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What’s Your Definition of Leak?


The American public may have a short attention span about certain stories in the news — tending to go for the more sensational over the intricate detail sorts.  But they understand one thing very clearly:  liars and hypocrites make for a good storyline.  Especially when the liar or hypocrite has previously wagged his finger at them on television and proclaimed that he deplores that thing which, ultimately, we find out he has in truth done. 

And so we come to George Bush.

Leaks are bad.  Shading the truth is horrible.  I’m a gonna "restore honor and integrity to the White House" kind of guy.

…unless, of course, my political self is roasting on a public perception spit, in which case I will selectively release only that previously classified information that makes me look good — while I keep all information which calls my judgment into question conveniently classified.  (It’s good to be the King, isn’t it George — until you get caught, that is.)

Dear George, it’s called not telling the whole truth, covering your ass, manipulating and, yep, lying.  If you tell only a partial story, if you try to shade the whole of the picture, you aren’t telling the whole truth.  What you did was attempt to manipulate the public and save your ass at the same time by only talking about the things that propped your false stories up — never mind that it had been discredited by numerous intelligence agencies at that point — including the CIA, the State Department’s intel arm, and the Air Force intel unit.  You put a lot of misplaced faith in the DIA’s Chalabi intel unit (and Doug Feith), didn’t you, George?  Was it because they told you what you wanted to hear?

On July 11, 2003, you trotted Condi out to say the following:

For instance, on July 11, seven days before key portions of the NIE were released, reporters badgered the then national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice to allow them to see some of the NIE, which had been used by the administration to make the case for war with Congress. "We don’t want to try to get into kind of selective declassification," said Rice, though she added, "We’re looking at what can be made available."  (emphasis mine)

You lied to the press.  You lied to the American public.  You lied to Congress.  And worst of all, you lied to our men and women in uniform who are now in harm’s way in Iraq in a war that you drummed up based on false public statements about the imminent threat of mushroom clouds and al qaeda connections and WMDs.  All based on tenuous intelligence at best that you hyped to an already fearful public, reeling from the devastation after 9/11.  

The dissenting opinions in this portion of the NIE were not released to the public until July 18, 2003, a full week after Condi’s performance and a full 10 days after Scooter’s meeting with Judy Miller at the St. Regis, after the mushroom cloud spectre had already solidified in the public’s mindset.  You weren’t interested in selective declassification?  Then why not allow Condi (and Scooter) to discuss the whole of the NIE — since you’d theoretically already declassified parts of it for Scooter’s secret meeting with Judy Miller on July 8th — hadn’t you?  Why all the hiding of the contradictory bits if you weren’t interested in being selective?  Ah, but you were, weren’t you, George.  In order to get your war, you had to cheat.

And now the excuse is "If the President declassifies the information, then it’s not an illegal leak of formerly classified information?"  Well, that’s not the point is it?  The point is that you were too craven and that your position was too weak for you to tell the whole truth — to debate the real facts with the American public in order to gain support for your war with Saddam on the true merits. 

You had to cheat your way to war, didn’t you George?

Here’s a little secret:  the American public is on to your sneaky, manipulative ways.  And a majority of the public wouldn’t believe a thing you said now without hard proof from some other source.  The bulk of Americans are catching up to where most world leaders have been through most of your Presidency.  We have become a nation led by a man that most people find to be not so credible.  How does that make you feel, George?  To know that most people assume automatically that if you are saying something, that means you are hiding something else or crossing your fingers behind your back?

The leak case has the potential to create deep wounds because history shows that once the public loses faith in a president’s personal qualities, that trust is hard to win back. Once he is seen as a leaker and a hypocrite, he no longer seems presidential, and once the aura fades, Rasmussen said, it’s hard to get back.

"Gerald Ford became known as a bumbler," he recalled, "and every time he hit his head on a door it became news."

Bush’s leak could have the same effect, Lesperance said – it is fresh evidence that Bush is not the forthright president he had once seemed.

So although the public may not understand all the legal maneuvering, they increasingly think "that whatever happened in the Plame case probably started with Bush," Lesperance said. "This is going to reverberate."

In politics, perception is everything. Straight talking cowboy? Try all hat, no cattle, George.  No one likes a liar and a cheat, and you’ve just been exposed as just that sort of fraud.

Your pals in the GOP went nutso over the whole "It depends on what the definition of "is" is."  You think the American public is going to find you lying your way into war in Iraq any less deceptive?  Any less troubling?

You think this isn’t going to stick?  Think again.

Administration critics arguing that war hinged only on the now debunked nuclear threat through Niger are engaging in political demagoguery. There were other valid reasons, including the Iraqi dictator’s repeated refusal to comply with UN resolutions in a post 9/11 context, but the Democrats have ammunition now, provided them by the Bush-Cheney appetite for revenge.

So the hands of the Bush White House are covered with tar. It was sticky enough just listening to Bush spokesman Scott McClellan try to spin out of it, attempting to distinguish between the president’s opposition to leaks, and, well, other leaks.

"There is a difference between providing declassified information to the public when it’s in the public’s interest and leaking classified information involved in sensitive national intelligence regarding our security," McClellan said.

I don’t have to remind anyone that if Bill Clinton had leaked classified information to debunk Republican critics, we’d all be deaf from angry Republican shrieking. President Bush better start talking straight and loud and clear on this, and soon.

But the Texas Republican might be taking a page from that wily Arkansas hairsplitter. I can almost hear Bush say: "I guess it depends on what the definition of `leak’ is."

That’s from the Chicago Tribune. Not exactly a bastion of liberal media. When you’ve lost your conservative media buddies, you know your behavior has crossed the line and then some.

Your petty vendetta against Joe Wilson is exposed for exactly what it was, laid bare for the American public:

The dissenting opinions were included in the declassified NIE released to the press on July 18, 2003. But Libby said nothing about them to Miller when he was leaking to her on July 8. Cheney’s role in this operation remains murky, as does the precise role played by Bush (both men were questioned by the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald—Bush at the White House, Cheney at an unknown location—but not under oath). The filing by Fitzgerald ties Cheney more directly to Libby’s leak than any evidence so far. It says Libby testified that after Wilson’s op-ed appeared on July 6, Cheney questioned whether Wilson’s trip to Africa was legitimate, or "whether it was a junket set up by Mr. Wilson’s wife," Valerie Plame, a CIA operative then working in the agency’s counterproliferation division of the directorate of operations.

Libby has been charged with lying to a grand jury and to the Feds about when and from whom he learned Plame’s identity. The theory was that Libby was trying to intimidate or get back at Wilson by exposing his wife’s undercover role. Libby has argued all along that he was so preoccupied with important national-security matters, he barely noticed that Wilson’s wife was involved, and later forgot that he had mentioned anything about her to reporters when he was questioned by investigators in the leak probe. To defend himself, Libby may now want to call both Cheney and Bush as witnesses at his trial. That is not likely to endear him to the president—the one man who has the power not only to declassify secrets but also to pardon convicted felons.

Abusing your position of power is wrong. Flat out wrong. Classified information is not some pawn to be wielded as an ass-covering maneuver — and going to war on half-truths is not what any of us expect, especially considering the consequences for the thousands of soldiers who have been killed and maimed in Iraq since your war began. 

(Big thanks to reader Prof for the photo find.)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com