The Leak Moves to the Hill

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, July 26, 2005; 12:00 PM

Republican congressional leaders are planning hearings about some of the issues raised by the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity. But that's a far cry from the sort of congressional investigation into the leak itself -- and the White House's involvement -- that Democrats are calling for.

David Morgan writes for Reuters: "Congress will conduct a series of hearings on national security and espionage issues raised by the CIA-leak controversy surrounding senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, officials said on Monday.

"The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence plans hearings on potential national security threats posed by leaks, including leaks to the media, and will aim to toughen legislation barring the unauthorized disclosure of classified information."

Over in the Senate: "Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas intends to preside over hearings on the intelligence community's use of covert protections for CIA agents and others involved in secret activities."

Holly Yeager writes in the Financial Times: "The Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee acknowledged yesterday that the controversy surrounding a possible White House role in leaking the identity of a covert CIA operative had raised important issues, and said his panel would hold hearings on leaks of classified information.

" 'The time has come for a comprehensive law that will make it easier for the government to prosecute wrongdoers and increase the penalties, which hopefully will act as a deterrent for people thinking about disclosing information,' Pete Hoekstra said at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think-tank."

But signs are that Hoekstra is less interested in digging into the Plame case than he is in expanding government secrecy rules.

Katherine Shrader writes for the Associated Press that, "asked about the investigation, Hoekstra said he hasn't been focused on it.

"'We are not chasing newspaper stories' in the committee, he said."

And Senator Roberts, as Scott Shane reported in the New York Times yesterday is "generically" concerned about the exposing of covert operatives -- but skeptical that Plame really was one.

Meanwhile, as Donna de la Cruz reports for the Associated Press: "More than two dozen Democratic senators on Monday asked Congress to investigate the leak of a CIA officer's identity.

" 'Americans deserve a Congress that holds Washington accountable for the truth about our national security,' said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who authored the letter. 'Can anyone argue with a straight face that Congress has time to look at steroid use in baseball but doesn't have the will to provide congressional oversight of the leak of a CIA agent's name?' "

And some Senate Democrats have launched an online Leak Clock, showing the amount of time that has passed without Republicans investigating the leak case.

Poll Watch

Is 50 percent a lot or a little?

Susan Page writes in USA Today that Rove's involvement in the leaking of Plame's name "hasn't gripped the public's attention. Just half of those surveyed say they are following the story closely; one in five aren't following it at all."

But that's still half who are following it either very closely or somewhat closely, just two weeks after Rove's involvement was first exposed. I wonder how that compares with nascent political scandals of yore.

Page also writes that, "by 34% to 25%, Americans have an unfavorable view of Rove; 25% have never heard of him."

And even though only half of Americans are following the story closely, "25% think Rove broke the law in the case. An additional 37% suspect that he did something unethical but not illegal. Just 15% say they think he didn't do anything seriously wrong.

"Those surveyed are split almost evenly, 40%-39%, over whether Bush should fire him. By 49% to 31%, a plurality says he should resign."

Here are the full results.

The Daily Grilling

White House spokesman Scott McClellan's daily briefing remains combative -- at times. Here's the transcript from yesterday. Some excerpts:

"Q Do Karl Rove and Scooter Libby still have top secret clearance here, access to classified documents?

"MR. McCLELLAN: You asked this question last week, and --

"Q I did. And I'm asking again.

"MR. McCLELLAN: -- the President has said what our answer is to these questions. We'll be glad to talk about all these issues once the investigation is complete.

"Q Do they have a clearance?

"MR. McCLELLAN: We'll be glad to talk about all the issues relating to the investigation once it's complete.

"Q Why can't you talk about it now?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that question I addressed a couple weeks ago."

McClellan was asked why Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was willing to talk about the case on Sunday morning television -- while the White House continues to dodge every question.

McClellan's response: "Well, what he said was already said from this podium back in October of 2003, and I don't think he got into commenting in any substantive way on the discussion."

But McClellan himself has pointedly refused to repeat -- or even acknowledge -- his previous statements on the matter. And he won't answer even the most basic, non-substantive questions -- such as, for instance, if Rove still has a security clearance.

And the word "treason" made its way into the briefing room, with this question:

"Q Yes, thank you. There has been a lot of speculation concerning the meaning of the underlying statute and the grand jury investigation concerning Mr. Rove. The question is, have the legal counsel to the White House or White House staff reviewed the statute in sufficient specificity to determine whether a violation of that statute would, in effect, constitute treason?

"MR. McCLELLAN: I think that in terms of decisions regarding the investigation, those are matters for those overseeing the investigation to decide."

According to BTC News blogger Eric Brewer, who was in the briefing room yesterday, that question was courtesy of a new arrival: "Paul Sanford, a lawyer from Aptos, California, who has just been accredited as a White House reporter for Air America Radio."

War on Terror, RIP?

Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker write in the New York Times: "The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

"In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the nation's senior military officer have spoken of 'a global struggle against violent extremism' rather than 'the global war on terror,' which had been the catchphrase of choice. Administration officials say that phrase may have outlived its usefulness, because it focused attention solely, and incorrectly, on the military campaign."

But Vice President Cheney apparently didn't get the memo.

At a fundraising lunch yesterday, Cheney referred to the "war on terror" twice, the "war against determined enemies" once -- and not a peep about struggles or extremism.

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The Roberts Papers

Peter Baker and Charles Babington write in The Washington Post: "The White House will make public the bulk of documents related to Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr.'s service as a lawyer in Ronald Reagan's administration but will withhold papers generated during his time as deputy solicitor general under President George H.W. Bush to preserve privileged internal deliberations, officials said last night. . . .

"Senior administration officials outlining their response last night said the partial release should be sufficient. . . .

"But the White House clearly does not expect Democrats to agree. The officials disclosed the new policy under ground rules requiring anonymity and an embargo until midnight, too late for Democratic reaction."

Richard W. Stevenson, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and John M. Broder write in the New York Times that one anonymous administration official "said the White House had reviewed some of the papers from Judge Roberts's work in the counsel's office and saw nothing in them that could create problems for his confirmation."

The Federalist Papers

Charlie Savage writes in the Boston Globe: "The White House's efforts to distance Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. from The Federalist Society came under fire from conservatives yesterday for creating a blemish on his candidacy where none existed, and for sending a signal that membership in the influential legal society was something to avoid. . . .

"Conservative groups yesterday saw the unflattering focus on The Federalist Society as a self-inflicted wound after what had been a nearly flawless first week for Roberts's nomination. And some worried that the White House had created a stigma that could attach itself to many leading conservative lawyers."

Craig Gordon writes in Newsday: "It might seem like a fine point for the White House to strike back on - whether Roberts ever paid society dues to join, now running at $50 for lawyers. But the episode illustrates just how far the Bush administration is going to portray Roberts as an ideological blank slate, in hopes of shielding him from questions about whether he is too conservative from Democrats seeking clues to his judicial philosophy."

Faith-Based Push

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Embracing an old cause to open a new front in his outreach to African American church leaders, President Bush pledged Monday to pressure corporate foundations to give more money to faith-based charities.

"Bush made that promise during a closed-door session at the White House with 17 black ministers and civic leaders -- his second such meeting since January. . . .

"The White House plans to sponsor a March summit that officials said would bring together corporate foundation leaders and faith-based social service organizations, many of which are affiliated with black churches."

Here's the text of a briefing on the meeting, by Jim Towey, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Life After the White House Counsel's Office

Here are tales of two diverging paths taken by Bush loyalists after leaving the White House counsel's office.

Andrew Zajac writes in the Chicago Tribune about how Timothy Flanigan "has repeatedly found himself in pitched political and ideological battles, including the court fight over the disputed Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election and the crafting of White House memos that justified torture of alleged terrorists."

Now he's Bush's nominee to be deputy attorney general. "His involvement with those memos while serving as deputy White House counsel following the Sept. 11 attacks almost certainly will draw questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is slated to hold a hearing on his nomination Tuesday afternoon."

By contrast, Yochi J. Dreazen (subscription required) writes in the Wall Street Journal about Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

"Mr. Bowen is a Texas lawyer who parlayed a job on George W. Bush's first gubernatorial campaign into senior posts in Austin and Washington. He began the Iraq war lobbying for an American contractor seeking tens of millions of dollars in reconstruction work."

But now, "Mr. Bowen has become one of the most prominent and credible critics of how the administration has handled the occupation of Iraq. In a series of blistering public reports, he has detailed systemic management failings, lax or nonexistent oversight, and apparent fraud and embezzlement on the part of the U.S. officials charged with administering the rebuilding efforts."

Bolton Watch

Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "Frustrated by Senate Democrats, the White House hinted Monday that President Bush may act soon to sidestep Congress and install embattled nominee John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations on a temporary basis."

Adam Entous writes for Reuters: "Congressional aides said a recess appointment could be announced as early as Friday night, immediately after the Senate is scheduled to adjourn for the monthlong August break. . . .

"The nomination of the blunt-spoken conservative has been held up by accusations he tried to manipulate intelligence and intimidated intelligence analysts to support his hawkish views in his post as the top U.S. diplomat for arms control.

"Some critics have also seized on reports he may have been involved in leaking the identity of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, but a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bolton had neither testified nor been asked to do so before the grand jury investigating the leak."

Just a few days ago, however, David Shuster of NBC reported that Bolton did testify about a key State Department memo.

Energy Bill Watch

Justin Blum writes in The Washington Post: "Despite repeated calls by President Bush and members of Congress to decrease U.S. dependence on oil imports, a major energy bill that appears headed for passage this week would not significantly reduce the country's need for foreign oil, according to analysts and interest groups. . . .

"From the start, Bush and GOP lawmakers have sold their energy policies as a means of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil."

Cui Bono?

The House Government Reform Committee's minority staff is out with a new fact sheet showing that "a permanent estate tax repeal would provide an enormous windfall to the President, the Vice President, and members of their cabinet, saving them as much as $344 million dollars in taxes."

The biggest winners, based on their current estimated net worth: not Bush, but Vice President Cheney (who might stand to save $12.6 million to $60.7 million); Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ($31.8 million to $101.3 million); and Treasury Secretary John Snow ($22.9 million to $69.8 million.)

Gray Area

The Associated Press reports: "President Bush on Monday chose C. Boyden Gray, a former White House counsel who has been steering a group formed to push the president's Supreme Court nominee, to be the U.S. ambassador to the European Union."


The Associated Press reports: "President Bush signed a condolence book Monday at the Egyptian Embassy and said the people responsible for the deadly attack in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik 'have no heart.'"

Here is the transcript of the visit to the Egyptian Embassy.

A Long Vigil

Ely Portillo writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "Concepcion Piccioto's silver anniversary is coming up: Next year will be her 25th living in protest in front of the White House.

"Thousands of tourists see her home when they come to see the president's. The contrast couldn't be starker - a 132-room mansion versus a beach umbrella with a dirty tarp draped over it. Propped-up sheets of plywood painted yellow flank her home. They're covered with photos showing the horrors of nuclear war. . . .

"Piccioto survives on food donations from sympathizers, who drop off things such as watermelon and cookies. She buys bread from cash donations. Fellow homeless people watch her little encampment when she bikes to nearby bathrooms. Other than these brief excursions, she hasn't left her post since 1981."

Her Web site includes press clips from over the years.

Writes Portillo: "Piccioto still flashes the same V-fingered peace sign that she flashed in photos dated 1988. She still wears the same helmet-sized wig to protect her from 'beams' that the government might shoot at her. . . .

"Anyone pausing near her signs gets an earful. Bush is 'a jerk. He has no brains. No, the president is sick.' Pointing at the White House, she says, 'The terrorist is here! The president uses manipulation by fear. He's a big crazy.' She has had a negative opinion of every president since 1981."

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