The New York Times today puts Mr. Cheney at the center of Plame-gate. This bit of news will not come as a surprise to anyone. The real "news" in the article is buried deep. The article portrays Mr. Bush as a passive figure in the leaking of a covert CIA agent and a National Intelligence Estimate.
Here is the astonishing passage from the article:
Mr. Libby said he found a way around that resistance by getting backdoor approval from the president. In a hush-hush meeting described in testimony, Mr. Libby asked the vice president’s chief counsel, David S. Addington, whether the president could declassify intelligence personally, effectively without C.I.A. knowledge or approval.
Mr. Addington testified that as he explained to Mr. Libby that indeed the president could do so, Mr. Libby shushed him. “He extended his hands out and pushed down a little like that, that would indicate, ‘Hold your voice down,’ ” Mr. Addington said at the trial. Mr. Libby testified that Mr. Cheney then went to Mr. Bush and got a presidential declassification.
White House officials have said Mr. Bush did not know how Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby intended to use the intelligence. [Emphasis added by me.]
To paraphrase Mr. Bush: what is worse, the President actively leaking a National Intelligence Estimate or the President declassifying an NIE without knowing why?
If we are to believe the New York Times and the "White House officials", then Mr. Bush is rather careless with this nation’s secrets. The President of the United States declassified a highly classified NIE without discussing it with the intelligence community or without bothering to find out why it should be declassified. The question is not whether the President has the power to do so (he does), the question is of judgment. If Mr. Bush chose to declassify the NIE for political purposes, he has chosen politics over national security. If Mr. Bush chose to declassify the NIE without a valid reason, he has displayed very poor judgment indeed. Either scenario does not put Mr. Bush in a favorable light.
In its attempt to spin a story that keeps Mr. Bush in the dark while throwing Mr. Cheney under the bus, the article also suffers from a timeline problem. According to the article, on July 8 2003, after speaking with Judith Miller, Scooter Libby leaked to Andrea Mitchell later in the day:
Cathie Martin, Mr. Cheney’s former communications director, recalled her discomfort at seeing Mr. Libby reading from the estimate later in the day while he called back reporters covering the story, at Mr. Cheney’s direction, among them Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.
Other senior officials were perplexed when they apparently saw some of Mr. Libby’s handiwork from those phone calls in action. After Ms. Mitchell reported that night on NBC News that “The White House blamed an October C.I.A. report for ignoring Wilson’s information,” the president’s deputy national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, indicated that he had got an earful from Mr. Tenet, according to Ms. Martin’s testimony.
Ms. Martin testified that at a senior staff meeting the following morning Mr. Hadley strongly hinted he thought she was responsible and told her the finger-pointing had been a disservice to the president. According to Ms. Martin’s testimony, Mr. Libby let her take the blame and “looked down” as Mr. Hadley shared his chagrin. Mr. Cheney, she said, later told her not to worry about it. [Emphasis added by me.]
Mr. Hadley is portrayed on July 9 2003 as upset that the NIE was leaked. Yet, the very next day, July 10:
At a meeting on July 10, Mr. Hadley had suggested to Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney that the intelligence estimate could be leaked to a friendly reporter, Mr. Libby testified that his notes said. But neither he nor Mr. Cheney told Mr. Hadley that they had started trying to do so days earlier. [Emphasis added by me.]
Why the change of heart in a matter of 24 hours? It seems unusual for Mr. Hadley to be upset about the leak one day and then become an advocate of leaking the very next day. It stretches credulity that Mr. Hadley became a sudden convert to leaking overnight.
It is clear that Mr. Cheney was a major player in Plame-gate. However, while the article tries to portray Mr. Bush as a hapless bystander, the chronology of events and Mr. Bush’s own actions, and those of his deputy national security advisor, leave a lot of unanswered questions.
As the White House circles the wagons to contain the Iraq fallout, it is time for the New York Times and the mainstream media to ask hard questions of Mr. Bush. The citizens of this country deserve no less.