Bombshell Revelation in Plame Case

Yesterday's release of court documents from the special prosecutor in the Scooter Libby case, which say that Libby has testified that he was expressly told that President Bush himself had signed off on the release of classified information, could be the bombshell that brings down Bush. My father, a lifelong Republican, called me yesterday and said, "That's the last straw. It's time to impeach this man." I've got a couple long quotes, which I'll put below the fold. The first is from the LA Times story on this revelation:

According to the new court filing, Libby testified to a grand jury that Cheney told him Bush had approved the release of information from the CIA's classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The CIA document, citing various intelligence reports, argued that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had sought nuclear weapons materials in Niger -- a claim that Bush and others used to justify the March 2003 invasion of Iraq but that ultimately proved to be untrue.

The leak from the ClA report was authorized, according to Libby's testimony cited in the court documents, within days of a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed piece written by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who traveled to Africa in 2002 to investigate the administration claims that Iraq tried to buy nuclear materials. In the commentary, he debunked the claim and accused the White House of manipulating intelligence.

The court papers provide new details about the active role that Cheney reportedly played in using Libby as a secret administration envoy to rebut concerns about prewar intelligence in conversations with reporters.

Moreover, the court filings suggest that Bush and Cheney were intimately involved in the decision to selectively leak classified information to reporters, without the knowledge of even then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice or her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley.

The most astounding thing is that the White House has not denied the claim at all. In fact, they appear to be giving a tacit admission to it. For instance, the attorney general says that the President can do that:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the president has the "inherent authority to decide who should have classified information." The White House declined to comment, citing the ongoing criminal probe into the leak of Plame's identity.

Well of course, Gonzales is correct to say that the President has the legal authority to declassify any document he wants. But that is entirely beside the point. The fact that his administration, so well known for classifying everything in sight to maintain maximum secrecy even when totally unjustified, would declassify information for the purpose of damaging their political enemies is more than enough to discredit them completely. At the very least, this should destroy Dick Cheney.

I really want to see if Republicans even bother to defend this one. Can you even imagine if they had evidence of Bill Clinton using classified information to discredit his political enemies in the press? Forget impeachment, they'd be going for treason charges.

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Problem: is it illegal? Probably not.

What I would like to know:

Did Bush and Cheney lie to the federal investigator about this leak? If they did, THAT is a felony and enough for impeachment, given the Republican record for prosecuting presidents who lie. Frankly, given the constant denials of leaks by the White House, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if they lied.

By Miguelito (not verified) on 07 Apr 2006 #permalink

...could be the bombshell that brings down Bush.

No way. As much as I've gotten burned betting against you, I'll put another dinner on this one. And gladly pay up if I lose. Care to take any of that action?

Now, Bush may have no choice at some point but to let Cheney twist in the wind -- and perhaps, as an extremely long shot, cut him loose. But Cowboy George and the Spinmeisters will figure out a way to play it. I'm surprised the Republican talking points don't already have complete blame assigned to the Democrats, with O'Reilly and Hannity whining about it on FOX.

By the way, love the new header. Extremely cool.

Dan wrote:

No way. As much as I've gotten burned betting against you, I'll put another dinner on this one. And gladly pay up if I lose. Care to take any of that action?

Nah, I wouldn't put a bet on it. But up till now I've dismissed any and all talk of impeachment as patently absurd if not downright delusional. This is the first time I've felt like it was even a remote possibility.

The probability of impeachment is still slim - the Democratic leadership still is shy, the GOP Congressional leadership and rank & file are strongly behind Bush (down only a bit from 100%), and the middle third (IMHO) doesn't like Bush, but hasn't gotten to the 'hate' stage. The media still favors him.

However, every thing that gets out into peoples' minds weakens him. We've seen occasional GOP congressional opposition; as more things accumulate, this might move from 'occasional' to 'frequent'. If the GOP Congressional leadership decides that their own elections ('06 and '08) are endangered by Bush, they'll publicly oppose him more often, which will further hurt him in peoples' minds.

The achievalbe goals are: (1) to take the Senate or House in '06; (2) to get the GOP Congressional leaders/members to cut loose from Bush; (3) to weaken Bush further; (4) to hang Bush around the neck to whoever runs for president on the GOP ticket in '08; all with the hope of taking the Presidency back in '08.

My take on this is not political but psychological. The entire far right has a mindset that they are in a universal struggle on the side of "utlimate truth". This, in their minds, justifies anything they need to do. The Discovery Institute is an excellent example.

So it's not about executive perogative, etc. This is something Bush thought needed to be done, so he did it. For the Republican base and for the G.O.P. Congress, this is justification enough. And Democrats will be completely inept in handling everything related to Libby's trial.

No impeachment -- they don't believe anything wrong has been done.

By SkookumPlanet (not verified) on 07 Apr 2006 #permalink

And Barry

Democrats are too ineffective to make the headway you describe in your last paragraph. See my link above. I wish it were otherwise, but I despair.

By SkookumPlanet (not verified) on 07 Apr 2006 #permalink

Expect to see Libby get shot in the face very soon. Darth will not go down without a fight.

By CanuckRob (not verified) on 07 Apr 2006 #permalink

He leaked this ONE piece of information to ONE select journalist for political means. Endangered the lives of the undercover agent and sacrificed the progress made. For political advantage. If not treasonous, pretty heinous. Absolutely worse than Clinton's Chinese military technology sales scandal.

Could one write the headline --

Libby Uses Liddy Defense

I actually no longer remember, there's been so much intervening criminality by White House operatives.

By SkookumPlanet (not verified) on 07 Apr 2006 #permalink

Did you hear about Alberto Gonzales refusing to rule out warrantless wiretapping of domestic communications between American citizens?

The administration isn't just ignoring the Constitution, now they're basically pissing on it.

By Troy Britain (not verified) on 07 Apr 2006 #permalink

Problem: is it illegal? Probably not.

I think this is very questionable. If they officialy declassified the information that was leaked it would be. The question I have is, did they actually do that? Or did they tell Libby to leak classified information? I would imagine that if it were the latter then they did indeed break the law - of course I could be mistaken. It could be that through presidential order they just have to say it's declassified and "Poof" it's declassified.

Well, according to Scott McClellan's July 18, 2003 press conference, the NIE wasn't declassified until that very day, some ten days after Libby met with Judith Miller and four days after Novak's column outing Plame (nice WaPost timeline here). So either only select parts concerning Plame were declassified for Libby before the entire NIE was declassified, or Libby was authorized to leak info that hadn't been declassified yet. Pretty slimy whichever way it goes.

"Problem: is it illegal? Probably not."

whether practice or behavior is formally illegal or not matters zip in terms of grounds for impeachment.

Constitutional impeachment is a remedy for a President or Justice whose behavior is so outside of American expectations, their removal is deemed in the best interest of the United States.

It could be that through presidential order they just have to say it's declassified and "Poof" it's declassified.

indeed, if this were so, and the Presidency were made immune from legal ramifications of revealing classified information independent of timing and context, it would constitute a(nother) vast increase in the power of the Executive. moreover, if classified information is revealed eclectically, with inadequate context, noone can possibly know what it means or its significance. some classified information may be withheld or redacted in declassification actions, but if most is, the portions which are declassified can be misleading to the point of being worse than lies.

also, according to the National Security Archive at

there's something odd about BushCo's defense that the President declassified what Libby was told to reveal. formally speaking, only a limited portion of the NIE document Libby was told he could use has been declassified.

from my understanding of the origins and means for classified documents, you can't declassify a "portion" of a document. you can declassify the document and black out parts. but perhaps that's administrative nitpicking on my part.