estimate” (NIE) on Iraq to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in 2003. Word of this comes from a new court filing by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the continuing CIA leak scandal. Seems he received the info straight from the horse’s ass ... er, horse’s mouth--the indicted Libby himself, according to a story in today’s New York Sun.
Even if this allegation is true, Bush may not have broken any laws. As Salon’s indispensible War Room blog notes today, “An executive order issued by Bush in March 2003 gives the president and vice president specific authority to declassify documents at will. (See Sec. 1.3 here.) It is plausible, if not likely, that the president’s authorization of Libby to talk to Miller about the NIE amounted to declassifying the document.” However, observes the Sun, “the new disclosure could be awkward for the president because it places him, for the first time, directly in a chain of events that led to a meeting where prosecutors contend the identity of a CIA employee, Valerie Plame, was provided to a reporter.” (What this new document does not include, though, is an admission by Libby that Cheney or anyone else in the Republican administration gave him permission to reveal Plame’s identity to the press, in retaliation against her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who in a July 2003 New York Times op-ed column had questioned Bush’s rationale for attacking Saddam. Still, Fitzgerald says he has evidence of a coordinated effort by the White House to discredit Wilson.)
Furthermore, news that Bush and Cheney were complicit in this leaking contradicts, or at the least illuminates obfuscations in, several of the most emphatic statements made by the prez or his surrogates. To wit:
“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.” (Bush, 9/30/03)And, of course, there’s White House spokesman “Stonewall Scotty” McClellan’s statement to newsies on October 7, 2003:
Speaking to reporters: “I want to know the truth. ... I have no idea whether we’ll find out who the leaker is, partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers.” (Bush, 10/28/03)
“Let me answer what the President has said. I speak for the President and I’ll talk to you about what he wants ... If someone leaked classified information, the President wants to know. If someone in this administration leaked classified information, they will no longer be a part of this administration, because that’s not the way this White House operates, that’s not the way this President expects people in his administration to conduct their business.”It seems pretty clear from all of this that the Republican administration intended--once more--to mislead the American public. But Libby’s statements, as reported in the Fitzgerald filing, leave Bush with ample wiggle room. It’s the difference again between truth and “truthiness.” Consider: Although he may have authorized Cheney to inform his top aide that he was free to divulge “key judgments of the classified NIE” to reporter Miller, the prez could still argue with a straight face that he didn’t know that Libby had in fact done so. McClellan further covered Bush’s posterior by saying that “if someone leaked classified information,” that individual would “no longer be part of this administration.” This gets back to Salon’s point, that Bush’s giving Libby his permission to speak with Miller might--I repeat, might--constitute declassifying the NIE in question. Even the prez’s seemingly straightforward statement in July 2005, that “If someone committed a crime [by leaking classified information to reporters], they will no longer work in my administration” is little more than a legalistic equivocation, if what Scooter Libby did cannot, because of Bush’s consent, be considered a crime.
None of this adds up to Bush demanding anywhere near “the highest standards of conduct,” as McClellan once insisted the prez did. Instead, we’re talking about Bush’s very own version of the “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” defense. How can he honestly expect Americans to trust him, when he demonstrates at nearly every opportunity that he can’t be trusted? But then, honesty--or lack of it--is what this issue is all about.
HYPOCRITE IN CHIEF: There’s a good piece in Slate about Bush’s role in the Libby-Miller leaking, written by the masterful John Dickerson. My favorite part:
The press corps--and bloggers--will likely compile a yards-long list of occasions when the president has denounced leaking, but it’s worth asking the philosophical question: Can the president even be a leaker? For a leak to be real, it has to be unsanctioned. Once a piece of secret information gets unwrapped (by the president no less), it’s not a leak, it’s part of a communications strategy. It’s national policy. So, maybe he’s not a leaker.Read the whole story here.
But he is certainly a hypocrite. It’s one thing to declassify information; it’s another thing to present information to a reporter as though it were classified to preserve the shadow authenticity that comes with a leak. Bush wanted to have the information out there but not have to account for it or explain it.
All presidents engage in this hypocrisy, but Bush has made it Texas-sized by putting on such a show about leaks during his time in office. He’s done everything short of forming a Department of Anti-Leaking. The most recent example has been the attack on the New York Times for printing leaks about the NSA wiretap operation, but President Bush has been at it for years. In October 2001, after reading a Washington Times story that described terrorist camps in Afghanistan that the CIA and Pentagon had targeted for destruction, Bush told aides, “an act of treason was committed in the newspaper this morning.” He called the four top congressional leaders to inform them that he had ordered the FBI, CIA, and Pentagon to sharply reduce the number of lawmakers eligible for classified briefings on the war. Members of Congress, Bush was saying, could not be trusted. Bush backed down a week later, and the pertinent members of Congress were quickly brought back into the loop.
READ MORE: “Libby Says Bush Authorized Leaks,” by Murray Waas (National Journal); “The Deception Bush Can’t Spin,” by Joe Conason (Salon); “All of a Sudden, It’s a Scandal Again,” by Steve Benen (The Carpetbagger Report); “Something Doesn’t Add Up Here,” by Anonymous Liberal (Unclaimed Territory); “Court Papers: Bush, Cheney OK’ed Leaks,” by John Nichols (The Nation); “The Founders Never Imagined a Bush Administration,” by Gary Hart (The Huffington Post).