Republican silence

That deafening silence from Sunday stemmed from the absence of Republicans willing to go on the talk show circuit and defend President George W. Bush’s campaign to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson with an orchestrated campaign of leaks of previously-classified information.

Network talk show booking agents admit they had a hard time finding Republicans willing to go on the air and defend the President.

Those who did appear were hardly defenders of the President’s actions.

Writes Nedra Pickler of The Associated Press:

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should speak publicly about their involvement in the CIA leak case so people can understand what happened, a leading Republican senator said Sunday.

"We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a federal court filing last week, the prosecutor in the case said Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, testified before a grand jury that he was authorized by Bush, through Cheney, to leak information from a classified document that detailed intelligence agencies’ conclusions about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

A lawyer knowledgeable about the case said Saturday that Bush declassified sensitive intelligence in 2003 and authorized its public disclosure to rebut Iraq war critics, but he did not specifically direct that Libby be the one to disseminate the information.

"I think that it is necessary for the president and vice president to tell the American people exactly what happened," Specter told "Fox News Sunday."

"I do say that there’s been enough of a showing here with what’s been filed of record in court that the president of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people … about exactly what he did," Specter said.

Libby faces trial, likely in January, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to the grand jury and investigators about what he told reporters about CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald did not say in the filing that Cheney authorized Libby to leak Plame’s identity, and Bush is not accused of doing anything illegal.

"The president may be entirely in the clear, and it may turn out that he had the authority to make the disclosures which were made," Specter said. But, he added, "it was not the right way to go about it because we ought not to have leaks in government."

The investigation is looking into whether Plame’s identify was disclosed to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an Iraq war critic. Wilson had accused the administration of twisting prewar intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

But Republicans willing to defend Bush’s actions were nowhere to be found. Privately, they admit anger at the President for such an overt action.

Reports Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer in The Washington Post:

As he drew back the curtain this week on the evidence against Vice President Cheney’s former top aide, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time described a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" — using classified information — to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of President Bush’s war in Iraq.

Bluntly and repeatedly, Fitzgerald placed Cheney at the center of that campaign. Citing grand jury testimony from the vice president’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Fitzgerald fingered Cheney as the first to voice a line of attack that at least three White House officials would soon deploy against former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

Cheney, in a conversation with Libby in early July 2003, was said to describe Wilson’s CIA-sponsored trip to Niger the previous year — in which the envoy found no support for charges that Iraq tried to buy uranium there — as "a junket set up by Mr. Wilson’s wife," CIA case officer Valerie Plame.

Libby is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for denying under oath that he disclosed Plame’s CIA employment to journalists. There is no public evidence to suggest Libby made any such disclosure with Cheney’s knowledge. But according to Libby’s grand jury testimony, described for the first time in legal papers filed this week, Cheney "specifically directed" Libby in late June or early July 2003 to pass information to reporters from two classified CIA documents: an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate and a March 2002 summary of Wilson’s visit to Niger.

One striking feature of that decision — unremarked until now, in part because Fitzgerald did not mention it — is that the evidence Cheney and Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before.

United Nations inspectors had exposed the main evidence for the uranium charge as crude forgeries in March 2003, but the Bush administration and British Prime Minister Tony Blair maintained they had additional, secret evidence they could not disclose. In June, a British parliamentary inquiry concluded otherwise, delivering a scathing critique of Blair’s role in promoting the story. With no ally left, the White House debated whether to abandon the uranium claim and became embroiled in bitter finger-pointing about whom to fault for the error. A legal brief filed for Libby last month said that "certain officials at the CIA, the White House, and the State Department each sought to avoid or assign blame for intelligence failures relating to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction."

It was at that moment that Libby, allegedly at Cheney’s direction, sought out at least three reporters to bolster the discredited uranium allegation. Libby made careful selections of language from the 2002 estimate, quoting a passage that said Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure uranium" in Africa.