A point worth making again
I asked on Friday what evidence there was that Bush and his senior White House staff knew about the Plame Game in July. This is an important point, because many liberals — Mark Kleiman, Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman — have argued that they must have known. If true, this would mean that the Bushies sat ...
I asked on Friday what evidence there was that Bush and his senior White House staff knew about the Plame Game in July. This is an important point, because many liberals -- Mark Kleiman, Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman -- have argued that they must have known. If true, this would mean that the Bushies sat on this for 11 weeks without taking any action, which I agree would be pretty damning. Brad DeLong was kind enough to comment on this post:
I asked on Friday what evidence there was that Bush and his senior White House staff knew about the Plame Game in July. This is an important point, because many liberals — Mark Kleiman, Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman — have argued that they must have known. If true, this would mean that the Bushies sat on this for 11 weeks without taking any action, which I agree would be pretty damning. Brad DeLong was kind enough to comment on this post:
I would be very surprised if the late-July communications from CIA to Justice about the leak were not noted by the White House, and were not explicitly brought to Condi Rice’s attention by George Tenet.
Let’s break this down into the two possible mechanisms — that the (non-leaking) White House senior staff finds out via Justice or via Tenet. I doubt Justice contacted the White House in July. The first thing they did when they received the CIA request was to go back to the CIA for more information, as was the proper procedure. Furthermore, it’s telling that according to the New York Times, the first place the FBI decided to ask questions was — again — the CIA. Perhaps someone at Justice gave a heads-up to the White House about the investigation. However, Justice’s standard operating procedure suggests that until they were convinced of the need to open a proper investigation, there was no contact. Now we go to Tenet. I actually thought this to be a decent assumption on Brtad’s part — until I read today’s New York Times story on Tenet. Two salient sections. The first one comes at the end:
Mr. Tenet was aware of the Novak column, and was not pleased, the C.I.A. official said. As required by law, the agency notified the Justice Department in late July that there had been a release of classified information; it is a felony for any official with access to such information to disclose the identity of a covert American officer. It is unclear when Mr. Tenet became aware of the referral, but when he did, he supported it, the C.I.A. official said, even though it was clearly going to cause problems for the White House. “I don’t think he lost any sleep over it,” the official said.
Nothing in there about Tenet formally notifying the White House. The Washington Post story on Tenet today takes this a step further:
Sources close to Tenet say the director himself was not responsible for initiating the leak investigation. They say lawyers in the agency’s general counsel’s office referred the matter to the Justice Department in July — without consulting the CIA director — as part of the routine way of responding to the disclosure of classified information.
Now, take a look at this section of the NYT story:
At a few minutes before eight on Thursday morning, George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, was parked in his usual chair just outside the Oval Office waiting to brief his chief patron, the president of the United States. The morning newspapers were full of developments in what amounted to a war between the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House, and a Justice Department investigation that was barely 48 hours old into whether administration officials had illegally disclosed the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer…. But after President Bush told his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., that he was ready to see Mr. Tenet — “O.K., George, let’s go,” Mr. Card called out to the intelligence chief — Mr. Tenet, a rare holdover from the Clinton administration and a politically savvy survivor, did not even bring up the issue that was roiling his agency, Mr. Card said in an interview. Instead, Mr. Tenet briefed the president on the latest intelligence reports, as he always does, and left it to the White House to make the first move about Mr. Wilson and Ms. Plame. “I think I was the one who initiated it,” Mr. Card recalled. The subsequent conversation between the president and Mr. Tenet about the investigation, he added, did not consume “any significant amount of time or discussion or angst. It was basically, `We’re cooperating, you’re cooperating, I’m glad to see the process is moving forward the way it should.'”
If Tenet didn’t raise the Plame Game with Bush this Thursday, what makes anyone think that Tenet raised it with anyone else in the White House in July? There are a lot of disturbing implications about the Plame Game and its ensuing fallout, and this is only one dimension to this issue, but it’s an important one — the extent to which Bush and his chief subordinates sat on the issue back in July. Many on the liberal side of the spectrum believe there was an eleven week pattern of malevolence that only became public in late September. They could be proven correct, but at this point I don’t see any facts to support this assertion. UPDATE: Time‘s cover story this week provides an excellent summary of events to date. Oh, and Newsday has a good piece today as well. ANOTHER UPDATE: Mark Kleiman has a post today that does an excellent job of constructing the proper timeline. I have one quibble with it, and two areas of agreement. The quibble is minor — Kleiman neglects to say that Time‘s follow-up to the Novak story was only in its online version. It never appeared in print. However, Kleiman’s version of events otherwise seems pretty accurate, and the comments below suggest that McClellan was briefed when facing the press on July 22nd. So I’ll concede there’s a high probability that Bush’s senior aides knew about this in July. As for Bush himself, Kleiman acknowledges that he’s got no evidence either way. Given Tenet’s behavior cited above, I’m inclined to think he didn’t know.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Twitter: @dandrezner
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