Libby: Bush Authorized Plame Leak

Scooter Libby claims President Bush personally authorized the leak of Valerie Plame’s name to the NYT , according to reports in The New York Sun and National Journal.

A former White House aide under indictment for obstructing a leak probe, I. Lewis Libby, testified to a grand jury that he gave information from a closely-guarded “National Intelligence Estimate” on Iraq to a New York Times reporter in 2003 with the specific permission of President Bush, according to a new court filing from the special prosecutor in the case.

The court papers from the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, do not suggest that Mr. Bush violated any law or rule. However, the new disclosure could be awkward for the president because it places him, for the first time, directly in a chain of events that led to a meeting where prosecutors contend the identity of a CIA employee, Valerie Plame, was provided to a reporter.

Andrew Sullivan has the same reaction to this that I had when the Plame flap first made the news: “We’re either talking extreme hubris here, or someone who felt he had a lot to hide. Or an admixture of the two.”

Christy Hardin Smith speculates:

Is it because: (a) Bush didn’t actually know that he had declassified this — because he didn’t really, and Dick Cheney lied to Libby in order to get that information out to Judy Miller? Or Libby lied in that portion of his testimony as well? (And won’t that be an interesting free-for-all if the Rove/Bush end of things starts flinging that mud at Team Libby?) (b) Bush was grifting his own administration and not being forthcoming about having already declassified the information because he either wanted it declassified to cover his butt or because he didn’t want them to know he had previously declassified the information because…he knew what was done with it — including revealing Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity — was wrong? (And criminal, in the case of outing a CIA NOC?)

Susie Madrak, naturally enough, thinks Bush should be impeached and is the mastermind behind the whole thing because, “He ran the dirty tricks ops for his father with Lee Atwater. From all accounts, he loved it – and he was good at at.”

Ace, on the other hand, thinks people are reading way too much into this. Rather than specifically authorizing the leak of Plame’s name, which would have been stupid, the president merely agreed to the declassification and release of “various parts of the National Intelligence Estimate Bush thought would help buttress his case for war with Iraq, and counter charges leveled at him by other leakers, such as Joseph Wilson.”

Update: Dave Wissig points out that the AP account reports that, “There was no indication in the filing that either Bush or Cheney authorized Libby to disclose Valerie Plame’s CIA identity.” Hmm.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave says:

    The AP article has this excerpt.

    There was no indication in the filing that either Bush or Cheney authorized Libby to disclose Valerie Plame’s CIA identity.

    The article seems to contradict your headline that Bush authorized teh leaking of Valerie PLame’s name.

  2. legion says:

    Awwwwwww snap.

    Dave (and others) are correct in that this particular story only says Bush authorized leaking of NIE material, not the outing of Plame.

    But it truly puts the lie to all of Bush (and his administration’s) previous statements about how bad and dangerous leaking classified info is.

  3. James Joyner says:

    legion: I would argue that there’s a rather large difference between authorized and unauthorized leaks. Assuming that Plame’s name was not covered by this authorization, having the classifying authority look at a set of information and decide that some of it can be released to the press is not inherently dangerous. Conversely, having disgruntled employees deciding for themselves to blow a classified op certainly can be.

  4. legion says:

    Yes, and that’s just what I see as I read more news coverage… The spotty descriptions of Libby’s testimony say that Cheney and Bush authorized the leaking of unspecified, but definitely classified, info from the NIE to discredit Wilson’s testimony about the yellowcake issue. The implication I’m getting is that Libby, in order to further shiv Wilson, dropped Plame’s identity on his own in the process.

    Man, if this is what ‘falling on his sword’ looks like, I’d hate to see what sort of damage Libby could do if he really _wanted_ to make Bush and Cheney look bad… 🙂

  5. MrGone says:

    As each new piece of info comes out, we get more hard facts substantiating what many of us have known for some time now. Basically, Bush/Cheney outed Plame as a distraction from and discrediting of Wilson’s article. He flat out lied when he stood up in front of the TV and said he didn’t know ANYTHING about it. Repeatedly! It is obvious to even the most brain dead here that he knew about all of it if not from the start, certainly after the CIA complained. But still he lied, over and over. What did he mean when he said that anyone involved will no longer be working at the White House? We now know of many who were involved and yet…

  6. Andy Vance says:

    having the classifying authority look at a set of information and decide that some of it can be released to the press is not inherently dangerous

    The administration’s definition of “classifying authority” sounds rather, um, unsettled. From Murray Waas’ article:

    In a Feb. 17, 2006 letter to John D. Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., wrote that he believed that disclosures in Woodward’s book damaged national security. “According to [Woodward’s} account, he was provided information related to sources and methods, extremely sensitive covert actions, and foreign intelligence liaison services.”

    Woodward’s book contains, for example, a detailed account of a January 25, 2003 briefing that Libby provided to senior White House staff to make the case that Saddam Hussein had aggressive programs underway to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

    Two former government officials said in interviews that the account provided sensitive intelligence information that had not been cleared for release. The book referred to intercepts by the National Security Agency of Iraqi officials that purportedly showed that Iraq was engaging in weapons of mass destruction program…

    …One former senior official said: “They [the leakers] might have tipped people to our eavesdropping capacities, and other serious sources and methods issues. But to what end? The information was never presented to the public because it was bunk in the first place.”

  7. James Joyner says:


    Considering that all Executive officers derive their power from delegation from the president, one presumes he has the authority to declassify documents. To the extent that he and a subordinate disagree over what is harmful, he wins.

    I’m not aware of any damage sustained from Woodward’s book, although that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any. Still, bureaucrats are often far more prone to be unnecessarily uptight about those things than policymakers.

  8. MrGone says:

    James, it may be that the president has the authority to release classified documents to the press if he deems it ok, thereby “declassifying” it. But I think it’s a stretch to assume that this would include the disclosure of an undercover CIA asset. That’s not executive privilege, it’s treason.

  9. McGehee says:

    But I think it�s a stretch to assume that this would include the disclosure of an undercover CIA asset.

    …who had previously been assigned, apparently, to an embassy, which means official cover, which pretty much makes any claim that she was covert when “outed” just plain laughable.

    That�s not executive privilege, it�s treason.

    Oh? As in “levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”…?

    MrGone, your slapstick commentary is priceless.

  10. MrGone says:


    Glad you enjoyed it. Why does it seem that you never have anything to say but instead attack the poster? First off, the CIA said she was under cover. Second, she was working with a front company set up by the CIA which is now destroyed. Third, anyone who had ever been in contact with her is at risk. Fourth, she was a well trained expert in WMD, specifically nuclear proliferation. By your response, it’s just as well that she doesn’t work there anymore. We’ll just spend another 20yrs or so to get a replacement. And yes, allowing our enemies to know the name of one of our spies and potentially their contacts is exactly what I call giving aid to the enemy.

  11. Andy Vance says:

    one presumes he has the authority to declassify documents.

    Sure, sure. But one wonders whether he even knew what was being declassified. Does he have the authority to delegate his authority? “I hereby decree that stuff that helps our case with Bob Woodward is declassified.”

  12. legion says:

    A couple of points here…
    First – McG, just because she was at one time assigned under official cover means nothing. IIRC, the actual federal law bars making public the identity of anyone who’s served in a covert capacity within the last 5 years – this is to protect any assets they left behind after going ‘legit’.

    Second – It is possible the President has the authority to summarily declassify information based on his power to appoint the people who have statutory power to classify or declassify that info.

    But that is irrelevant to this issue.

    As I understand it, neither the data in the NIE nor Plame’s identity was ever declassified. It was simply leaked to reporters. Unless the President made a concious (and documented) decision to declassify the information, it’s still classified, and the act of leaking it was still a federal crime, even if the President had leaked it himself.

  13. MrGone says:


    What bothers me the most is this endless justification of what we all think is wrong. It may turn out that no one is held criminally liable for any of this but for us to just accept this kind of behavior as normal or ok is asking too much. What’s next then?

  14. Andy Vance says:

    the act of leaking it was still a federal crime, even if the President had leaked it himself.

    But the preznit has the authority to pardon, no? He could just delegate the authority to the leaker, who would then hand back the authority to the prezit who would then pardon the leaker.

    It’s all good. Hakuna Matata.

  15. Andy Vance says:

    Disney! That’s the ticket. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia is exactly the image that comes to mind. The preznit leaves the magic hat laying around and all hell breaks loose.

    As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe might say, Just what kind of Mickey Mouse outfit are you running there, anyway?

  16. Andy Vance says:

    Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere. Here’s an executive order governing the handling of classified information. Note the date – March 25, 2003. Hmmm.

    All kinds of good stuff in there, all of which – naturally – reinforces my point that the whole process seems to have gone completely off the rails. Your results may vary.

    “Declassification authority” means:
    (1) the official who authorized the original classification, if that official is still serving in the same position;
    (2) the originators current successor in function;
    (3) a supervisory official of either; or
    (4) officials delegated declassification authority in writing by the agency head or the senior agency official.

    So now I’m picturing Jefe Bush deputizing declassification authorities.

    Badges? We don’ need no steenking badges!

  17. Andy Vance says:

    Wooo, Jane Harman, you go, girl!

    The President has the legal authority to declassify information, but there are normal channels for doing so. Telling an aide to leak classified information to the New York Times is not a normal channel. A normal declassification procedure would involve going back to the originating agency, such as the CIA, and then putting out a public, declassified version of the document.

  18. legion says:

    A minor clarification – thanks to Kevin Drum, I see that the NIE in question was officially declassified on 18 July 2002. This is, however, a full 10 days after Libby leaked the information to Judy Miller.


  19. Bhoe says:

    I would argue that there�s a rather large difference between authorized and unauthorized leaks.

    Well, James, your argument is not entirely accepted by Bush, who indicated after the Novak column that: �Leaks of classified information are bad things. We�ve got too much leaking in Washington.�

  20. James Joyner says:

    Bhoe: I’m pretty sure Bush was using “leak” in the sense of something done by an underling without authorization. If the president, the highest authority over such matters, orders the information’s release, it ain’t a “leak.”

  21. MrGone says:

    Keep on pedaling folks. We, the American People, get it.

  22. Roger says:

    Any other way you want to look at it, there is something sleazy about a President who “selectively” leaks classified information with the intention of creating a false impression to fool the public. One more stream of lies flowing into in an already large sea of falsehoods from these guys. When this is done to falsely smear an opponent, it just adds to the sleaze factor.