McClellan: Bush Authorized Leaking Classified Info

By Margie Burns

YouTube has again captured a news story overlooked elsewhere. On Nov. 15, former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan revealed that President Bush confirmed that he authorized Scooter Libby’s leak of a classified 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about Iraq:

Bush acknowledged green-lighting the leak in the simplest possible terms. The president and his entourage were in North Carolina, where Bush had given a speech. As Bush and McClellan headed into Air Force One, a reporter shouted a question about the leak of the NIE. On board, McClellan says, he told Bush what the reporter had asked—did you authorize leaking classified information—and Bush replied simply, “Yeah. I did.”

So Bush told McClellan directly that he himself, as president, was behind the process leading to the infamous CIA ‘leak’ of Valerie Plame’s name. 

McClellan narrated this exchange to an audience Nov. 15 at the Miami Book Fair, discussing his book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House. McClellan had endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president on CNN on Oct. 25. McClellan has also stated publicly that Vice President Cheney “has information that has not been shared publicly” and should testify about the CIA leak.

According to McClellan, the moral of the story is clear.

“In order to push back” against criticism of the Niger uranium story, McClellan says, the administration including the White House and the Office of the Vice President targeted critics, who included former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV. Wilson went public with skepticism about the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal in a column for the New York Times, titled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.”

The aim was “to destroy their political enemies no matter what the cost,” he says, and “it resulted in a period of very bitter partisanship.” The broader aim was to take the country into war, with a “political marketing campaign used to sell war to the American people.”  

Bush’s moment of jaw-dropping candor also clarifies further that the Plame leak was a deliberate administration plant. The NIE does not include Plame’s name and CIA status, but when word to leak went down from Bush as well as from Vice President Cheney, to VP Chief of Staff Scooter Libby and to then-White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer among others, Plame’s WMD unit inevitably became part of the picture.

In a concerted bureaucratic hit, officials began by simply buttonholing two prominent reporters—Judith Miller of the New York Times and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post—at two of the biggest newspapers in the national political press, apparently thinking that Miller and Woodward would run with the item, generating a media trickle-down that would gather national momentum. As the public now knows, the first attempts went nowhere, and hastily timed plants with other reporters finally bore fruit with syndicated GOP columnist Robert Novak. Novak, who subsequently also outed Plame’s CIA front company—Brewster Jennings—has expressed some regret at the outing. In recent remarks, he has reverted to defiance:

“Now I’m much less ambivalent. I’d go full speed ahead because of the hateful and beastly way in which my left-wing critics in the press and Congress tried to make a political affair out of it and tried to ruin me. My response now is this: The hell with you. They didn’t ruin me. I have my faith, my family, and a good life. A lot of people love me—or like me. So they failed. I would do the same thing over again because I don’t think I hurt Valerie Plame whatsoever.”

McClellan’s Nov. 15 account raises questions:

In the extensive multi-year investigation of the CIA leak, how did President Bush’s confiding this item to his press secretary fail to come out? Calls placed at Scott McClellan’s home have not yet been returned.

How did the trial of Scooter Libby, who was convicted by a conscientious jury, establish a cloud over the vice president, as then Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald put it, but omit the same cloud over the president? Libby held positions in both the White House and the Office of the Vice President. What prosecutorial strategy, in pursuit of justice, necessitated leaving Bush out of the picture? The Plame investigation is now officially terminated, along with the position of Special Counsel. Questions placed with US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office in Chicago have not yet been answered.

On the other side, did knowledge that Bush green-lighted the leak inform the neo-con defense of Libby as a ‘fall guy’? Did Bush’s disclosure form the basis for the neo-con talking point that Libby was just a sacrificial goat? Libby’s defense team knew that Libby had been authorized to disclose the NIE before his conversation with Judith Miller. Was that information shared by the White House and the OVP with sympathetic media outlets?

Information from the Libby trial revealed that Wilson’s op-ed piece did not set off the events leading to the outing of his wife. Wilson did not bring out his column until July 7, 2003, and the Bush administration had begun focusing on the Wilsons at least a month prior. According to testimony, intense confabbing about Joe Wilson and his Africa trip, and his wife, began in May 2003. A June 10, 2003, classified State Department memo by the Bureau of Intelligence & Research (INR) on Wilson’s Niger trip mentioned Wilson’s wife as a CIA WMD manager. (The memo also debunked the Niger uranium story.) Since Wilson’s trip had already been referred to in a May 6 New York Times piece by Nicholas Kristof, and since Wilson had gone on television with his criticisms by March 2003, why was the administration still desperately going after former ambassador Wilson—now retired to the private sector—through June of that year? Did he individually pose that great a threat?

Was the real target Valerie Plame Wilson, who lost her CIA job—while Joseph Wilson’s career benefited from the controversy—and whose counter-proliferation unit was compromised? Did the administration plant the item to defend invading Iraq—or to prep for moving against Iran, whose WMD capability was being monitored by Plame’s unit?

Did the prominent reporters who first received the tip about Joe Wilson’s wife smell a plant? Judith Miller, boosting war with Iraq, had little incentive to scrutinize the gift horse—although she did not use it. Miller now works for Fox News. But wouldn’t the White House’s using news outlets to target its critics be a political story for Woodward? 

Why did Woodward keep silent about the plant for two years while the investigation continued? Why did he reveal it, along with the fact that his particular administration handler had been Richard Armitage, only when the first grand jury disbanded? Questions placed earlier to Woodward’s office were not replied to.

And why did Woodward make media appearances critical of Fitzgerald—retailing meaningless details about the prosecutor’s housekeeping—and downplaying the investigation and the leak? Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, syndicated through the Washington Post Writers Group, years ago called Woodward an unofficial spokesman for the CIA. Why did Woodward in effect shield the president and the vice president at the expense of the CIA?

Furthermore, why did the prosecution overlook Novak’s subsequent mention of Brewster Jennings? When Novak named Brewster Jennings, after all, he was airing information about the CIA WMD unit, and clearly with intent. Was this to support administration aims against Iraq? Or against Iran?

Margie Burns writes from Washington, D.C. Email See

From The Progressive Populist, Jan. 1-15, 2009

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