Last Friday, Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff posted the still-to-be-released national drug control strategy. (It was due to come out the day the Access to Care Act passed, and the White House decided to hold it for a less crowded news cycle.) In commenting on the substance yesterday, I speculated about which miserable SOB might have decided to spoil the release – the culmination of a year’s hard work by some tremendously dedicated people – by leaking the text so Isikoff could use it to decorate his petty, gossipy hit-piece on Kerlikowske; now the formal release won’t count as “news.”
So far, I don’t know the entire chain of leakage, but the path clearly runs through John Walters, the Bill Bennett sidekick who served as ONDCP director (“drug czar”) under Bush II. Walters’s tenure marked a low point in the non-entirely-glorious history of ONDCP. Walters and his staff behaved as if they were playing the English version of Charades and had been told to act out “epistemic closure.”
Walters seems not to have noticed that when he made a formatting change in the document on his computer that edit would be recorded in “Track Changes.” But p. 9 of the .pdf version of the document Isikoff posted has a box showing a change by “John Walters 4/29/10 3:02 PM.”
That timestamp, just one day before Isikoff’s story went up, strongly suggests that Walters was the direct source, though it’s barely possible that Walters gave it to some third party who in turn gave it to Isikoff.
A phone call to ONDCP confirms that Walters was not among the very small group of people outside the agency who had access to the document. No one I know had it, and I asked to see it and was told that I would get the executive summary only, 24 hours before the release time, under strict embargo. But it was available to everyone inside the agency on the ONDCP intranet.
So who inside ONDCP would have given the document to Walters? (The leak might have come from somewhere else in the White House – OMB, DPC, NSC – but Walters doesn’t have many friends in those places now.) The obvious suspect is David Murray, who was appointed by Walters to the job of Chief Scientist and acted as his ideological enforcer. Murray’s performance so outraged Capitol Hill that the appropriations committees made several increasingly vehement demands for his replacement, and – when Walters resisted – slashed what had been an eight-figure research budget almost to zero. Kerlikowske relegated Murray to a make-work job, but instead of resigning Murray decided to sit tight and collect his SES paycheck for a sinecure. Murray isn’t the only ONDCP employee who still talks to Walters, but if anyone bothers to call in the plumbers on this leak he’d be the first person to interview. There were many others with the means (access to the document) and some others who also had the opportunity (a close relationship with Walters), but for motive Murray stands out.
Update Sometime in the last few minutes Newsweek unlinked the document from the story. I’m prepared to call that a confirmation of Walters’s involvement; whom else was Newsweek trying to protect? As of this moment, the .pdf is still up. If it comes down, I’ve saved it and will try to figure out how to post it.
Footnote Yes, I understand that reporters report and bloggers opine; I will pay the appropriate fines to the Bloggers’ Guild and the Reporters’ Union for violating craft boundaries by Picking Up the Damned Phone. No excuse, sir. Won’t happen again, sir.