Bush Remains Mum On Wilson Smear

Even
as Matthew Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of The New York Times both face prison time for protecting their White House sources, a question arises that the indignant Washington press corps seems to have forgotten to ask:
Why
hasn’t the President of the United States tracked down the officials who leaked the C.I.A. identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, fired them and turned them over to the special prosecutor?

George
W. Bush hasn’t been obliged to answer that difficult question because the media—understandably preoccupied by the prosecutorial challenge to the essential practice of shielding sources—has obscured the central issues of the Wilson case. Observing the media coverage, as the prison gates dramatically swing open, it would be easy to forget the events that led to this confrontation between the two news organizations and prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Those events do not flatter the Bush administration.

For
two years, Mr. Cooper and Ms. Miller have protected high-ranking sources who sought to use the news media to punish a real whistle-blower, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson III. Those sources, aptly called “nefarious” by Judge David Tatel in his opinion upholding the subpoenas, sought to harm the former ambassador by exposing and smearing his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson.

Mr.
Wilson had committed the offense of speaking and writing freely about the embarrassing lies and errors in the White House brief for invading Iraq. At the request of the C.I.A., he had undertaken a mission to Niger, the African nation that the President later identified in his State of the Union address as a potential source of enriched uranium for Iraqi nuclear weapons. Mr. Wilson knew that the President’s assertion was wrong—and that the administration knew likewise—and said so in an article for The New York Times.

The
leaks about Ms. Wilson’s C.I.A. identity began within days, and within a week emerged in a column by Robert Novak that wrongly suggested she had somehow arranged her husband’s trip to Niger. (Even if she had, by the way, so what?
He
performed that task as unpaid public service, and he has been proved correct.)

By
exposing her identity—protected for two decades as she worked undercover to prevent nuclear proliferation—the White House ruined her career and endangered American national-security interests.

The
C.I.A. asked the Justice Department to investigate the leaks, which may have violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, a statute signed by George H.W. Bush, the current President’s father.

Attacking
her husband was an ugly bit of skullduggery, too. He served the nation with brave distinction as acting ambassador in Baghdad during the months before the first Gulf War. He protected American lives and interests at considerable risk to his own safety and earned a grateful commendation from the first President Bush.

The
courageous public service of the Wilsons brings us to the subject of Karl Rove, the Presidential counselor who is their nemesis and moral opposite.

While
there is yet no proof that he played a central role in the plot to smear them, the evidence of his involvement is beginning to emerge. His lawyer has acknowledged that Mr. Rove spoke with Mr. Cooper about Ms. Wilson, although the attorney insists that his client didn’t “knowingly” expose her classified status.

That
qualifying term is meant to protect Mr. Rove from prosecution under the intelligence identities law, which is narrowly delineated to prevent prosecution of honest error. He could only be indicted under that law if he knowingly revealed the identity of an undercover agent whom the C.I.A. had taken steps to conceal.

But
Washington buzzes with speculation that Mr. Fitzgerald is seeking to prosecute someone for perjury or obstruction. To indict an alleged perjurer requires at least two witnesses—which could explain the prosecutor’s zeal in demanding the reporters’ testimony.

Mr.
Rove appeared in the grand jury, under oath, at least twice. And if he did participate in this disgusting episode, he would have had ample reason to mislead the prosecutor, even if he thought he had committed no crime.

Back
in September 2003, when the White House was still resisting the appointment of a special prosecutor, the President reportedly told his aides, including Mr.
Rove, “I want to get to the bottom of this.” His press secretary told the country that the President considered the leak to be “a very serious matter”
and said that anyone responsible would be fired. “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration,” said Scott McClellan, speaking for Mr. Bush.

Specifically
exonerating Mr. Rove, he said: “There’s been nothing, absolutely nothing, brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement.”

No
doubt the disturbing facts are at last being brought to their attention. The President should require Mr. Rove to own up to his actions, reveal what really happened, and prevent the jailing of the reporters who have felt obliged to protect this nefarious misconduct.

Bush Remains Mum On Wilson Smear