On Friday, President Obama denounced as "offensive" and "wrong" allegations that he was behind the leaks of U.S. cyber attacks on Iran and the terrorist "kill list," while Attorney General Eric Holder announced he was assigning two U.S. attorneys to investigate the classified security breach. Nevertheless, the usual suspect on right are continuing their drumbeat about the "Leaker-in-Chief" and calling for a special prosecutor. All of which would incredibly funny if it weren't so sad. After all, these same voices cheered when the Bush administration leaked bogus intelligence to sell the Iraq war, applauded the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame and circled the wagons to protect convicted felon Scooter Libby.
Take, for example, Liz Cheney. Just days after Barack Obama's vanquished 2008 foe John McCain accused him of "intentionally leaking information to enhance President Obama's image as a tough guy for the elections," Ms. Cheney suggested the source for the New York Times' stories "may well be the president of the United States." Of course, she may have been confusing the current occupant of the White House with the man who effectively ran the last one, her father. (Recall that Liz was the co-author of her dad's memoirs, which among other things included the revelation that Cheney himself was upset about President Bush's 2007 leak to the Washington Post in support of an Iraq strategy his VP opposed.) It was Vice President Dick Cheney, after all, who on September 8, 2002 warned Meet the Press "there's a story in New York Times this morning" about Saddam Hussein's now infamous "aluminum tubes." As it turns out, the "specific intelligence sources" Cheney said "I don't want to talk" came from his own office.
Cheney's role as Vice Leaker in Chief hardly ended there. It was, after all, his chief-of-staff Scooter Libby who was convicted of obstruction of justice in the outing of the CIA's Valerie Plame. Cheney himself authored the talking points used in the campaign of payback against Plame and her husband Joseph Wilson about Saddam's mythical yellow cake "I didn't find in Africa." Among the legion of other GOP political leaks, Cheney in the summer of 2003 authorized the cherry-picked declassification of elements of the 2002 Iraq NIE as part of a campaign to smear Ambassador Joseph Wilson over his public decimation of the White House's "uranium in Niger" canard. Ironically, as Scott Horton reported in 2009, it was the Obama Justice Department which protected Cheney from possible prosecution by refusing to release the "notes from Dick Cheney's fateful interview with FBI agents about his role in the outing of Valerie Plame."
For his part, John McCain sang a different tune when the Plame story reached a boiling point in 2005. When suspicions swirled around Karl Rove (whom President Bush's press secretary Scott McClellan assured Americans two years earlier that Rove and Elliot Abrams had no role in the Plame leak because "I've spoken with them"):
"I do believe that every American has the right of presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Karl Rove has stated that he did not do anything wrong and break any law. I take him at his word."(Former Fox News host John Gibson did more than take Karl Rove at his word. "I'm the guy who said a long, long time ago that whoever outed Valerie Plame should get a medal," Gibson declared, adding, "And if it was Karl Rove, I'd pin it on him myself.") The story of Texas Supreme Court Justice turned U.S. Senator John Cornyn is similar. Cornyn recently told CNN that "I don't think we can just let the White House investigate itself or take its word for it that it's not the source of these leaks." But during Plamegate, Cornyn took a much different tack:
"In their eagerness to smear the president and his administration, it has become increasingly clear that the president's opponents jumped out way too far, way too fast. I hope that the embarrassing antics will stop, but I'm not convinced they will."(It should come as no surprise that Cornyn was the first Republican to defend President Bush from the December 2005 revelations of his administration's illicit NSA domestic surveillance program by declaring, "None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead.")
In July 2007, current House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa decided the best defense was a good offense. He chose to smear the victims of the Bush administration's leaks by accusing them of perjury:
"I certainly believe Ambassador Wilson at his word, but I hope he believes me at my word, which is that in fact having read all the information, I believe that his wife will soon be asking for a pardon, that in fact she has not been genuine in her testimony before Congress and, if pursued, Ambassador Wilson and Valerie would be asking for the same sort of treatment, which is that in fact we put this behind us."Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, called the naming of two U.S. attorneys to probe the recent New York Times leaks as a "good start." But like McCain, Rogers claimed "we need to find out if they'll have that independence":
"Many asked the question, me included: 'Can you have the U.S. attorney, assigned through the attorney general, investigate something that is clearly going to be at the most senior levels of all of the executive branch?...I have great respect for the two individuals that were appointed. But this - if it is, and it certainly is, the most egregious breach of intelligence in anybody's memory - that certainly requires a special counsel who is completely independent, someone with credibility."Of course, when acting Attorney General James Comey (the same James Comey who almost resigned in protest over President Bush's illegal NSA domestic spying program) named Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as special prosecutor to investigate the Plame affair, Republicans assumed the Bush appointee had plenty of credibility. That is, until Fitzgerald actually starting investigating.
When Fitzgerald indicted and later convicted Cheney's man Scooter Libby for what Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison brushed off as a "perjury technicality," right-wingers were apoplectic. As it turns out, Fitzgerald was among the U.S. attorneys targeted for possible dismissal during the Bush White House's prosecutors' purge. In November 2005, former MSNBC regular and current Daily Caller publisher Tucker Carlson, whose father also happened to be a leader of the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Fund, announced that "Fitzgerald should apologize, though of course he never will" for "accusing Libby - falsely and in public - of undermining this country's security." In May 2007, Carlson the Younger blasted "this lunatic Fitzgerald, running around destroying people's lives for no good reason."Among those who critical of Republican prosecutor Fitzgerald is current Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Hoping to win over conservative GOP primary voters, Romney in June 2007 argued that President Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence wasn't enough. As the New York Sun reported in June 2007:
Mitt Romney railed against the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, saying he "clearly abused prosecutorial discretion" in pursuing perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Libby when he knew the former White House aide was not the original source of the leak. "He went on a political vendetta," Mr. Romney said.Asked during a GOP debate that same month if he would consider pardoning Libby, Romney said:
"It's worth looking at that. I will study it very closely if I'm lucky enough to be president. And I'd keep that option open."Of course, Mitt Romney isn't mentioning that option any more. As his spokesperson said last week in response to questions about the "kill list" and Iran cyberwar revelations:
"Governor Romney thinks it's vital that covert operations remain covert. He believes leaks risk our national security and must stop. Leadership starts at the top. It's his sincere hope that the president is using all means at his disposal to put an end to this harmful practice."Meanwhile, Romney's 2008 GOP predecessor John McCain continues to lob unfounded charges against Barack Obama. "Regardless of how politically useful these leaks may be to the president," McCain insisted, "They have to stop."
Unless, of course, the President is a Republican. And sadly, that's no joke.