Thanks to court papers (.PDF via Tom Maguire) that somebody apparently decided to leak, we now know that Scooter Libby says that Cheney told him that the President told Cheney to go ahead and leak info from a highly-classified NIE (presumably, although not explicitly, including Plame’s identity). The S-J Mercury-News has the developing narrative in a nutshell:
The president had the legal authority to declassify information by releasing it, a government authority and outside experts say, but the alleged episode raises a more pressing political problem. It has increased demands for the White House — which was refusing to comment on the investigation Thursday — to publicly address a conflict between Bush’s criticism of leaks and his own alleged leaking.
“This is a very significant disclosure. This is big,” said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., a Bush ally who refrained from commenting on Libby’s testimony but maintained that the White House would be compelled to comment.
“They’re going to have to comment on it,” he said. “They owe all of us an explanation, all of us who trust him, and they owe the American people an explanation.”
Rightie bloggers are perfectly right to point out that if accurate this allegation does nothing to implicate the president criminally. That means everything if we are debating impeachment, but in the real world nobody is talking about impeachment. As Rep. LaHood points out the legal defense adds up to a pyrrhic victory if it also shows us that the administration has been lying through its teeth for going on three years now.
“There’s been nothing, absolutely nothing, brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement, and that includes the vice president’s office, as well,” said Scott McClellan, Bush’s press secretary. He said that “if anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.”
Sounds like a slam-dunk denunciation of anybody who mishandles sensitive information, doesn’t it. Leaked Plame’s name? Boom! You’re gone. Except, wait, Rove’s still there. Events forced McLellan to define his statement down to the point where somebody had to be convicted of a crime before they reached the firing threshold, which would basically mean that Scotty stood there and said nothing at all. In another bit from the same story, you assume that the president is grateful that he was not quoted directly:
A senior official quoted Bush as saying, “I want to get to the bottom of this,” during a daily meeting yesterday morning with a few top aides, including Rove.
Assuming that he does not deny the quote, Bush’s quest to get to the bottom of the Plame leak makes more sense now – he was already there. No workaholic he.
More helpful quotes from Editor & Publisher.
Of course no Plame thread will be complete without a chorus of Wilson-haters. Did the Wilsons conspire with Iran to spike the Iraq war? Was she preparing a CIA coup? Are indictments just around the corner? Find out in the comments.