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After forty-eight hours of hyperbole and hypocrisy surrounding allegations that George Bush "leaked" portions of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in July 2003, the AP now reports that Bush never asked anyone to divulge the information via a private conversation and never had Scooter Libby in mind as a conduit. Instead, the President declassified the information and delegated the release to Dick Cheney:
President Bush declassified sensitive intelligence in 2003 and authorized its public disclosure to rebut Iraq war critics, but he did not specifically direct that Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, be the one to disseminate the information, an attorney knowledgeable about the case said Saturday.
Bush merely instructed Cheney to "get it out" and left the details to him, said the lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case for the White House. The vice president chose Libby and communicated the president's wishes to his then-top aide, the lawyer said.
This answers a few questions and brings up another, more interesting possibility. First, however, this would substantiate what everyone around the White House has been saying: that the President declassified the information prior to its release, regardess of the distribution channel. It takes the decision to pass it along privately out of Bush's hands and into Cheney's, which makes sense if Libby was the conduit. Had Bush been the one to release the information, he probably wouldn't have done it through Libby but perhaps Andrew Card or Karl Rove ... who probably would not have done it so clumsily. It also makes sense given the context of the debate that month, especially after the slow drip-drip-drip of Wilson's own leaks, culminating in the op-ed under his own name that contained Wilson's prevarications. Bush wanted the relevant portions of the NIE released to answer the media's demands to know the basis for his decision to attack Iraq.
However, this counterargument is in itself intriguing. It hardly appears that the wagons are getting circled at the White House as far as Dick Cheney is concerned. It didn't take long for sources within the administration to get this story out and point the finger right back to Dick Cheney. As long as Bush declassified the information, nothing Cheney did under these circumstances was illegal ... but the White House does not seem to care about throwing Cheney under a bus to absorb the embarrassment this has created. (It's also important to remember that Cheney also has authority to declassify information on his own.)
Does this mean anything? We know that Cheney and his office have created a few PR problems of late for the administration. This may be a signal from the President's team that patience with the VP's staff has come to an end, if not the VP himself. It certainly doesn't show unity between the two to have this kind of finger-pointing coming so soon after this story broke.
UPDATE: The Weekly Standard reminds the forgetful about the lost credibility of Joe Wilson and the reason why the press wanted the NIE released in the first place. They rely on the SSCI and Butler reports from 2004, which (among other canards posed in the comments sections) contradicts the urban legends that Cheney sent Wilson to Niger and that Wilson found no evidence that Iraq sought Niger's uranium.Sphere It View blog reactions
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In an unsigned editorial in today's Washington Post, the latest storm and fury about the President "leaking" material is addressed pretty well. Although calling the handling of the leak clumsy, they also note that it was done fo... [Read More]
Tracked on April 9, 2006 10:19 PM
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