In a town where every action demands a reaction, where payback is a bitch and where everyone keeps score, there is a fine line between playing hardball and being just plain dumb and stupid.

Looks like Dubya’s boys crossed that line.

George W. Bush’s White House, always hypersensitive to criticism, got steamed when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, stationed in Iraq when Dubya’s daddy launched the Gulf War, accused the present administration with reckless disregard for the facts because it used discredited and false information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

So somebody at 1600 Pennsylvania decided some payback was in order and leaked the name of Wilson’s wife, a CIA operative, to the media.

The word went out to a half-dozen reporters before they found a willing stooge – conservative columnist Robert Novak – to play messenger boy. Novak, who thinks conservatives walk on water and everyone else is a commie, published Wilson’s wife’s name a week after the former ambassador published a critical Op-Ed in the New York Times.

While the gang from Texas may think this is politics as usual, the pros at Langley did not. The CIA, pissed at having the name of one of its operatives revealed in a newspaper column, demanded an investigation from the Justice Department.

But Justice is run by Attorney General John Ashcroft, a goose-stepping administration lackey who thinks the Constitution should be used as toilet paper and anyone who dares criticize his or his boss’s actions must be locked away to become rat food.

Ashcroft sat on his ass while the CIA fumed and the story started making the rounds. We got wind of the delay last week and started sniffing it out. NBC was also hot on the trail. They beat us to the punch on Friday night’s newscast, but our story, published a few hours later, had more details.

The Washington Post followed up over the weekend, the Democrats smelled blood and a new, full-bore Washington scandal surfaced. Now the Dems want a special prosecutor and the White House, as expected, says it knows the Justice Department can handle any investigation.

That’s right. The Justice Department. The same Justice Department that sat on its hands for weeks after the CIA first complained – the same Justice Department run by a wannabe despot who thinks due process is a waste of time and individual rights an outdated concept.

Congressional Republicans, who demanded a special prosecutor every time Bill Clinton farted, stand firm with their President, saying an independent investigation is a waste of time and money.

And Dubya’s ever-present Greek Chorus circled the wagons, claiming – as they always do – that is all part of some grand liberal Democratic scheme to embarrass the White House and take back the Presidency in 2004.

As usual, they have it wrong.

Democrats/liberals/lefties or whatever you choose to call them these days don’t have to waste any energy finding ways to embarrass the Presidency.

Bush and his boys are capable of doing that all by themselves.