Thursday, April 6, 2006

On What Scooter Told Them

From the National Journal:

Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff has testified that President Bush authorized him to disclose the contents of a highly classified intelligence assessment to the media to defend the Bush administration’s decision to go to war with Iraq, according to papers filed in federal court on Wednesday by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case.

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby testified to a federal grand jury that he had received “approval from the President through the Vice President” to divulge portions of a National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein’s purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to the court papers. Libby was said to have testified that such presidential authorization to disclose classified information was “unique in his recollection,” the court papers further said.

Libby also testified that an administration lawyer told him that Bush, by authorizing the disclosure of classified information, had in effect declassified the information. Legal experts disagree on whether the president has the authority to declassify information on his own.

Legal experts may disagree, but just because the president might have the authority to declassify material doesn’t mean he should. If the motivation for doing so was purely to defend the decision to go to war to a skeptical press or to embarrass his political opponents, it’s wrong whether or not it was legal.

It also makes you wonder what else Scooter told them…

Farhad Manjoo at Salon.com’s War Room speculates on the hows and whys this went down.

[F]rom what we know about how this White House works — or, really, about how any hierarchical organization probably works — Libby’s story does make a kind of intuitive sense. Libby was Cheney’s chief of staff; it doesn’t seem likely that he would have undertaken to counter the Wilson claims all by himself, without first checking at least with his boss. Moreover, Libby understood well that the NIE was a classified document, and, working for Bush and Cheney — for whom secrecy is sacrosanct — it doesn’t seem plausible that he would have discussed the document without at least checking with higher-ups. Cheney, as many have pointed out, has expanded the vice president’s powers of classification and declassification; Cheney has suggested that he can declassify documents all by himself. Libby, then, would have had a motive in asking Cheney whether it was OK to talk about the NIE to reporters — permission from Cheney would have cleared Libby of any wrongdoing in discussing the classified information. Permission from Bush was even better.

Still doesn’t make it right.