Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Whatever Already Editorial!

On Sept. 30, 2003, upon learning that the Department of Justice had commenced a criminal investigation to determine who in his administration leaked Valerie Plame's identity as a clandestine CIA operative to columnist Robert Novak, President Bush had this to say: "I want to know who it is and if the person has violated the law. The person will be taken care of."

Later on Oct. 6, 2003, President Bush was even more emphatic in asserting that he would hold accountable whoever had leaked derogatory information to the press about Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, saying: "If anybody has got any information inside our government who leaked, you ought to take it to the Justice Department, so we can find the leaker." The unauthorized disclosure, Bush said, was a "very serious matter" and a "criminal action."

I know that the President is a busy man, and he probably does not read the American Prospect Online. I don't always read it that regularly myself (especially when they are late in sending me a pay check). And when I called the White House seeking a comment for my for my last TAP story about the Plame affair, it was an intern who handled my query. (I am not joking.) I have actually had had my inquiries taken more seriously when I have called the White House seeking comment for a post for my blog. (Again, no kidding.)

Perhaps the President or someone on the White House senior staff reads my blog?!

In my TAP Online story, I disclosed that an administration official had testified to a federal grand jury that two days before columnist Robert Novak named Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative, the official had told a reporter for the Washington Post that Plame's husband, former ambassador Wilson, had only been sent on a sensitive diplomatic mission to Niger because his wife had purportedly recommended him for the job. In his testimony to the grand jury, the Bush administration official asserted that he did not tell the Post reporter, Walter Pincus, that Plame was a clandestine CIA officer. And in his own statements to prosecutors, Pincus has largely backed up the official's version of events. Still, the official testified it was his intent to discredit Wilson, a critic of the administration's Iraq policy.

It is more likely than not that the Bush administration official did not violate federal law, in that there is no strong evidence that the official acted with the purposeful intent to out a clandestine CIA officer. It is also unclear as to whether the official who spoke to Pincus was one of the two "senior administration officials" who spoke to Novak.

But clearly the official was acting recklessly in bandying around the fact to a Washington Post reporter that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA, and that Wilson only was sent to Niger as a result of her purported nepotism. Only two short days later, if Novak can be trusted, two administration officials told Novak much the same story. As a result, Plame was identified in Novak's column as a CIA "operative"; ongoing intelligence operations were impaired; sensitive intelligence sources were endangered; and the war on terrorism was undermined.

If the President were interested in knowing who this official is, all that he needs to do at this point is inquire amongst his own senior staff. What he does next-- discipline the official in some meaningful way, fire him, slap him on the wrist, or simply glare at him-- is up to the President. But George W. Bush is the President of the United States, and he can take whatever action he sees fit, or at least explain in the interim, why he remains silent and does nothing.

The time is long overdue for the President to speak to this issue.

Note to readers: In the future, there will be a most strict separation between those who break news for my blog (me), and those who write editorials and commentary. In due course, those who break news (me) and those who will write editorials will not even be allowed to speak to one another! However, for the time being, I am unable to afford to take on an editorial writer...

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