As George W. Bush tries to persuade the nation and the world that he knows what he’s doing in Iraq, his credibility is undermined by lies and leaks. On the same day that news reports revealed that the House Intelligence Committee’s review of prewar intelligence on Iraq found it to be “fragmentary,” “circumstantial” and full of “uncertainties,” it was reported that the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate whether White House officials had illegally disclosed the identity of an undercover CIA agent to punish or discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who challenged the Administration on the war and on its charge that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. Put those two headline blasts together and you see a White House that wages policy debates dishonestly and uses intimidation to silence opposition.
The leak scandal has the White House on the run. Facing a possible Justice Department inquiry, it responded with desperate spin. Bush takes the issue seriously, White House press secretary Scott McClellan claimed, then noted that Bush had ordered no action in the White House to find out if his aides had made vindictive leaks, which may have violated federal law and undermined the nation’s secret counterproliferation efforts. The man who campaigned on the promise that he would “restore” honor and integrity to the White House was willing to sit back and let the Justice Department do all the work. Even after Justice opened a formal criminal investigation, the best Bush could muster was, “Leaks of classified information are bad things.”
Can the Justice Department be trusted to probe the White House? The White House and Congressional Republicans–surprise!–say, Sure. Democrats have called for a special counsel. Since the Washington Post has reported that “top” White House officials were the leakers, it’s obvious that the investigation should not be overseen by Attorney General Ashcroft, who would be conducting an investigation that could compromise his own job. With the independent counsel law long expired, that leaves a special counsel (who has to be appointed by Ashcroft) as the best option.
The White House position, at the outset of the scandal, is that it knows nothing except what’s appeared in the media. This flat-out denial means they’re hunkering down hoping the storm will pass. But apparently several reporters were fed the information about Wilson’s wife–only conservative columnist Robert Novak published it–and they can attest to whether the White House is telling the truth. Protecting the confidentiality of their sources has prevented them, as of this writing, from coming forward.
Meanwhile, the White House continues to insist that it–and the whole world–“knew” that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of unconventional weapons before the war, falsely citing UN and intelligence assessments. Now the House Intelligence Committee, led by Porter Goss, a Republican and a former CIA case officer, says the prewar intelligence (which Bush had claimed left “no doubt” that Iraq had WMDs) was iffy. If the committee’s conclusion is sound, the question is, Did Bush & Co. exaggerate the intelligence, or were they conned by the intelligence community? The Administration dodges the question by clinging to its prewar misrepresentations.
The Bush White House is stuck defending the indefensible (its prewar statements) and denying the indictable (the campaign against the Wilsons). These are heavy burdens to bear as it tries to sell an $87 billion request for Iraq and the deficit hits $500 billion, due in no small part to Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. Its house of lies has not yet crumbled, but–drip, drip, drip–there’s water in the basement, and it seems to be rising.