• U.S.

When Is a Leak Not a Leak?

2 minute read
Mike Allen

President Bush has habitually complained about “too much leaking in Washington,” but it turns out he used his declassification power to combat attacks on the Administration’s case for invading Iraq. Democrats call it a leak. The White House calls it a factual rebuttal. After several days of neither confirming nor denying testimony by ex–White House aide I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, officials close to Vice President Cheney said the President indeed declassified part of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in 2003 but left the method of releasing it up to others. After a conversation with Cheney, Libby delivered the passages to Judith Miller of the New York Times to counter Joseph Wilson, a vocal Administration critic.

A lawyer knowledgeable about the case said Bush directed that the material “be put out to the press and charged the Vice President with doing it, without saying when or where or how.” A senior Administration official said the President had “no idea” of “Scooter’s role or who he would be talking to” and gave no “tactical authorization” for putting out the material.

Libby’s testimony was disclosed in a filing last week by the prosecutor probing the leak of the identity of former CIA officer Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife. The President has the power to declassify unilaterally. The White House later published parts of the NIE, though some of the findings had been disputed by members of the intelligence community. “It was in the public interest that this information be provided,” press secretary Scott McClellan said. The filing pointed out that Bush did not know about the leaking of Plame’s name. Lawyers involved in the case say the testimony increases the chances that Plame and Wilson will file a civil suit against Administration officials. “The difficulty,” says a lawyer familiar with their plans, “will be in selecting among the many possible claims and the many possible defendants.”

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