Friday, April 07, 2006

SCOTT McCLELLAN'S RESPONSE to questions from the White House press corps about yesterday's news that Pres. Bush authorized the leaking of classified information to the press:

"The president can declassify information if he chooses," McClellan told reporters. "It's inherent in our Constitution. The president would never authorize the disclosure of information that he thought could compromise the nation's security."

Inherent in our Constitution, eh? Meaning, not written in the Constitution but implied, like the right to privacy? Tell me: Where is it written in the Constitution that the president of the United States can selectively release classified information whenever he wishes, without informing anyone or going through standard declassification procedures? Once again we see that Pres. Bush becomes a believer in the "living Constitution" when it suits his purposes.

Josh Marshall gives us McClellan's response to a reporter who asks whether Pres. Bush thinks it appropriate to unilaterally declassify information given how critical he has been of administration leakers in the past.

The President has been critical about the leaking of classified information. And that view has not changed. Leaking classified information that could compromise our nation's security is a very serious matter. The President would never authorize disclosure of information that could compromise our nation's security.

So, the reporter follows up, no harm done, right?

QUESTION: So no harm done, is what you're saying?

Scott McClellan: Now the disclosing, the unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to a program like the terrorist surveillance program is harmful to our nation's security. It provides the enemy our play book, and the enemy can adapt and adjust when they learn about our tactics. And General Hayden has talked about how that is harmful to our nation's security. Others in the administration have talked about how that has been harmful to our nation's security. So there's a distinction --

QUESTION: So you're specifically saying no harm done --

Scott McClellan: -- there's a distinction between declassifying information that is in the public interest and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that could compromise our nation's security.

Note how McClellan parses his language. When the president gives his staff permission to leak classified information to the press, he is "declassifying information that is in the public interest." When administration insiders leak classified information to expose presidential wrongdoing or a pattern of public deception, they are engaging in "the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that could compromise our nation's security."

McClellan declares that Bush was only trying to counter charges that he used flawed intelligence to justify war; that he was only trying to prove that the prewar intelligence on Saddam's contacts with Niger were true:

... McClellan ... said a decision was made to declassify and release some information to rebut "irresponsible and unfounded accusations" that the administration had manipulated or misused prewar intelligence to buttress its case for war.

"That was flat-out false," Mr. McClellan said.

Mr. McClellan was barraged at a news briefing by questions over assertions by I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, that President Bush authorized him, through Mr. Cheney, in July 2003 to disclose key parts of what was until then a classified prewar intelligence estimate on Iraq.

At the time, the Pentagon had hardly finished basking in the easy military victory when it was caught up in questions over the failure to find deadly unconventional weapons in Iraq -- the main rationale for going to war.

One of the findings in the prewar intelligence data was that Saddam Hussein was probably seeking fuel for nuclear reactors.

Mr. McClellan said the Democrats who pounced on Mr. Libby's assertions, contained in a court document filed on Wednesday, were "engaging in crass politics" in refusing to recognize the distinction between legitimate disclosure of sensitive information in the public interest and the irresponsible leaking of intelligence for political reasons.

But if it was "in the public interest" to reveal classified information to "rebut" allegations that prewar intelligence was false, then why was it not in the public interest for Bush to support what he claimed the intelligence showed before the war, by leaking the classified documents then? Why is exactly the same information too sensitive for the public to know about in March 2003, but important for the public to know three years later, after the president's key justification for the invasion was shown to be groundless?

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