Heads will roll

Heads will roll September 28, 2003

Earlier today, while some of us were still sleeping or watching the Eagles game, more responsible bloggers were already kneedeep in posts about today's big news — which is sure to be big news for many days to come. Mike Allen and Dana Milbank of The Washington Post have dug deep and discovered an honorable official in the Bush administration.

The bombshell of the week was this report from MSNBC.com, revealing that the CIA had formally requested the Justice Department to investigate the leaking of the identity of one of its covert operatives. That operative is Valerie Plame, wife of Joseph Wilson, who incurred the wrath of the Bush administration by telling the truth about the Iraq/Niger connection. She was outed by conservative columnist Robert Novak, who cited as his source "two senior administration officials." (See "What About Bob?")

This had been a strange story. David Corn pointed out in The Nation on July 17 that what we had here was evidence of serious misconduct by at least two top level officials — behavior that was possibly treasonous, probably illegal and certainly sleazy and unpatriotic. "This is not only a possible breach of national security; it is a potential violation of law," Corn wrote, but The Nation was about as close to the mainstream media as this story got. (If I were Paul Begala, I would have been asking Novak about this story every day for the past two months on Crossfire: "So, Bob, who were those officials that you helped to undermine national security for petty political revenge?")

With the Justice Dept. probe, however, suddenly — two months later — MSNBC was paying attention, and soon others followed.

Allen and Milbank took the story another step forward thanks to another unnamed "senior administration official":

Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife. Wilson had just revealed that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson's account touched off a political fracas over Bush's use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.

"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak. …

The official would not name the leakers for the record and would not name the journalists. The official said there was no indication that Bush knew about the calls.

It is rare for one Bush administration official to turn on another. Asked about the motive for describing the leaks, the senior official said the leaks were "wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson's credibility."

This slowly simmering scandal has suddenly erupted into a Big Story. Big enough — one would think — that some of the other journalists contacted might decide to share with the rest of the country just who these SAOs were.

As I said, bloggers have been all over it. Josh Marshall deserves your attention for providing the most thorough coverage of this story ever since Novak's column appeared. For a full run-down, start here and scroll down. Then go back to the beginning to catch whatever he's posted since then. Atrios, likewise, has been pointing out additional angles and implications of this story, check out his initial burst of links to commentary around the Web, then scroll back up to the present for lots and lots more.

This is big, people. And it's not going away until we learn the named of several of these "senior administration officials."

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  • Dan

    We’ll see how big it becomes. This is not the type of story that normally sparks the public’s overwhelming interest……more is the pity.
    See here.

  • The Plame affair

    How to put this? This is dirty pool. Plame is the ‘outed’ CIA operative, the wife of former Ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson. Wilson was asked to check on the possible sale of nuclear material from Niger to Iraq in…

  • selise

    And it’s not going away until we learn the named of several of these “senior administration officials.”
    my concern goes way beyond the “senior administration officials” who did the actual leaking to novak. i won’t be satisfied until i know how the information was obtained. shouldn’t the name of a covert cia operative be protected and only released, even within the hightest levels of gov., on a need-to-know basis? hard to imagine how plame’s name was obtained without a major abuse of power. i hope there is another explanation.

  • GC

    The journalists who were offered the story before Novak bit are not going to come forward. Why not? Because then they won’t be on the speed dial the next time some administration official wants to break the law and leak a story that they WOULD be interested in.
    It would be a huge coup if just one off them would report being approached, but then he or she wouldn’t be invited to those all important cocktail parties anymore. And isn’t that why one gets into journalism in the first place, for the parties? The public interest is nice and all, if you can serve it, but it sure doesn’t get you a lucrative book contract, if you know what I mean.