PODHORETZ FLOATS FLIMSY...

PODHORETZ FLOATS FLIMSY RIGHT-WING PUSHBACK ON LEAK STORY -- AND PUNTS. The emerging right-wing spin about the leak revelations was perfectly captured in John Podhoretz's column today in the New York Post. Since these arguments are certain to be aired again and again in coming days, they need to be debunked, and quickly. And it's remarkably easy to do.

The Pod makes three points, all of which are soon to be chanted in unison by countless winger commentators. He says:

1) The leak wasn't really a leak because it was authorized by the president, and a "leak" is the "unauthorized release of government information."

This one's easy to knock down. First, a leak doesn't suddenly become a non-leak because it was secretly "authorized" by a higher-up. Plenty of info is leaked with tacit authorization from above, and we all agree to call that "leaking." This info certainly was leaked, in the sense that it was passed on confidentially by Libby to a reporter who wasn't supposed to reveal the source of it. In other words, the info was supposed to get out -- without anyone knowing where it came from or who authorized it. By contrast, if the info had been "released," to use Pod's preferred word, the administration would publicly own up to being the source for it. So yes, it was a leak.

As for Pod's argument that the president "can't leak" -- another pushback rapidly gaining currency -- keep in mind that the president isn't the one who is accused of doing the leaking. Rather, Bush is accused of authorizing the leak. Libby carried it out.

2) Pod also argues essentially that Bush was pushing back against Joe Wilson's slander, so it was OK.

Pod appears to be saying that this isn't a leak because the motive behind it was defensible. This is just silly -- and indeed, it undermines his own case. Even if you agree that the administration's rebuttal of Wilson was correct, that doesn't change the simple fact that Bush's authorization of the leak was political in nature. Indeed, if the argument is that Bush had to protect himself against a political attack with some sort of pushback, that reinforces, rather than undercuts, the idea that the leak was political. So Libby revealed that Bush authorized the leaking of classified info to achieve a political goal -- and that's a no-no.

3) Pod's final argument is that much or all of the National Intelligence Estimate was public already, so it couldn't have been leaked. Pod says:

On Oct. 7, 2002, nine months before Bush's supposed "leak," the administration released an unclassified version of the very same NIE at the urging of Senate Democrats.

This is startlingly flimsy. Pod is talking about the fact that in October 2002, then Senator Bob Graham demanded the declassification of parts of the CIA's NIE before the congressional vote on the war. Graham subsequently said some parts had been declassified -- but by no means was the whole NIE, or even much of it, declassified. How do we know this? Because on July 18, 2003 -- after Bush authorized the leak -- a senior administration official held a press briefing in which he declassified key portions of the NIE. Pod can read the briefing itself right here. It was also covered the next day in The Times, Washington Post and elsewhere. So why would this senior official have held this declassification briefing if, as Pod says, an "unclassified version" of the NIE had been declassified "nine months" earlier? Answer: He wouldn't have.

What's more, it's obvious that whatever was declassified in October 2002 wasn't the portion that Libby says Bush authorized for leaking. Why, if Pod were right, would Libby have needed to ask Cheney lawyer David Addington if leaking the info was kosher, as he had testified? Answer: He wouldn't have. And why would Addington have opined that the president's authorization effectively declassified the info if, as Pod says, it was already declassified? He wouldn't have.

So to recap: Libby has revealed that Bush authorized a leak of classified info for political purposes. End of story.

--Greg Sargent

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