As predicted, the virtual wall of silence in Right Blogistan about the Plame affair has cracked. Jacob Levy, a Volokh Conspirator, is just about as dismayed as Daniel Drezner was:
Indeed, no one seems to be engaged in any denial or defense here other than saying “We don’t know and we don’t want to know so we’re not going to try to find out so that we can continue to say with a straight face that we don’t know.” This is ugly [snip] … this is really, really not good
Glenn Reynolds, on the other hand, links to Pejman Yousefzadeh, who seems completely clueless and desperate.
Update Reynolds points out that the link mentioned above was not his first reference to the story. He had what turned into a very long post the previous day. In the previous ten weeks since the story first broke, he had two extremely brief and non-commital references, this one with a link to Tom Maguire, this one to this space. In other words, up until the story broke in the mass media, one could have been a very faithful reader of Instapundit and never have guessed that anything of much significance was going on. And that made Reynolds, after the estimable Tom Maguire and the execrable NRO, the third most active right-blog site on this issue. I repeat: a wall of silence, from a group of bloggers who purport to be defenders of national security and scourges of media misconduct.
On the issue of whether Plame’s role was really covert, for example, Yousefzadeh takes Robert Novak’s obviously self-serving account as gospel, ignoring Mike Allen’s very specific reporting in today’s Post ( 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. It also ignores as Novak’s printed description of Plame as an “operative.”
Yousefzadeh quotes the relevant statute (as if it hadn’t been thorougly parsed six weeks ago) and adds, “All of this covers the disclosure of the identity of a covert agent. If Novak is right in saying that ‘Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operator, and not in charge of undercover operatives, then the law was not broken.”
Right. But then what did the CIA just ask the Justice Department to investigate? Today’s MSNBC story, reported independently of the Post’s, has additional facts:
CIA lawyers sent the Justice Department an informal notice of the alleged leak in July, two senior officials told NBC News on Monday. Although that letter, which was not signed by CIA Director George Tenet, was not a formal request for an investigation, the Justice Department could have opened one at that point, lawyers said. It remained unclear whether it did so. CIA lawyers followed up the notification this month by answering 11 questions from the Justice Department, affirming that the woman’s identity was classified, that whoever released it was not authorized to do so and that the news media would not have been able to guess her identity without the leak, the senior officials said. The CIA response to the questions, which is itself classified, said there were grounds for a criminal investigation, the sources said.
Yousefzadeh also leaps from the fact that one correspondent for CBS wasn’t aware of any of his colleages’ having been called to the conclusion that no network reporter was called, and then to the further conclusion that there couldn’t have been a concerted effort to damage Plame that didn’t involve calling a network. Again, that igores Mike Allen’s Monday story:
Wilson said in a telephone interview that four reporters from three television networks called him in July and told him that White House officials had contacted them to encourage stories that would include his wife’s identity.
As noted below, I’m taking anything Wilson says with large amounts of salt from here on out, but I see no particular reason to doubt this. (Note: If true, this means that the FBI won’t have any problem finding at least four of the relevant reporters.)
But Yousefzadeh also ignores the MSNBC story, to which Andrea Mitchell is listed as a contributor, which reports that Mitchell was called by White House officials peddling the story, though not until after the Novak column had run.
Clifford May at NRO simply tries to change the subject, questioning why Wilson was sent on the mission in the first place, and adding that some ex-government official had told him about Plame’s identity before he read about it Novak’s column, as if that had anything to do with the criminality of making her identity part of the public record. Again, the CIA conclusion reported by MSNBC seems to dispose of the question May tries to raise.
Daniel Drezner, having spoken out in the strongest terms over the weekend, is much more guarded today; he takes May’s question seriously (and doesn’t compare it with the Mike Allen story, though he does cite the MSNBC account) He also follows Josh Marshall in putting more emphasis than I would on change in phrasing from Allen’s Sunday story, which mentioned “two top White House officials,” to Monday’s story, mentioning “two White House officials.” (Note that the source, a “senior Administration official,” has also been demoted to “an Administration official.” I suspect that either Allen or his editor simply decided to dispense with some adjectives.)
If Allen is backing off about the rank of the people involved, that would indeed cast the whole story in a completely different light. But, for that very reason, I can’t see how Allen can back off simply by repeating the assertion and leaving out the word “top.” If “top” is wrong, it calls for a full correction and retraction. Absent that, I’m assuming the change was merely a verbal one without substantive significance.
All in all, then, I think Drezner was right earlier [*] in saying that this is almost certainly a major scandal and that commentators on the right will ill serve themselves by denying that fact. He’s also right in saying that it’s too early to conclude that Karl Rove has committed a crime, though I would say “no evidence” is too sweeping a statement. (Once we know that someone in the Bush White House carried out a vindictive political move involving a leak to Robert Novak, it’s only reasonable to suspect the chief political operative, who was fired from the 1992 Bush campaign for leaking a story to Robert Novak.)
Be that as it may, it’s not too early to say with confidence that serious crimes against the national security were committed by at least two people (and, I’m still convinced, “top” people) at the White House, and that the President of the United States and his top aides, aware of that, decided that finding out who those criminals were was none of their affair.
Really, that’s plenty bad enough. (Josh Marshall is eloquent on the subject.) And it’s time, I would say, for the doyens of warblogging, Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds, to get off the fence and say so.