LEAKGATEInvestigations could make or break BushMon Mar 8 23:30:23 2004220.127.116.11Investigations could make or break BushCandidates and political parties that bank on their opponents'getting dragged down by scandal usually end up disappointed — thinkthe Democrats in 1984 and the Republicans in 1996. Barring earth-shattering revelations, elections get decided on the incumbent'smanagement of the economy and foreign affairs.But for President Bush this year, neither looks to be holdingunambiguous election-year advantages. And there are increasing signsa perfect storm of scandals is brewing, one that could end up makinga real difference in what is bound to be a down-to-the-wire electionthis fall.First up is the Plame investigation, Special Counsel PatrickFitzgerald's ongoing look into whether senior Bush administrationofficials broke a federal law by leaking to the press the identity ofundercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. The investigation has beenfocusing on the vice president's office. And though the press hasthus far failed to give it sufficient attention, a D.C. grand juryhas already heard the testimony of numerous White House appointees.There's never been much doubt that at least one senior administrationofficial did leak Plame's identity to columnist Robert Novak. Thequestion is whether Fitzgerald can prove it or whether those who didthe leaking will be able to find enough wiggle room in the law toslip through.Next up is the much-less-discussed investigation into those forgeddocuments that purported to prove that Iraq was purchasing largequantities of uranium from the African nation of Niger.The Senate investigation is focusing on what happened to thosedocuments after that they got into U.S. government hands. But there'salso an ongoing FBI investigation into just who forged them and howthis fraudulent evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program was peddled intoAmerican hands.The results of that investigation could be bad news for the WhiteHouse, too.Consider one piece of evidence that has more than one reporter'sattention.We normally think of the uranium claims with reference to the 2003State of the Union speech. But the real controversy came monthsearlier.In September 2002, the White House was beginning a major pressoffensive designed to prove that Iraq had a robust nuclear weaponsprogram. That campaign was meant to culminate in the president's Oct.7 speech in Cincinnati.But behind the scenes, a battle royal was shaping up between theWhite House and the CIA. On Oct. 1, U.S. intelligence agenciesreleased to the White House and Congress a top-secret nationalintelligence estimate (NIE) that mentioned the Niger reports as wellas claims about attempts to purchase uranium in Somalia and Congo.Despite the NIE, however, the CIA clearly had grave concerns aboutthe accuracy of the Niger story. And there was a wrestling matchbetween the White House and the CIA over whether the president shouldpublicly refer to it in his speech.The struggle culminated in the two days (Oct. 5 and 6, 2002) beforethe president traveled to Ohio, when the CIA sent two separate top-secret memos to the president's staff insisting that the referencesbe removed from the speech. Fearing that even that hadn't done thetrick, CIA Director George Tenet personally telephoned DeputyNational Security Adviser Steve Hadley insisting that the referencesto uranium sales be removed from the speech, as they were.Though none of this was publicly known at the time, it was clearly inthat first week of October 2002 that the White House was most in needof some new evidence on the Niger uranium front. And on Oct. 7,within 48 hours of those memos flying back and forth between theNational Security Council (NSC) and the CIA, an Italian businessmanwas offering those forged documents to a reporter in a bar in Rome.To call that timing convenient is rather an understatement.Was the source of those documents (or someone associated with him)privy to a high-level, secret dialogue between the NSC and the CIA?And if so, how and why?Finally, there's that pesky matter of the Democratic Senate JudiciaryCommittee staff memos pilfered by Republican Senate staffers. We'llknow more when Sergeant at Arms Bill Pickle issues his report. Buteven most committee Republicans now concede that the pilfering waspotentially criminal.The issue behind the memos is the highly contentious matter ofjudicial appointments. The strategy for those battles isquarterbacked out of the White House counsel's office.If GOP staffers had access to those memos, their contents almostcertainly figured into their discussions with members of thecounsel's office, whether the latter knew it or not.If Memo-gate leads to a criminal referral, that investigation willhave to take a hard look at what folks at the counsel's office knewand when they knew it.To date, the White House has been able to blunt or delayinvestigation into these matters with disciplined scandal managementand solid control on the hill. But once these investigations get intothe hands of career prosecutors they become much more difficult tocontrol. And each could each pop to the surface at what — for theWhite House — would be the most inconvenient of times.Fasten your seat belts.Josh Marshall is editor of talkingpointsmemo.com . His column appearsin The Hill each week. Email:
http://www.thehill.com/marshall/030404.aspx ============================= WASHINGTON -- When I first met and spoke with former ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson late last July, we ruminated over the strange "outing" of his wife as an agent of the CIA by a prominent American journalist. He was angry about the revelation, which seemed natural under the circumstances; but I was downright confused. None of it made any sense. Connecting his wife to Wilson's findings on the Iraq war was about as coherent as saying that because Saddam Hussein has not been found, we are having a recall election in California; or that because Arnold Schwarzenegger has an explicit sexual past, Teddy Kennedy is against the Iraq war. It scans so poorly that the cause must be found elsewhere. Wilson had, of course, heartily irritated the Bush administration by revealing, albeit at a respectfully late time, that the administration's claims that Hussein had sought uranium in Africa to build a nuclear bomb were totally false. In fact, his findings that no such substance went from Niger to Baghdad still stand today. But soon after his revelations came a bewildering response, which is now shaking this capital with scandal on a scale that threatens to approach Watergate proportions. On July 14, syndicated columnist Robert Novak wrote his now-famous column linking Wilson's findings about the war with the profession of his wife. That column, with information that Novak insists came to him accidentally in conversations with two administration officials, simply said she was an agent of the CIA. Then, long silence. You'd be right to ask, "And then, what?" Or, "So what?" But there are no answers to those key questions. Even if she were a CIA agent, I asked Wilson last July, what exactly did that have to do with his war findings? "I don't know," he told me then--but he does now. "Why did they do it?" he asked this week. "Because a crime has been committed and you try to deflect attention from the crime. What they are doing is to keep others from coming forward, as I did. But more and more, it is just revenge." Other observers and analysts on his side are saying of this embarrassing and threatening case for the Bush administration, "It's meant to intimidate others from speaking out against the war," or, "The story is gratuitous; it doesn't lend anything to the story," or, "It's a political smear of an innocent person, and it's just plain dirty." All of those comments are likely true. It is a crime to reveal the identity of an American undercover agent, which Wilson's wife, we now know, is. In fact, it is a deadly serious crime because it almost certainly leads to the end of the agent's effectiveness and, most probably, career, as well as putting into danger all of the contacts the agent has built up around the world. Indeed, under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, a person with access to classified information who intentionally identifies a covert agent of the United States faces up to 10 years in prison and as much as $50,000 in fines. So where does that put us? Well, Ambassador Wilson, along with other serious observers, has come forward with information that at least six journalists were deliberately called by White House officials to plant the story, probably in order to intimidate Wilson and others. If this is true, it should not be very hard for the Department of Justice, which has been called in by President Bush to investigate, to discover the truth behind this matter. But the damning elements for the administration are all of its own making. >From day one of this presidency, there has been no place in the White House for anyone who disagrees; journalists who question White House officials are never invited in; you are with the little "bund" of true believers or you are not. And if you are not, there is a price to pay. Meanwhile, Joe Wilson is a charming and intellectual man who insists that far from being some Democratic Party ideologue, he donated $2,000 to the Bush presidential campaign. He is a man who knows war--unlike the administration's neo-cons, who to a man lived by deferment after deferment to military service; it was Wilson who stayed behind in Baghdad in 1990 and gave heart to the dozens of Americans then held hostage by Hussein. Which is all kind of funny, since it is the neo-cons who constantly make fun of the State Department diplomats, saying they're without spirit, guts or fight. Clearly, they have met their match--and the bout is only beginning. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do." ---Edward Everett Hale
Http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/oped/chi-0310030137oct03,1,5932613.story LEAK - GATE:This White House Scandal Finally Tips the Scale!
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