Next time the White House says 'leaks,' remember Libby
The trial of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- whether it ends in conviction or acquittal -- will leave enough room for people to argue about the merits of the case against Libby and whether the trial was politically motivated.
But what is clear already from the early days of Libby's trial is this: The White House will never again be able to rail against national security leaks and imply that those who leak are vaguely unpatriotic or outright un-American. Because the one thing that has become clear is that the administration leaks as badly as any branch of government, and it does so not out of any superior motives but out of plain old-fashioned political expediency.
Oh, and in case you were wondering: Those late Friday press releases about things that could embarrass the administration ... they really are timed in the hope that the story will die over the weekend. The things you learn when press spokesmen have to testify under oath in federal court.
Libby is charged with obstructing the investigation into a leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA employee and wife of a former ambassador, Joseph Wilson. It was Wilson who wrote a New York Times oped that accused the Bush administration of lying to the American people about Saddam Hussein's efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Libby is also charged with lying to the FBI and to a grand jury.
A plan to leak
Libby was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff at the time the vice president and the White House were eager to discredit Wilson. Cheney's former communications director, Cathie Martin, testified last week that she drew up suggestions for Cheney on how to best leak Plame's name and they debated to whom to give the leak -- The New York Times or The Washington Post, both regularly denounced by the White House for printing leaks, Time or Newsweek, maybe NBC?
Libby's defense is built around a claim that he became the sacrificial lamb once an investigation was launched and a special prosecutor named.
Maybe. Or maybe Libby was part of a plan to throw the prosecutor off the trail of the vice president's office. Had the prosecutor and grand jury believed Libby when he said he was so doggone busy with important things that he couldn't remember discussing the CIA-agent wife of a troublesome diplomat, Cheney might be laughing up his sleeve now rather than hearing about how his former press aide told the world how his office tries to manipulate public opinion.
There is likely to be even more fascinating insights coming out of this trial -- former presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer is testifying today -- but the one thing we all now know is to beware of administration spokesmen who give overwrought denunciations of security leaks. The same people who are bleating today were likely to be leaking yesterday and will probably be leaking tomorrow.
Which is not to say that we're against leaks. The press lives on leaks. We're just pointing out that in Washington, everybody does it and nobody has a right to get high and mighty about it.