White House under fire amid leak allegations

Posted 12:47pm October 11

by Ilana Weinberg
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

The Bush administration is under fire recently, after two senior administration officials allegedly revealed the identity of a covert CIA agent to syndicated columnist Robert Novak and five other journalists in July.

The Justice Department has begun an investigation to track down the White House officials responsible for the unauthorized disclosure of the clandestine CIA operative. Former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson believes that the information about his wife was leaked as a means of revenge for a column he had written criticizing the war in Iraq.

The CIA sent Wilson to Africa in February 2002 to investigate possible Iraqi purchases of uranium. He wrote a column for the New York Times on July 6, 2003, claiming that an Iraqi purchase of uranium yellowcake from Niger was highly unlikely, and on a broader scale, the war was initiated on false pretenses.

“Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat,” said Wilson in his column.

A week later, Novak published a column in the Washington Post describing the political implications of Wilson’s report upon his return from Niger. The name of Wilson’s wife came out in an explanation of how Wilson was chosen for that particular mission.

“Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger,” said Novak in his column.

A senior administration official has since stated that before Novak’s column ran, the two top White House officials had called at least five other Washington journalists to reveal the identity of Wilson’s wife.

“The leak was absolutely despicable. In a city that swims with leaks, this was at the top,” said Congresswoman Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday.

Wilson had publicly suggested that Bush’s senior advisor, Karl Rove, broke his wife’s cover. The White House has denied such implications.

The Intelligence Protection Act, passed in 1982, imposes a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $50,000 in fines for unauthorized disclosure of confidential information by government employees.

The same law does not apply to Novak, journalists are exempted because they, unlike federal officials, don’t have regular access to classified information. Controversy has sprung up whether Novak was morally and ethically correct in printing the information.

“I find it hard to believe that a woman and her husband, unknown to the public, especially as a matter of safety concern, that this information was newsworthy. I don’t know that it was unethical [to print the name], but it was certainly unwise,” said Jerome Barron, Professor of Law with an expertise in media law, at The George Washington University.

According to a recent ABC News / Washington Post Poll, eight in ten Americans say the alleged White House leak is a serious matter, and nearly seven in ten say it should be investigated by a special counsel, not by the administration’s own Justice Department.

Many feel that a private counsel would be more objective and thus less effective in political cases.

“Any questionable action – or inaction – in this investigation carries with it a powerful conflict of interest taint,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY, in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft. “The easiest and best way to dispel many of these concerns is for a Special Counsel to be appointed.”

Republicans are eager to get through the investigation and put the scandal behind them, before the Administration’s name gets smeared any further. This comes at a difficult time for Bush, whose overall approval rating has dropped to 54 percent, the lowest since he took office according to the ABC News/ Washington Post poll.

“The sooner this is behind us, the better off it is for the Bush administration,” said Senator Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., on CBS’s Face the Nation last Sunday. “And the sooner we can get this behind us, the more confidence and trust the American people will have in the process.”

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