...from inside the White House. It would be nice if we were right."
- Ben Bradlee in "All The President's Men"
I'm just talking out loud here as I try to understand this situation.
The White House is ultimately trying to duck these charges:
a.) They committed fraud in order to take the country into an unjustified and illegal war with Iraq. (They cherry-picked and fabricated intelligence that supported their case for war. They classified documents that contained intelligence that challenged or exposed that their favored intelligence was flat out wrong. They prevented Congress from seeing all relevant intelligence necessary before Congress voted to authorize the President to "use all necessary force" against Iraq.)
b.) They conducted a criminal conspiracy to discredit and undermine anyone who came forward to expose the fraud.
Enter Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame.
Lewis Libby may have only been indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice (instead of the more explosive charge of leaking the name of a CIA agent and the cover organization she worked for and exposing all of the other covert agents who worked there), but as I see it, the Plame investigation is now at a history-making crossroads. Last week's news that Bush authorized Libby to leak the NIE to reporters brings us closer by many steps to unraveling the conspiracy and holding the main players (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al) to answer. I think we will know very shortly whether or not this will expand beyond Libby, into the Oval Office, by how effective Republicans are in preventing the following from entering into the public discourse:
The White House is claiming that:
c.) The President is empowered to declassify any information, on his own, if he deems it to be in the public interest.
d.) The information from the NIE that Libby leaked wasn't classified because as soon as the President authorized Libby to talk about it to reporters, the information (not the document) became declassified.
e.) Although the President declassified the information with the flap of his lips, it was not released publicly until 10 days after Libby had disclosed the information to a reporter. Parts of the document that had disputed, discounted and dismissed the cherry-picked leaked intelligence as factually false remained classified and were not included with the other leaked information by Libby to reporters.
This overlooks these facts:
1.) Bush ignored the procedure for declassifying documents:
The process of classifying and declassifying documents is controlled by two executive orders, one issued by President Clinton and a second by Bush that modifies the Clinton order. The orders allow certain officials in the executive branch to classify documents if disclosing them to an unauthorized person could damage national security. Typically the agency that originally classified a document is the one that must sign off on an effort to declassify it.
Representative Jane Harmon, an Iraq war-supporting, conservative democratic hawk from California said this week:
"If the disclosure is true, it's breathtaking. The President is revealed as the Leaker-in-Chief.
"Leaking classified information to the press when you want to get your side out or silence your critics is not appropriate.
"The reason we classify things is to protect our sources - those who risk their lives to give us secrets. Who knows how many sources were burned by giving Libby this 'license to leak'?
"If I had leaked the information, I'd be in jail. Why should the President be above the law?
"The President has the legal authority to declassify information, but there are normal channels for doing so. Telling an aide to leak classified information to the New York Times is not a normal channel. A normal declassification procedure would involve going back to the originating agency, such as the CIA, and then putting out a public, declassified version of the document.
"I am stunned that the President won't tell the full the Intelligence Committee about the NSA program because he's allegedly concerned about leaks, when it turns out that he is the Leaker-in-Chief."
2.) There are two categories of classified information: That which Congress has classified and which Congress has made it a crime to reveal, and that which the President (or any of his predecessors) has classified. In the latter instance, the President can declassify what he or past Presidents have classified, but he can't declassify what Congress has classified. The identity of undercover federal agents is in the category of information that Congress has classified. No one but Congress could declassify that.
Bush has claimed that he has the right to ignore or suspend any and all law, but he's been a little fuzzy about which authority he believes gives him that right. He's invoked the inherent power of the Executive in the Constitution to provide for the security of the American people. When it's been pointed out that that would mean that the President is above the law, not co-equal with the legislative and judicial branches, Bush explains that the Constitution gives the President these superpowers during wartime. With Bush's war on terror, this could mean forever more. Further pressed, Bush has said that the power is derived from the executive order he signed that gave him the right to declassify any information he wanted. However that's not what the order says.
Any way you slice it, it's a Constitutional crisis. It unbalances the power between Congress and the Executive.
3.) Robert Novak didn't only name and identify Valerie Plame as working for the CIA - he also published the name of the bogus company (Brewster Jennings) she worked for. A company that the CIA created at least ten years earlier as the cover employer for Plame and other covert agents. Valerie Plame wasn't the only agent whose cover was blown by this leak.
Which brings us to the Plame investigation, the Libby indictment, and how to lay this at Bush's doorstep.