More Plame: The White House Stonewalls

Mike Allen has another big story in Monday’s Post, jam-packed with bad news for anyone hoping that Bush would come out of this wearing at least a decent fig leaf. (Tom Maguire, for example, or Josh Chafetz)

First, Allen has confirmed Plame’s job description, and it’s about as bad as it could be for whoever leaked her name:

She is a case officer in the CIA’s clandestine service and works as an analyst on weapons of mass destruction. Novak published her maiden name, Plame, which she had used overseas and has not been using publicly. Intelligence sources said top officials at the agency were very concerned about the disclosure because it could allow foreign intelligence services to track down some of her former contacts and lead to the exposure of agents.

Worse, the White House apparently has decided to continue to stonewall rather than coming clean:

White House officials said they would turn over phone logs if the Justice Department asked them to. But the aides said Bush has no plans to ask his staff members whether they played a role in revealing the name of an undercover officer who is married to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, one of the most visible critics of Bush’s handling of intelligence about Iraq.

[snip]

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the Justice Department has requested no information so far. “Of course, we would always cooperate with the Department of Justice in a matter like this,” he said.

Asked about the possibility of an internal White House investigation, McClellan said, “I’m not aware of any information that has come to our attention beyond the anonymous media sources to suggest there’s anything to White House involvement.”

Right. The White House is maintaining the position that the question of whether top people there committed an aggravated felony concerning national security is nothing anyone in the White House needs to worry about.

Bush isn’t even going to ask the people who work most closely with him whether they outed a covert CIA officer. Astonishingly, this is being reported by CNN as the White House denying the allegations. Refusing to look isn’t really denial, except in the clinical sense. (Note also how the “two senior administration officials” in the body of the story shrink to “a government official” in the lead.)

At least Team Bush is consistent. From the very beginning, the White House hasn’t even tried to make it look as if anyone there cared about an activity the elder Bush, in another context, likened to treason.

The longer this goes on, the harder it will be for Bush personally to avoid responsibility. (It may be too late already.) What conceivable excuse can he offer for not being curious enough to ask the people who work directly for him whether or not they did it? He may not have known about the leak in advance, but his inaction is surely condoning it now. Tom Spencer is right: Is there anyone other than Rove for whom the Bush team would absorb this kind of heat?

The question is no longer whether Ashcroft is going to start a formal investigation by the DoJ, but whether he can hold off demands for the appointment of a special counsel. Trial next summer, anyone?

Update I had missed this until an alert OSP reader brought it to my attention: according to AP, the White House has issued a real denial, specifically covering Karl Rove:

Wilson has publicly blamed Karl Rove, Bush’s top political adviser, for the leak, although Wilson did say Monday he did not know whether Rove personally was the source of Novak’s information, only that he thought Rove had “condoned it.”

“He wasn’t involved,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said of Rove. “The president knows he wasn’t involved. … It’s simply not true.”

The AP reporter doesn’t seem to have asked the obvious follow-up: how does the President know? Whom did he ask? Has someone reviewed the phone logs? I hope that other reporters, senators, and Presidential candidates will be asking those questions, loudly and insistently.

Still this shifts the balance of probabilities in my mind, at least as to Rove’s having made the phone calls himself. Even though Bush maintains deniability by using a spokesman, rather than fully committing himself by making a statement personally, and even though he can always say later that Rove had decieved him, this gets him much more deeply committed to Rove’s innocence than he ought to want be unless he’s pretty sure. Of course, he couldn’t really know that it wasn’t Rove unless he knew who it actually was.

That’s always a possibility, of course. But then why is he keeping those people on his staff?

Second update Dan Drezner is not a happy camper. He deserves a lot of credit for being willing to call a foul on his own team. Other right-bloggers, please copy.

Drezner links to Pejman Yousefzadeh’s defense of Bush’s refusal to investigate: “The culpable do not break down and confess their sins merely as the result of close questioning. And the Administration likely knows this, which is why they aren’t going to waste time calling in the many aides who work at the White House in order to find out who has been leaking the story.”

That’s plausible as a general proposition, but false in this case. (See Dwight Meredith’s analysis bringing down the list of suspects to eight, of whom we’re looking for two.) Anyway, if they wanted to know, they wouldn’t bother asking; they’d just review the phone logs, as they did in one of their recent lame attempts to discredit Wesley Clark.

Josh Marshall has a long quote from today’s press briefing. The transcript isn’t up yet, but here’s a link to the video file. It seems I was wrong: some reporters did ask the natural follow-ups, though without getting any answers:

McCLELLAN: He wasn’t involved. The President knows he wasn’t involved.

QUESTION: How does he know that?

QUESTION: How does he know that?

McCLELLAN: The President knows.

QUESTION: What, is he clairvoyant? How does he know?

There’s another eerie passage:

QUESTION: — why doesn’t he use everything in his power to smoke them out?

McCLELLAN: The Department of Justice is looking into this. I’ve made it very clear the President believes the leaking of classified information of this nature is a very serious matter, and it should be pursued to the fullest.

QUESTION: By them. And he has no — his hands are tied? He can’t simply ask his staff —

McCLELLAN: Well, do you have any information to bring to our attention, Paula? Do you have any information to bring to our attention? If you have any information, that should be reported to the Department of Justice, and they need to pursue this to the fullest.

Sounds to me as if McClellan is reminding some of the people in the room that they know who made the phone calls, because they received them.

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com