GOP Cornered by Bush Leak
That President Bush authorized Scooter Libby to selectively leak portions of the highly classified October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate as part of a coordinated assault on Joseph Wilson and other debunkers of pre-war Iraq WMD claims should come as a surprise to no one. What is surprising is that at least one Republican has the courage and the honesty to acknowledge the hypocrisy and shamelessness of a President now revealed as "leaker-in-chief."
Representative Ray Lahood, an Illinois Republican and staunch Bush ally, declared that the White House has to come clean. "This is a very significant disclosure. This is big," Lahood said. "They're going to have to comment on it. They owe all of us an explanation, all of us who trust him, and they owe the American people an explanation."
Don't expect an acceptable explanation from President Bush anytime soon. Bush, after all, had been vocal about his desire to find and punish leakers. After the New York Times revealed the illegal NSA domestic wiretapping program, Bush on December 19, 2005 went on the offensive, "it is a shameful act by somebody who has got secrets of the United States government and feels like they need to disclose them publicly."
Shameful, that is, unless you're attacking a critic of the administration like Joe Wilson. In the fall of 2003, President Bus mouthed all the usual platitudes about "my displeasure with leaks" regarding the disclosure of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. But on October 7, 2003 Bush was in retrospect understandably coy about what he knew and when he knew it:
"I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators -- full disclosure, everything we know the investigators will find out. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is."
Libby's revelations about Bush as leaker-in-chief contained in the latest Fitzgerald court filings present quite a challenge for the Republican leadership in Congress. After all, an outraged Congressional GOP has been more than willing to investigate leakers and potential prosecute journalists reporting their disclosures.
Take Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for example. After the Washington Post revealed the existence of a network of secret U.S. prisons in Eastern Europe and Asia, Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert pushed for a Congressional probe. While Frist was worried that "such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences," he had no such concerns about the continued tarnishing of American credibility and its global image. "I am not concerned about what goes on [in those prisons]," Frist said, "and I'm not going to comment about the nature of that."
The exploding scandal over President Bush's illegal domestic surveillance scheme also showcased Republicans leaders indignant over leaks. Texas Senator John Cornyn accused New York Times reporter James Risen of just wanting to sell books. In a stunning New York Times op-ed ("Loose Lips Sink Spies"), CIA director and former GOP House member Porter Goss derided whistleblower protections and proclaimed that he had "filed criminal reports with the Department of Justice because of such compromises." Ominously, new NSA wiretapping legislation proposed by Ohio Senator Mike Dewine could enable the prosecution of journalists reporting national security secrets.
But it is President Bush's amen corner of conservative columnists and bloggers who have been the most vocal about their desire to punish leakers. Unless, that is, the leak served the purposes of the President's "Politics of Payback."
A quick sampling of the National Review is rather telling. In February, Rich Lowry defended Scooter Libby as a whistleblower and decried a supposed double-standard:
"Libby must be stunned to watch the lionization of the leakers who exposed the secret National Security Agency eavesdropping program and secret U.S. prisons in Europe. The new rule apparently is that leaks are acceptable only when they actually compromise important national-security programs. If, in contrast, a leak does no real harm to national security, but can be used as a cudgel against President Bush, then it is an act of national betrayal."
Lowry is not alone. Virtue merchant and gambling addict Bill Bennett similarly intoned on the secret prisons revelations and the double-standard theme, "This is an outrage. It took less than a day for al Jazeera to run with the story." MSNBC's Joe Scarborough hosted L. Brent Bozell of the Parents Television Council in a segment attacking the coverage of the Plame affair. John Gibson of Fox News called for polygraph tests of the Congressional Democrats he was sure lay behind the NSA program disclosures. Conservative commentator and internment enthusiast Michelle Malkin even offered a primer on "how to stop dangerous press leaks" in December 2005:
- Strengthen collective spine.
- Subpoena reporters.
- Find the leakers.
- Prosecute the lawbreakers.
While Congressman Lahood at least acknowledges the obvious hypocrisy of Bush the leaker turned leaker foe, White House spokesman Scott McClellan continued the charade today, saying "The president would never authorize disclosure of information that could compromise our nation's security." And while die-hards like Powerline defended the President, others like Michelle Malkin were suspiciously silent.
There is an old saying that a fish rots from the head. In the case of President Bush's politically motivated leaking of classified national security information, you can already smell the stench emanating from the body of the conservative movement.