George W. Bush’s Shawshank Redemption

After eleven weeks of stonewalling, the White House announces that the President “wants to get to the bottom of this.” (Read: “Wants desperately to get out from under this.”) A few hours later, we learn why: Earlier in the day, the Justice Department had formally told the White House that it was opening a criminal investigation, though it appears that the questioning will start at the CIA as opposed to the more aggressive stance of getting every one of the possible leakers on the record up front about all media contacts during July.

The story from AP, as printed in the NY Times:

The Justice Department launched a full-blown criminal investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA officer, and President Bush directed his White House staff on Tuesday to cooperate fully.

The White House staff was notified of the investigation by e-mail after the Justice Department decided late Monday to move from a preliminary investigation into a full probe. It is rare that the department decides to conduct a full investigation of the alleged leak of classified information.


The department notified the counsel’s office about 8:30 p.m. Monday that it was launching an investigation but said the White House could wait until the next morning to notify staff and direct them to preserve relevant material, McClellan said.

(Nothing like tipping off the suspects well in advance. Wouldn’t be sporting to surprise them, you know.)

Most of the rightbloggers are in full, frantic denial. Glenn Reynolds thinks that hiring someone politically unreliable for a secret mission is a more serious problem than deliberately outing an operational covert officer:

Forget Valerie Plame, the big scandal is why anyone in the Bush Administration would ever have tasked a guy with Wilson’s views with an important mission. (Glenn also seems to think that Wilson was “hired” for something, and might thus fall under the nepotism laws, when it’s undisputed fact that he went on the mission gratis, unless you count an expenses-paid trip to glorious Niamey, capital of exciting Niger, as some sort of benefit.)

Others on the right (the Poorman has a summary) are still inventing all sorts of alternative universes in which Valerie Plame wasn’t an operational covert officer. In primary reality, however, she was. CNN has it, confirming the WaPo and MSNBC:

CIA sources told CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor that Plame is a CIA operative … [snip]…Ensor reported that sources at the CIA said Plame is an employee of the operations side of the agency. “This is a person who did run agents,” Ensor said. “This is a person who was out there in the world collecting information.”


“This is a serious leak,” former CIA Director James Woolsey said. “You can endanger intelligence and people’s lives by revealing the identities of CIA case officers, so it’s a serious matter.”

Woolsey, though he worked for Clinton, is now (or has been until now) an extremely strong Bush supporter and advocate of “World War IV.”

The AP has memo from the White House Counsel informing the staff of the impending investigation:

We were informed last evening by the Department of Justice that it has opened an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee (emphasis added)

Daniel Drezner, who is still properly urging caution in assigning criminal culpability to individuals, sums it up:

Let me repeat — this is a serious allegation, and I want to see the President address it directly and publicly. [But we don’t really know if Plame was an operative, and we don’t really know whether Bush administration officials leaked the story in the way that the Post alleges.–ed.] Oh yes we do. Kevin Drum provides a solid rundown of the evidence.

(That editorial note is Drezner’s, not mine.)

Tom Spencer unerringly spots the “nut graf” in Kevin Drum’s post:

The bottom line remains pretty much the same: A couple of top Bush administration officials blabbed about a clandestine CIA operative to the press in order to try to discredit her husband, and now they’re covering it up. Either you think that’s OK or you don’t. I don’t.

The latest ploy from the people who don’t want to see Bush taken down over this is the plea for civility. Here’s Roger Simon

The viciousness of the Clinton years, the unremitting scandals of Whitewater, the impeachment, blown out of all proportion to reality by Clinton’s enemies, may have been mere foreplay compared to what we are about to go through in the Plame/Wilson Affair.

David Brooks doesn’t mention Plame, no doubt had it in mind, in authoring this warning.

In fact, most people in the last two administrations were well-intentioned patriots doing the best they could. The core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it’s the haters themselves.

Well, civility is always a value, though it does seem just a little strange to write as if all of the incivility is coming from the Bush-bashers as opposed to the Bushites. (Has anyone in the Administration said anything bad about Ann Coulter’s Treason? If so, I must have missed it.) But it’s hard to politely accuse people of serious crimes, and serious crimes are sometimes committed, even in the White House. Logically, one cannot derive from the premise “Clinton’s enemies accused him and his aides of many crimes they didn’t commit” the conclusion “Bush and his aides are innocent of any crime of which they are accused.”

If in fact two top White House officials deliberately outed a covert CIA officer in an act of political revenge on her husband, and if in fact the President was happy to let them get away with it until the heat got to be too much for him to take, then at least some of “the core threat to democracy” does come from the White House.

I’m happy to debate that proposition, civilly, with anyone who wants to take the other side, but unless and until someone shows me it’s wrong, I’m not willing to stop saying it.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

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