Sunday, September 28, 2003

The Wilson Affair

Just when the Democrats seemed to have the monopoly on self-immolation, this happens:

The Justice Department has opened a preliminary inquiry into whether a Bush Administration official illegally revealed the identity of a CIA employee whose husband criticized the Administration's handling of intelligence on Iraq, TIME has learned. The probe will determine whether to order a full-fledged FBI investigation.

The alleged CIA agent was the wife of  "former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush's claim that Iraq had tried to buy 'yellowcake' uranium ore from Africa for possible use in nuclear weapons," according to the Washington Post. The vehicle for the leak was "a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak, who said his sources were two senior administration officials." The implication is that the Bush administration attempted to revenge itself on Joseph Wilson by implying his wife was CIA. This would have the effect of practically preventing any further overseas posting. It would also imply that "two senior administration officials" broke Federal Law by exposing a US intelligence operative's identity, a prospect which Joseph Wilson was alive to, saying "that it is of keen interest to him 'to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.'"

Rove has all but categorically denied it, but not directly. McClellan, who Rove had speak for him, said of Wilson's comments: 'It is a ridiculous suggestion, and it is simply not true.' McClellan was asked about Wilson's charge at a White House briefing Sept. 16 and said the accusation is 'totally ridiculous.'" The tea-leaf readers are taking solace in the fact that Novak described his sources as two "senior administration officials" and not two 'White House officials', which would more naturally describe a person of Rove's position. However, the fact that CIA director George Tenet has requested an investigation into the leak gives the story real legs.

McClellan's denial and his statement that "That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing" concedes that the leak would be inexcusable in principle. Although it is probably true that Democrats have done worse when in power, that is hardly the standard which should be applied. The Washington Post is reporting that the CIA is assessing whether any of the contacts Joseph Wilson's wife may have met have been endangered. The only ways out of this are if Novak's story were defective or whether someone, not necessarily Karl Rove, is arrested for divulging classified information in time of war.