White House Leaks: A serious security matter
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER EDITORIAL BOARD
President Bush has plenty of evidence to begin acting on Karl Rove's involvement in the disclosure of a secret agent's name to exact political vengeance. The president's choice will say a lot about whether he intends to control abuses of power within what some see as one of the most power-hungry administrations the United States has ever experienced.
The president ought to be outraged that, so far, one reporter has gone to jail for acting honestly while some in his administration continue to be free of consequences for revealing Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative. The leak of her name and role to Bush-friendly columnist Robert Novak in 2003 was a violation of federal law, if done deliberately.
For reasons that aren't clear but should cause great unease, Novak apparently faces no legal difficulty while New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who didn't write about the disclosure, sits in jail for rightly refusing to disclose her sources as a matter of high principle.
Bush administration officials became angry at Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, in July 2003, when he revealed that an investigative trip he made to Niger in 2002 showed that Iraq had made no effort to acquire uranium there. In a New York Times Op-Ed article, Wilson said the administration had twisted the evidence to make a case for its invasion of Iraq earlier in the year.
Now, Newsweek reports show that Rove, Bush's closest political adviser and currently deputy White House chief of staff, was one of the aides discussing Plame's work with reporters. And it was done in precisely the context everyone understood lay behind her outing: Rove was trying to discredit Wilson.
Rove's lawyer said his client did not use Plame's name in the conversation, apparently referring to her only as Wilson's wife and a CIA official. That may be relevant in determining whether, under the law, Rove committed a crime by revealing her identity. It should hold little weight with the president.
Bush should first be outraged at Rove and then eager to clean out a high-ranking official or group of officials who showed disrespect for the spirit and perhaps the letter of the law. It should be especially infuriating to the president that all of the misconduct by his administration, and indirectly the imprisonment of Miller, has been done in his name.
Rove has discredited the White House. In October 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan firmly assured the public that Rove had played no role in the leak. No boss, least of all the president of the United States, should tolerate a top aide who lets the office cover for him in presumably trusting fashion like that.
More specifically, the president must live up to his early promises about dealing severely with the abusive leak of Plame's identity. On Oct. 6, 2003, Bush told reporters, "This is a very serious matter, and our administration takes it very seriously." Unless the plain meaning of those words is not their true meaning, Bush was saying that he and other top advisers were outraged at the leak and had nothing to do with it. Now, it turns out that Rove, indeed, did have something to do with using Plame's CIA activities to attack Wilson.
The president would bring credit to himself and his administration by firing Rove immediately. Whether or not Rove violated the law, his actions on behalf of the administration broke trust with the American people and with the president's own stated view of the matter. Minimally, enough is known that the president must suspend Rove and cease all contacts with Rove until the investigation is complete. Rove, it appears, cannot be trusted with the United States' secrets.
Bush should also ask the prosecutor to seek the release of Miller from prison while the president urgently and personally renews his call for White House officials to help get to the bottom of the affair. Rove and others apparently didn't get the message nearly two years go when the president said, "I'd like to know who leaked, and if anybody has got any information inside our government ... you ought to take it to the Justice Department." Rather than letting an innocent journalist be imprisoned to clear up a matter of White House misconduct, Bush should be cleaning out his administration.
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