Tuesday, September 30, 2003

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Drezner gets results from George W. Bush!!

Yesterday I wrote:

I am saying that the President could display a touch more of the outrage that his father hinted at four years ago. That, in itself, would send a powerful message to his staff.

Earlier today I wrote:

[W]hat I would like to see is a strong denunciation by President Bush about what took place... there's a big difference between assertions by intermediaries and a video feed of the President himself. The latter commands a lot more attention

From Fox News:

President Bush said Tuesday that he wanted to know who leaked a CIA employee's name to reporters, if in fact someone in his administration wrongly passed out the information.

“Leaks of classified information are bad things. We’ve got too much leaking in Washington,“ Bush said during a stop in Chicago. "I want to know who the leakers are.”

If a Justice Department investigation of the matter reveals that the leak was a violation of the law, the "person will be taken care of."

ABC News runs the quote as follows:

He said in Chicago that he had instructed his staff to cooperate with the investigation, and he also called for anyone outside the administration who had information about the matter to bring it forward.

"Leaks of classified information are bad things, and we've had too many lately in Washington," Bush said. "We've had leaks from the executive branch and leaks from the legislative branch. I want to know who the leakers are."

See, was that so hard? I would have phrased it a bit differently -- it still sounds a bit too clever to me. However, that statement -- plus a thorough Justice/FBI investigation -- are good if belated first steps for the administration to address this problem. [UPDATE: Josh Marshall appears not to be sated.]

Also check out Jack Shafer's Slate essay on the Plame game. Some highlights:

Novak's White House sources aren't the only potentially prosecutable leakers. The identity of an undercover operative such as Plame would not automatically be something in circulation at the White House. Somebody at the CIA would have had to tell the White House that Plame was Wilson's wife and that she was undercover. Any aggressive Justice dragnet is as likely to collect CIA employees as it is White House officials.

Besides, most Justice Department investigations of leakers go nowhere, even when Justice knows their identities. At his May 6, 1997, confirmation hearing, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet complained that the CIA files "crimes reports with the attorney general every week about leaks, and we're never successful in litigating one. And I think, you know, if we could just find one, I don't want to prosecute anybody; I want to fire somebody. That will send the right signal to people."....

Given that the White House knows who the leakers are, I would surmise that the administration will staunch the damage—and still the scandal—by strongly encouraging the leakers to offer themselves up for sacrifice out of duty to President Bush. If I were Bush, I'd avoid anything that could be construed as a coverup and start rehearsing my address to the nation about how a tiny precancerous lesion has been removed from the face of the presidency.

With his statement today, Bush is starting make the proper noises.

Definitely still developing....

UPDATE: Shafer has another Slate piece up that seems to take a harder line than the previously linked one. The highlights:

The Novak-Wilson-Plame story is so huge because 1) the leak appears (to some) to be a dirty trick designed to punish Wilson for going public on the July 6 New York Times op-ed page with his version of the Niger yellowcake uranium story; 2) it's against federal law ($50,000 in fines and 10 years in prison) for a government official who has access to classified information to disclose a covert agent's identity; 3) it indicates the extent to which the Bush administration will dissemble to sear its version of the war on terror on the public consciousness; and 4) we haven't had a good scandal joy ride in Washington since Monicagate....

[N]one of the reporters who talked to the White House sources filed the more newsworthy story: namely, that the normally leak-free administration was attempting to put Ambassador Wilson in an unflattering light by connecting his Niger mission in some nepotistic fashion to his wife's position as a CIA employee, and damage her cover in the process. Any of the reporters could have published a story about how an administration source was talking trash about Wilson without naming Valerie Plame or violating their confidentiality agreements. So, why didn't they? I can only assume that the reporters calculated that with confidential administration sources being so rare these days, they shouldn't do anything that would deter a future leak. So, they ignored the tip and declined to expose the leakers' skulduggery in hopes of getting a different—and perhaps less dicey—story leaked to them later.

The Novak-Wilson-Plame story illustrates in creepy fashion what happens when reporters, especially Washington reporters, become too beholden to their sources. They forget that they're supposed to answer to their readers, not their sources. And when they're obsessed with keeping their confidential sources happy, they end up missing the story.

posted by Dan on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM


That Jack Shafer piece is tripe, Dan. Not only does he say, as Atrios points out, that maybe this whole business of keeping the names of covert operatives out of the paper is way overblown, but he also suggests that the leak couldn't have done too much damage since the CIA didn't try to suppress further mentions of Plame after the Novak column. I mean, this is stupid, stupid stuff.

posted by: SqueakyRat on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

So just what exactly would sate Marshall on this story? Probably "Karl Rove frog-marched out of the Oval Office in handcuffs."

posted by: Mark Strassburg on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

I don't see how that statement W made can be considered a proper noise.. in all honesty it appears as if he's trying to duck the issue. I don't mind bland, general statements, but the bit about the legislative branch seems like a bad decoy.

posted by: spoon on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

At the end of the day, it is so odd how few of your readers "get it". Sure, we do not know all the facts of whether a crime was committed, but there is not doubt that a calculated leak took place.

Why Shafer is so lame is because he wants to throw all the side issues into the mix without addressing the only topic on the table:

What is the political fall-out and ramifications of using a leak for political purposes. As I have said so often today, we have three choices:

1) The leak was technically not illegal, and therefore there is no issue here; everyone leaks, this is politics, Wilson deserved it, etc.

2) The leak was not criminal but morally wrong and is reprehensible

3) The leak involved criminal conduct and the violaters, if identified should go to jail.

What else is there? Plame's resume on the Internet, Wilson's speeches, Novak's statements, they are all side issues.

posted by: Vital Information on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

I haven't perused the Bush-Hater sites yet, but I imagine there'll be some snarky comment about the phrase "the person will be taken care of", since that could be interpreted mutliple ways (especially if you are given to snark).

posted by: Al on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

So far, the pattern here looks a lot like the Trent Lott thing in terms of the cycle of response by the White House -- which is to say, uncomfortably deliberate but probably headed where the President needs to go (if this was Clinton, we'd be waiting years rather than days for him to get behind the investigation). If I was the one behind the link, I'd be hiring me a big Washington lawyer real soon, because once the Administration realizes it needs a scapegoat, the leaker's gonna wind up with as many friends in DC as the telemarketers.

posted by: Crank on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

I still don't understand what the CIA thinks it is doing. One interpretation (I can't think of a second) is that the CIA was really upset by Novak, and began climbing the ladder of escalation in late July. First telling the Justice Department that it believed a crime had been committed. Then returning to the Justice Department its eleven-point questionnaire on the damage potentially done to national security. Then...

Then (a) a briefing of Congressmen on the crime last week, coupled with (b) Tenet's (or whoever was "familiar with his thinking"'s) leaks to Allen and Priest over the weekend, followed by the deer-stuck-in-the-headlights responses of the White House ("no. He has no plans to ask his staff" et cetera).

Could this really have come as a *surprise* to the White House? Could they really have missed the flow of documents from CIA to Justice--and the CIA briefing of Congress on this crime?

It's very strange indeed from a bureaucratic-process perspective.

posted by: Brad DeLong on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

Brad --

My guess is that it's not a surprise to the WH, but they were giving it every chance to die on its own. And Tenet may not have given them a good idea how enraged the CIA is -- indeed, part of what's driving him may be heat from the ranks. After all, the WH managed to coast on this thing for 2 months.

posted by: SqueakyRat on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

It seems that the WH strategy for responding to these allegations is to continually refer to what happened as "leaks."

It's true, leaks did happen. But leaks are business as usual in DC, and the WH knows that. So look at at exactly what Bush says:

"Leaks of classified information are bad things, and we've had too many lately in Washington," Bush said. "We've had leaks from the executive branch and leaks from the legislative branch. I want to know who the leakers are."

So, this isn't good, but it's an example of something that happens all the time. And hey, Congress does it too!

I'd be surprised if we heard Bush say much about "revealing the identity of an undercover CIA agent working on WMD." Because _that_ doesn't happen all the time, and it isn't happening in the legislative branch.

"Leaks are bad, and this is just one more bad leak" seems to be the line they've decided to push.

posted by: JakeV on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

"Good first steps"? Dan, a GENUINE good first step would have been for the White House to announce yesterday that -- given its constantly proclaimed burning concern with American security in this dangerous time -- Bush was going to start making enquiries immediately as to who on the White House staff might have squealed the identity of a CIA covert agent, without waiting for the Justice Department to actually order him to do so. Presumably, you would also have regarded as a "good first step" Nixon's famous comment to his tape recorder about how Getting The Money Would Be Wrong.

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

Marshall isn't sated? Damn who'da thunk?

posted by: HH on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

I believe there are only bush policy hater sites; no one hates W.

thelrd in TEXAS

posted by: larry davis on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

The issue is not if Josh Marshall is sated. It is not his opinion that matters, he is only relevant because he has done some of the best reporting on this issue.

Now I do not want to paint all Republicans with this, but it is remarkable how some(including Bush) are using criticism of congress and Clinton as a defense. Bad stuff is done by a lot of people, Clinton was certainly no exception, but that is not defense for yourself, unless you think being impeached is a normal thing to happen in the course of a Presidency.

Bush has claimed a moral high ground on integrity and national security, and while I have been somewhat skeptical, I have never seen evidence that he has not had what he believes are the nation's interest in making policy.

This story is the first time that I am seeing evidence that he is putting his political career ahead of national security. Regardless of what Teddy Kennedy says attacking Iraq was a huge political risk (and one that looks like it might go bad at this point).

Bush has done everything with certainty and confidence. When he uses this attitude on something (such as protecting members of his White House from this investigation) that is not in the interests of this country things can look very bad.

As of right now I doubt Bush had any involvement with this. But as each day goes by when he does not flat out say "this is wrong, members of my staff (might) have done some thing wrong, and those people will be punished if anything is discovered" is a day when I get closer to concluding that he is not protecting others, but really protecting himself.

posted by: Rich on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

Interesting further notes from tonight's NY Times:

(1) "Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who led calls for a criminal investigation when Mr. Novak's column appeared in July, said he was troubled that the White House had waited until Tuesday morning, 12 hours after receiving formal notification from the Justice Department, to direct its staff not to destroy documents.

" 'Every good prosecutor knows that any delay could give a culprit time to destroy the evidence,' Mr. Schumer said."

Nice to see, as I say, that the so-security-minded Bush White House considers the revealing of a cover CIA operative's name -- especially one involved directly with the WMD hunt -- so important.

(2) "Republican officials said they were confident that the firestorm would blow over relatively quickly.

" 'The general view inside the White House among senior staff is that this is going to create a few rocky political days, that it's mainly the Democrats pushing it, and that if all the Republicans stay on board, the story goes away,' said a Republican worker with close ties to the White House."

Keep that in mind, Dan! (And it might be wise to have somebody else start your car in the morning for a while.)

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

There is a danger in this approach Bush has taken. This Administration has been rife with internecine leaking and counter-leaking. Now that the Man in the Oval Office has directed all his subordinates to "cooperate", I'm sure there is going to be some temptation for one of the intra-Administration factions to twist the knife by leaking the real identities and calling it "good" underneath the Presidential directive. This is a result of Bush's and Condi's pathetically lax discipline in bashing heads, and may back come to haunt them this time - again.

posted by: Oldman on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

Rich - He did flat out say that leaks are bad and any leakers will be punished. Parsing over "well, he mentioned other leaking" doesn't change that.

posted by: HH on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

HH, the point is that Bush is comparing this leak to garden-variety leaks like what someone said in a closed hearing. It's not. A CIA agent (WMD specialist, no less) was burned, and we really have no idea what the consequences are for her or her contacts going back 15 years.

Furthermore, if you're a CIA agent or someone who works with one, aren't you feeling a little jumpy about whether you (or the person you work with) might be outed, depending on which political winds are blowing in Washington?

This is a real blow to National Security, and it calls for an agressive response by Bush (using rhetoric more like that of his father's on the same subject). If we're serious about the CIA improving HumInt, we need to protect the agents. It's that simple.

This isn't, first and foremost, a political question, and it shouldn't be treated like one.

posted by: Joe on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

Actually there is a history of Reps and Senators burning undercover CIA officers.

posted by: Robin Roberts on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

Ok ...

Lets assume that Plame's identity was an open secret -- i.e. talked about and discussed around Washington.

That appears to be true.

Lets also assume that the retractions we are getting from the Post are true.

Care to list how many people might get prosecuted?

ex-ambassador Wilson, for starters. I'll bet any investigation will find 20-30 people he has disclosed the information to -- before the "leak."

His wife -- I'll bet she has confirmed her identity to 20-30 people as well -- before the leak.

The real question I have, is whether or not Novak put together the "common knowledge" with some passing comments by some white house source to make a composit story. Which snowballed.

Kind of like the Post story that the White House was shopping the story around, followed by the admission that no one from the White House contacted anyone at the Post *before* the Novak story, only afterwards. A gross overstatement (in fact, an outright lie) that kind of snowballed for a while (I still see it up here without any corrections ...)

Should be interesting.

posted by: Anon Again on 09.30.03 at 05:34 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?