Subject: [LEAK-GATE] - Why the Leak Matters

Date: Tue Oct 7, 2003  12:09 pm

This White House Scandal Finally Tips the Scale!

Howard Kurtz
[LEAK-GATE] - Why the Leak Matters
Tue Oct 7 16:02:24 2003

Why the Leak Matters

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 7, 2003; 8:48 AM

This leaking thing could be getting out of hand.

"Officials in the intelligence community have been talking for some time about whether there should be a leak investigation into Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's book 'Bush at War,' " Newsweek reports. "The book brims with classified information -- most of it leaked by administration officials."

Ah, but favorable leaks -- that's another story.

The real question here is whether this CIA tale has legs, or whether it will just peter out, like so many other leak investigations that fail to nab the culprits (unless someone runs into cover-up problems).

I suspect it will continue to resonate for awhile, and not just because leading Democrats are now jumping up and down and demanding a special counsel.

Why, after all, did 81 percent in a WashPost poll say they regarded this not as some impenetrable inside-the-Beltway infighting, but as a serious matter? And 72 percent say they believe that someone in the White House leaked Valerie Plame's CIA connection?

(And why does Joe Wilson keep saying, as he did on "Meet the Press," that his wife "would rather chop off her right arm than say anything to the press"? Are we that bad? And who does he think will play her in the movie, as they've discussed?)

The reason the story packs a punch is that it's a proxy for the larger doubts about the way the White House handled its prewar claims about Iraq. If the administration tries to discredit Wilson, the man who blew the whistle on the bogus uranium claim, by going after his wife, what does that tell us about how tenaciously the Bushies are clinging to their still-unproven WMD rhetoric? What does it tell us about how they respond to critics? What does it tell us about the culture of the Bush administration?

That, I believe, is fueling the extraordinary interest in this story. Plus, everyone loves a whodunit.

The White House seems to be changing its tone, says the New York Times:

"President Bush said today that the unauthorized disclosure of an undercover C.I.A. officer's identity was a 'very serious matter' and 'a criminal action' as the White House announced that at least 500 of its 2,000 employees had responded to a Justice Department demand for documents as part of an investigation into the source of the leak.

"The announcement -- and Mr. Bush's adamant words-- reflected a tougher public approach by the White House to the leak, which has been attributed to senior administration officials. Democrats have criticized the administration for not treating the disclosure of the classified information more forcefully. . . .

"The White House has said three people were not sources for the leak: Mr. Rove; I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staf; and Elliott Abrams, director of Mideast affairs at the National Security Council."

Hmm . . . the ol' process of elimination.

Josh Marshall spanks Bush over his handling of the leak:

"What has he done about it? Nothing.

"All mumbo-jumbo to the contrary, the universe of possible culprits is quite small. I suspect the identity of the two is already well-known in the White House. But even if that's not the case, the president could quickly figure out who they are -- probably by demanding that they come forward, and certainly by reviewing phone logs and emails. Yet he has done neither.

"We now have the farcical spectacle of the Justice Department initiating a massive investigation -- with the net thrown almost comically wide -- in order to find out what the president could find out in a few hours, tops. That's the whole story right there."

Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol is also critical, and sees really high stakes:

"Surely the president has, as the Washington Times suggested last week, taken 'too passive a stance' toward this misdeed by one or more of his employees. Surely he should do his utmost to restore the White House's reputation for honor and integrity by calling together the dozens of more-or-less 'senior' administration officials and asking whoever spoke with Novak to come forward and explain themselves.

"Presumably the relevant officials -- absent some remarkable explanation that's hard to conceive -- should be fired, and their names given to the Justice Department. The president might also want to call Mrs. Wilson, who is after all a government official serving her country, and apologize for the damage done to her by his subordinate's action. . . .

"One reason for this is that the civil war in the Bush administration has become crippling. The CIA is in open revolt against the White House. The State Department and the Defense Department aren't working together at all. We are way beyond 'fruitful tension' and all the other normal excuses for bureaucratic conflict. This is a situation that only the president can fix. Perhaps a serious talk with Messrs. Tenet, Powell, and Rumsfeld can do the trick, followed by strengthening the National Security Council's role in resolving intra-administration disputes. Perhaps a head or two has to roll."

Campaign '04 has produced its first dropout:

"Sen. Bob Graham, who tried to mold his opposition to President Bush's handling of terrorism and the Iraq war into a viable bid for the White House, abandoned the campaign last night after months of struggling to gain traction in a crowded Democratic primary field," says the Miami Herald."In an anticlimactic finale, the 66-year-old Graham made his announcement during an interview on CNN's Larry King Live, keeping much of his own senior staff in the dark about his fate until the end of a 52-minute segment on the show examining the future of Las Vegas duo Siegfried & Roy."

Nothing like getting top billing.

"His decision ends a campaign that, despite Graham's accomplished résumé spanning 35 years in Tallahassee and Washington, was beset by lackluster fundraising, questionable decision-making, and the candidate's own quirky, low-key style that played well over three decades in politics but made him an oddity on the national stage.

"Graham cited his late start in the campaign due to heart surgery, the war in Iraq and his duties overseeing the investigation into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee."

Well, that's one less chair at the next debate.

The signs of decay were there, says the Orlando Sentinel:

"Speculation had been swirling around Graham's faltering campaign since last week, when key advisers started bailing out and when his campaign, in the most recent fund-raising quarter, failed to come close to bringing in the kind of money needed to sustain a national race. Still, Graham had insisted even through the weekend that he was in the race to win."

Now I'm glad I never read those long profiles of him.

Today is Total Recall day, and Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times says the next governor of California will be crippled from the start:

"If Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante becomes governor or if Gov. Gray Davis retains his seat amid the charges against Schwarzenegger, Republicans are sure to consider their candidate the victim of dirty tricks from Democrats and the media. Imagine the howls of outrage from talk radio -- or the resistance from Republicans in the Legislature -- that Davis would face if he survives under these circumstances. Every day after a date with the hangman is a good day -- but Davis would be at war every moment for the rest of his term.

"If Schwarzenegger holds on to win, the hostilities might be even more intense. Even before the allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced, Schwarzenegger was unlikely to win support from a majority of voters; it's always been possible that fewer Californians will vote to make him governor than to keep Davis in office. Under the best of circumstances, that meant Schwarzenegger was likely to start with a precarious base if he won.

"And the events of the last week mean that a Gov. Schwarzenegger would be taking office under conditions considerably less than the best of circumstances. More allegations of sexual misconduct appear likely. It's possible that one or more of the women who have complained about his alleged behavior could file a lawsuit, in a California echo of the Paula Jones-Bill Clinton litigation.

"And it's conceivable that Democrats could use these late-breaking charges as the justification for launching a drive to recall the newly elected governor. It might be only bluster, but Democratic insiders say at least one deep-pockets donor already has promised to fund a new petition drive if the party is willing to launch it.

"Even without such a formal declaration of war, the new charges mean a Gov. Schwarzenegger will face a state intensely polarized about him."

Roger Simon marvels at changing political mores:

"As I write this, no fewer than 15 women have come forward to say Schwarzenegger grabbed or groped them against their will, with the four latest saying he fondled, spanked or touched them. . . .

"There may have been a time in American life when admitting to assaulting women would have disqualified a person from public office. But that time has passed. (While Bill Clinton was finally forced to admit to having had sexual relations with women other than his wife, he denies having forced himself on anyone.)

"While the polls in California have narrowed since the accusations surfaced, there has been a surprising lack of public outcry against Schwarzenegger. In one poll, Schwarzenegger leads among women and the media have reported that in some crowds there are women holding signs saying, 'Arnold, grope me!'"

CNN's Morning Grind on the man who's missing: "Aides say Davis had personally lobbied Clinton to return to California last week, to no avail. While aides blame scheduling conflicts, it's no stretch to presume that hosting Clinton became a dicey prospect once the recall campaign became a shouting match over groping, sexual impropriety and predatory behavior.

"Not exactly topics Clinton wants to weigh in on."

The San Francisco Chronicle reminds us of the absentee factor:

"If the polls are any indication, the Democrats are going to need Herculean election-day support to pull Gov. Gray Davis' bacon out of the fire.

"Reason: Even as polls show the race narrowing, the fact is some 2 million absentee ballots -- possibly 20 percent of the total recall vote -- already have been cast by mail. If the 'pre-groping' polling was right, it's likely that up to 56 percent of those absentee votes will be in favor of the recall."

David Frum makes a passionate defense of Rush:

"I have no idea of whether these allegations are true, false, or somewhere in between. But even if they were true, all that they suggest that Limbaugh has become biochemically dependent on the painkillers and sedatives he took while fighting the deafness that threatened his radio career. Limbaugh's triumph over adversity is both a tribute to him and to the stunning medical technology that restored his hearing {ndash} but if the allegations are true, this triumph may have come at a cost.

"Rush Limbaugh is made of the same human stuff as all the rest of us. His outsized talents do not protect him from mortal vulnerabilities. And if he has succumbed to such a vulnerability, that seems to me to be reason for sympathy, not mockery."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page is more circumspect:

"Count us among those who hope Rush Limbaugh licks his demons. . . . We're talking about the allegations about drug abuse. All the facts are not yet in, but it strikes us that what people are really waiting to see is whether he will take the consequences of his actions like a man.

"If that sounds old-fashioned, it's meant to. . . . Mr. Limbaugh's reluctance to discuss the details of the drug charges on his Friday radio show suggests his understanding that until his legal situation is resolved, anything he says publicly can and will be used against him. Still, his biggest challenge is not legal but professional: the 20 million listeners he has let down. . . .

"But it's worth detailing what Mr. Limbaugh has not done. He has not expressed outrage at leaks about a criminal investigation. He hasn't sent his wife out to accuse critics of manufacturing the thing out of whole cloth. He hasn't attacked the housekeeper who sold her story to the National Enquirer."

Here's what Limbaugh had to say yesterday:

"People are saying that I'm being Clintonesque. That I am waiting until I know everything that I have to deal with so that I know what to lie about. That's what I said Bill Clinton always did when we were always waiting for him to come forth. Ladies and gentleman, that is not what is going on here at all. I am waiting to find out just exactly what I am facing legally. Until I know that, I am not going to say anything. I can't. As I said Friday, I am asking you to trust me. I am asking you again to trust me now."

We report, the veep decides? Check this out:

"Cheney keeps the TV news switched on all day, mostly watching the Fox network," reports U.S. News.

Martha Stewart -- remember her? -- is fighting back, says the New York Daily News:

"Martha Stewart launched a counterattack on the feds yesterday -- declaring herself a human being with family and friends who should not be prosecuted for proclaiming her innocence.

"In legal papers filed yesterday, Stewart's lawyers labeled her prosecution in the ImClone insider trading scandal a 'misguided' personal attack on 'a woman defending her reputation.'

"'Ms. Stewart is a person, not a commodity,' they stated. 'She has a daughter, she has friends, she has neighbors. . . . She is entitled, as is anyone, to speak out to defend herself.' "

Here's an eye-opener of a poll, from USA Today:

"The nation essentially is split in half over whether to accept gay and lesbian marriage, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll finds.

"While 48% of those surveyed say allowing gay unions 'will change our society for the worse,' 50% say they would be an improvement or have no effect. Such views could affect the political push to define marriage in the U.S. Constitution as a bond strictly between one man and one woman and may be a wedge that drives apart the Episcopal Church in the USA."

The Washington Monthly has a new Monday column, penned by Bill Maher writer Jay Jaroch. A sampling:

"In Washington it's all about 'The Leak,' better known as 'Leakgate,' 'Wilsongate,' or my favorite, 'The Plame Game.' . . . I'm not saying the Karl Rove wants to get this stuff off the front pages, but there's a giant hourglass in his office counting down the days until the Pope dies. . . . If that doesn't throw the media off the scent, the next White House leak may have to involve Rove's plan to have Condoleezza Rice make out with Madonna. . . .

"The White House said last week that they won't rule out giving their staff lie detector tests. And then they immediately reiterated that Ari Fleischer no longer works there. . . . White House sources say that Dick Cheney was actually the first to volunteer for the test -- he's just excited to get hooked up to a machine that has nothing to do with his heart. . . . Whoever is responsible for the leak, this story . . . really showcases Washington at its worst -- I refer, of course, to all the face time we're giving Robert Novak."

© 2003

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This White House Scandal Finally Tips the Scale!

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