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It’s Not the Crime, It’s the Cover-up

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John Podhoretz of The New York Post is moving at about 1000 rpms in an attempt to spin yesterday’s revelation that President Bush himself may have authorized the release of information the resulted in exposing covert CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity. Podhoretz wants us to think this is much-ado-about nothing and lays out an argument the goes roughly like this:

1) The “leaked� information was from a document called the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), but most of that document was already public knowledge nine months before this whole thing began because an unclassified version had been released.

2) The President has the right to declassify anything, so it is impossible that he could break the law by leaking classified information.

3) The NIE was released to prove that Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson was lying when he claimed to have inside information that the White House was lying about Saddam Hussein’s attempts to get uranium from Niger.

4) No one has been indicted for leaking classified information

5) It was good and proper to discredit Wilson because he’s a lying sack of you-know-what who slandered the White House.

That, at least, is the gist of Podhoretz’s argument. You’ll have to read the whole thing to get a feel for how deep he lays it on, and how conspicuously he leaves out the exact connection between the release of the NIE and the exposure of Plame.

Nevertheless, it should be said that Podhoretz is probably right when he says Bush didn’t break the law. In fact, given that there have been no indictments for leaking classified information, it’s possible that no one broke the law here…that is until they tried to cover up the whole matter.

And that’s what gets me. When this thing became a story, the White House acted earnestly disturbed and vowed that they would get to the bottom of it. But the reality seems to be that just about every high-ranking official, including the President himself, knew quite well how Plame’s identity ended up being revealed.

Podhoretz wants us to believe that nothing happened and that the hubbub over all this is just the ignorant reaction of ignorant people. But doesn’t that flat-out miss the point? Isn’t the point now that the White House knowingly hid the truth about this whole affair? That the administration b.s.’ed the country because they wanted to avoid responsibility and shield themselves from blame?

Perhaps there was honest confusion within the White House about how Plame’s name got out. Perhaps the President really didn’t know that his authorization of the NIE release directly led to the problem. Perhaps. But I, for one, am not willing to give them the benefit-of-the-doubt.