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Will GOP Call for Prosecution of McChrystal Report Leaker?

September 22, 2009

One day after the Washington Post's Bob Woodward published the confidential McChrystal report on Afghanistan, the Politico asked, "Who leaked and why?" But while the article speculates on the identity and motivation of the leaker, one issue - the punishment of Woodward's source for revealing national security documents -remains off the table. Which is a far cry from the 2005 revelations regarding President Bush's illicit program of NSA domestic surveillance, publication of which prompted leading conservatives to call for the prosecution of both whistleblower Thomas Tamm and the New York Times.
The Politico's Ben Smith brushed off the prospect of an investigation to find the leaker and the Post's decision to print General McChrystal's recommendations as "a rite of passage for the new administration."

White House officials greeted the leak with a grimace, but none suggested they'd begin a witch hunt for the leaker. Woodward is famous for his access to the principals themselves -- he recently traveled to Afghanistan with National Security Adviser James Jones -- and leak hunters couldn't expect with confidence that they'd find themselves disciplining just an undisciplined junior staffer.

Smith offers scenarios which range from "an elaborate head fake" orchestrated by the West Wing to build public pressure for a troop drawdown to the latest tactic in the growing neocon campaign to further escalate the American presence in Afghanistan. But coming just two weeks after a letter the Kristol gang sent President Obama - and an anonymous Pentagon official griped, "We are not getting a Bush-like commitment to this war" - the latter seems much more likely.
For one assessment, Politico turned to a veteran of the Bush White House, the same administration which diverted resources from Afghanistan to pursue its misadventure in Iraq:

"This leak would, by all appearances, be the act of someone who supports an increase in troop strength and resources," said Kevin Kellems, a communications director for former Vice President Dick Cheney, who noted that "the power of Woodward going on page A1 is exceptional" in its ability to dictate to wire services and cable outlets, a vanishing power of the newspapers. "This is the act most likely of a civilian who is an advocate of this position and believes they were right to do this because lives were at stake."

Of course, when lives - and the United States Constitution - were at stake with illegal domestic spying on Americans by the National Security Agency, President Bush and his right-wing echo chamber sang a different tune.
After the revelations about the NSA program by the New York Times on December 16, 2005, President Bush three days later raged about what he deemed "a shameful act" that is "helping the enemy". Claiming he didn't order an investigation, Bush added "the Justice Department, I presume, will proceed forward with a full investigation" At a subsequent press conference that same day, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested the retribution that was to come:

"As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, as the President indicated, this is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised. As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, we'll just have to wait and see."

Leading the charge in the right-wing echo chamber has been Gabriel Schoenfeld, editor of Commentary. On June 6, 2006, Schoenfeld appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to claim that the New York Times violated federal criminal statutes, if not the Espionage Act of 1917 by publishing its delayed story about NSA domestic surveillance. One month later on July 3, he laid out his case in the Weekly Standard, approvingly citing Gonzales' veiled threats towards the New York Times:

"There are some statutes on the books, which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility."

After news of the FBI's raid on Tamm's home in the summer of 2007, Schoenfeld again called for the scalps of Risen and Lichtblau:

"With the investigation making progress, the possibility remains that even if the New York Times is not indicted, its reporters - James Risen and Eric Lichtblau - might be called before the grand jury and asked to confirm under oath that Tamm, or some other suspect, was their source. That is what happened to a whole battalion of journalists in the investigation of Scooter Libby in the Valerie Plame fiasco.

If Risen and Lichtblau promised their source confidentiality, they might choose not to testify. That would potentially place them, like Judith Miller in the Libby investigation, in contempt of court and even land them in prison."

Ironically, Republican politicians before and since selectively leaked classified national security information for partisan political purposes.
As Talking Points Memo detailed, in the summer of 2007 the Bush administration was pressing for Congress to codify its regime of illegal NSA domestic surveillance. And at the forefront was John Boehner, who warned of a "gap in intelligence" because a FISA court judge had earlier - and secretly - ruled part of the eavesdropping program illegal. In April 2006, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts leaked details regarding Saddam Hussein's whereabouts on March 20, 2003 even as the Iraq war was just getting underway. And, of course, in the politically treacherous summer of 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney authorized the cherry-picked declassification of elements of the 2002 Iraq NIE as part of a campaign to smear Ambassador Joseph Wilson over his public decimation of the White House's "uranium in Niger" canard.
And so it goes. Apparently, when the criminality of the Republican president is made public, the disclosure is a threat to national security. But when conservatives try to force President Obama's hand on Afghanistan by leaking confidential military assessments, that, Politico informs us, is "a capital parlor game."

3 comments on “Will GOP Call for Prosecution of McChrystal Report Leaker?”

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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