Thursday, April 06, 2006

SO TODAY'S BOMBSHELL IS THE NEWS that Pres. Bush okayed the leaking of classified information about Iraq, which resulted in the outing of Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative (although that was not Bush's motivation for authorizing the leak).

A former White House aide under indictment for obstructing a leak probe, I. Lewis Libby, testified to a grand jury that he gave information from a closely-guarded "National Intelligence Estimate" on Iraq to a New York Times reporter in 2003 with the specific permission of President Bush, according to a new court filing from the special prosecutor in the case.

The court papers from the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, do not suggest that Mr. Bush violated any law or rule. However, 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.

Mr. Fitzgerald's inquiry initially focused on the alleged leak, which occurred after a former ambassador who is Ms. Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times questioning the accuracy of statements Mr. Bush made about Iraq's nuclear procurement efforts in Africa.

After Joseph Wilson's visit to Niger cast doubt on the administration's linchpin argument for invading Iraq -- that Iraq had been trying to purchase uranium from Niger to make nuclear weapons -- the president approved the release of classified information to prop up the White House's claims.

Technically, Bush declassified the information as soon as he authorized its leaked release to the press -- so it was no longer classified by the time it was published. This is according to administration lawyers. But it's not clear that the president has the legal standing to unilaterally declassify documents -- and even if the president did have that authority, it's pretty sleazy to declassify only the information that will tend to support your administration's policy choices.

Even Ace of Spades, who is as uncritically pro-Bush as they come, allows as how this might not be the correct way to declassify information -- right before he lets Bush off the hook for doing it:

Libby says that Cheney told him the disclosures were legal, as by authorizing the disclosure, Bush had effectively declassified the documents.

I'm not sure if that's correct legally, though administration lawyers supposedly approved it. Certainly it's not the preferred method of declassification, which would be to, you know, officially declassify the document (or parts thereof) and make it public, rather than selectively leaking it to reporters.

But given the nature of the war between the CIA and Bush Administration, perhaps Bush thought the CIA and other intelligence services were claiming that anything that helped him were "classified" and could not be made public, while meanwhile leaking like sieves anything that cast the Administration in a bad light. [Emphasis added.]
After Cheney, via Bush, gave Libby the okay to leak the classified information, Libby met with Judith Miller, then with the New York Times. But Murray Waas writes in today's edition of National Journal that Bush and Cheney may also have given Libby the green light to leak classified information to several journalists -- Bob Woodward among them -- when they felt that information would buttress the administration's case for war.

Although not reflected in the court papers, two senior government officials said in interviews with National Journal in recent days that Libby has also asserted that Cheney authorized him to leak classified information to a number of journalists during the run-up to war with Iraq. In some instances, the information leaked was directly discussed with the Vice President, while in other instances Libby believed he had broad authority to release information that would make the case to go to war.

In yet another instance, Libby had claimed that President Bush authorized Libby to speak to and provide classified information to Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward for Plan of Attack, a book written by Woodward about the run-up to the Iraqi war.

Via Pacific Views, here is the complete text of the court papers filed by Patrick Fitzgerald.

Barbara O'Brien posts the meatiest section of the filing, and helps us understand it.

Josh Marshall theorizes that Bush did not declassify anything; he merely allowed classified information to be given to reporters. And then Josh suggests a simple test to see if his theory is true:

After the president authorized Libby, did anyone else in the government know that the Iraq NIE was no longer classified? Was there any change in the NIE's official status?

Kevin Drum effectively answers Josh's question.

You might think that the White House press corps would be interested in this story. But if you did, you would be wrong.

The Raw Story has Jane Harman's reaction to today's revelations:

"If the disclosure is true, it's breathtaking. The President is revealed as the Leaker-in-Chief.

"Leaking classified information to the press when you want to get your side out or silence your critics is not appropriate.

"The reason we classify things is to protect our sources - those who risk their lives to give us secrets. Who knows how many sources were burned by giving Libby this 'license to leak'?

"If I had leaked the information, I'd be in jail. Why should the President be above the law?

"The President has the legal authority to declassify information, but there are normal channels for doing so. Telling an aide to leak classified information to the New York Times is not a normal channel. A normal declassification procedure would involve going back to the originating agency, such as the CIA, and then putting out a public, declassified version of the document.

"I am stunned that the President won't tell the full the Intelligence Committee about the NSA program because he's allegedly concerned about leaks, when it turns out that he is the Leaker-in-Chief."

Juan Cole thinks that if you used a computer program to meld the faces of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, the resulting visage would be that of George W. Bush.

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