Query: Why is the story breaking now?
Given the FBI’s general political coloration, it’s hard to imagine that someone at the Bureau (apparently the source of the leak to CBS) was trying to damage the Bush campaign. Is it possible that Richard Clarke’s views about the competence of the Bushies on the counter-terror front is shared in the Hoover Building? That would back up the thesis that the national security establishment has begun to defect in droves, which I’m still hoping will be the subtext of the rest of this campaign. (Note, for example, that Schwartzkopf won’t be endorsing GWB for re-election.)
The other obvious guess is that someone in Main Justice was sitting on the case, and that someone in the Bureau (perhaps with a wink and a nod from his superiors) decided to go public to keep it from getting squashed. It’s not quite impossible that Ashcroft’s crew could have been that clueless about what they could, and couldn’t, get away with.
I have no factual basis for either supposition, or for deciding between them. Perhaps there’s a third explanation that I haven’t thought of yet.
Update: Indeed there is, and Laura Rozen supplies it.