December 10, 2003
Whatever Happened to the Plame Investigation? An Act of Treason by the Bush Administration Gets Buried Alive.
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Remember Valerie Plame? Ms. Plame was the CIA undercover operative who was outed by the White House in effort to punish her husband former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had publicly stated in a July 6, 2003 op-ed in the New York Times, that despite President Bushís statements to the contrary, Iraq had not attempted to purchase yellow cake uranium from Niger. The existence of that uranium, you may recall, was presented to the public as "evidence" that Iraq had nuclear weapons which, in turn, was used to justify our unilateral attack on Iraq.
Ms. Plame, however, had nothing to do with any of that. Ms. Plame was an operative under deep cover -- the CIA had created an entire company just so that Ms. Plame could claim that she worked there. Yet once Joseph Wilson broke his silence and announced that the White House was lying, Karl Rove decided that Wilson needed to be punished and that his wife was "fair game." Two top government officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilsonís wife. But only the ever-ready apologist for the Republican Party, Robert Novak, took the bait. On July 14, 2003, Novak wrote a piece outing Ms. Plame as an operative.
Neither Karl Rove -- or whomever among the Bush senior staff leaked it -- nor Novak gave a momentís consideration to the lives that they may have jeopardized by outing Ms. Plame. Never mind that anyone in another country who had so much as met Ms. Plame might now be suspected of spying. No thought was given to the fact that others, who were in fact spies, might be outed through their connection to Ms. Plame, and no thought was given to the fact that actual lives could be lost as a result of this odious act. Never mind that outing an undercover CIA operative is a federal crime.
A very serious matter, yet you would never know that from the White Houseís response. When the revelation first hit the press in July, the White House first refused to comment and later, had White House press secretary Scott McClellan claim -- without so much as a question asked of White House staff -- "that is not the way this White House operates," and that "no one was certainly given any authority to do any of that nature, and Iíve seen no evidence to suggest thereís any truth to it." Itís hard to find evidence you are doing your very best to ignore.
Finally, in October the CIA referred the matter to the Department of Justice for investigation, and Attorney General John Ashcroftís Justice Department, despite the obvious conflict of interest, refused to appoint a special prosecutor.
President Bushís response: "And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated the law, the person will be taken care of." Apparently, it never crossed the Presidentís mind to simply ask his staff who the leaker was (or leakers were).
The Justice Department launched its allegedly official probe on September 26th, but neglected to direct the White House to preserve critical evidence until the evening of September 29th. Then, when the White House Counsel asked if he could wait until the next day to inform the staff of the need to preserve documents, the Justice Department allowed it. Simply, if the leaker(s) had not been smart enough to get rid of the evidence between July 6th and September 29th, the White House Counselís office wanted to be sure that there was at least one last chance to do so before destroying evidence would constitute criminal obstruction of justice.
Since September 29th? Nothing, not a word. Nothing from the White House and nothing from the Department of Justice. The President never asked his staff to investigate the matter and never called for the leaker to come forward. The White House is, however, "cooperating."
The Department of Justice investigation appears to be at a standstill. Sure, the Department might claim that even the existence of a grand jury investigating the matter is a secret, but recall how such secret investigations were conducted during the Clinton years. Was there ever a grand jury matter that wasnít leaked to the press? No, the press set up camp outside the Courthouse where the grand jury sat and took note of and publicly report on every person who went in. A grand jury investigation involving the White House is too good a story not to be subject of its own leak.
Why has the investigation stalled? Is it because the Department of Justice, just as suspected by the Democrats all along, isnít serious about prosecuting the leaker? Is it because George Bush has swept the matter under the carpet? Where are the Congressional hearings that were so common during the Clinton administration? Can anyone seriously doubt if the same events had transpired during the Clinton years there would have been day after day, and month after month of hearings with Congressional leaders clamoring for an independent counsel, with the result that one would have been appointed?
I guess the truth is that neither this administration, nor this Congress, cares nearly as much about national security and the safety of undercover operatives as they do about politics.
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Melanie Sloan is the Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ("CREW") [LINK]. CREW is a public interest legal watchdog group that exposes government officials who betray the public trust. CREW aims to counterbalance the conservative legal watchdog groups that had such a strong impact over the past decade.
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