Memo to Sunday Talkers: Please Get the Answers the American People Cannot

[UPDATE: To Commenters: I know that I do not say this enough, and I cannot say it enough. But thank you for your participation on this blog and your words of encouragement, your suggestions and comments. Many of you have come up to me in airports and on the street, especially in the last two or three months, to express your appreciation for my work. Thank you for that.]

My friend, radio talk show host Stephanie Miller, is fond of saying that I must be getting carpal tunnel syndrome from all of the letters I have been sending to the President. Unfortunately, when I go to my mailbox every day, it is empty. More than 130 Members of Congress and more than 500,000 of the American people are still waiting for a response to questions we asked the President about the Downing Street Minutes.

Now we learn that the President of the United States is the Leaker in Chief via disgraced former White House aide Scooter Libby. Mr. Libby testified that the President authorized him to leak classified information about Iraq's alleged nuclear ambitions. He testified before a grand jury that "the Vice President later advised him that the President had authorized [Mr. Libby] to disclose the relevant portions of the [classified National Intelligence Estimate]." All of this was part of a concerted effort to destroy Administration critic Ambassador Joe Wilson.

This means the distortions and cherry picking of intelligence came from the top. This means the smears were officially sanctioned at the highest levels of government. This means that a President who claimed to abhor the leaking of classified information really meant that leaking classified information is a horrible and treasonous act when it hurts his credibility and the case for war, but a patriotic act when it helps the case for war.

I have a choice. I can either stand by and lead my constituents to believe I do not care that the President apparently no longer believes he is bound by any law or code of decency. Or I can act. Today, I -- and several of my colleagues wrote the letter -- attached below -- to the President. We know he is unlikely to write us back.

So the Sunday talkers have a choice too. Mr. Russert, Mr. Schieffer, Mr. Stephanopolous and even Mr. Wallace: you have the power to get some answers this weekend. Will you?

Will you find out why the President thinks leaks that hurt his case for war or reveal a massive domestic spying operation are treasonous, but leaks that appear to support his policy positions are appropriate? Excuse me for my impertinence, but isn't ALL classified information supposed to be classified because its disclosure would harm national security?

Will you find out what other leaks were officially sanctioned? Did the President or Vice President authorize the leaking of information that Ambassador Wilson's wife was an undercover CIA operative?

President Nixon said "if the President does it, it can't be illegal." The President's Press Secretary says today "[t]here is a difference between providing declassified information to the public when it's in the public interest and leaking classified information that involved sensitive national intelligence regarding our security." With national security secrets being misappropriated for political ends and partisan smears, aren't we in Nixonian territory again?

[UPDATE: I couldn't let this one pass. The White House Spokesman says because of some "wild accusations that were flying around at the time....we felt it was very much in the public interest that what information could be declassified be declassified, and that's exactly what we did." Excuse me, Mr. McClellan, but weren't the "wild accusations" the notion that Iraq had WMD and wasn't this leaking an effort to prop up those "wild accusations"?]

Our letter to the President follows:

Dear Mr. President:

We write with respect to the troubling revelation that you authorized I. Lewis Libby, the Vice President's former Chief of Staff, to attempt to discredit a critic of your Administration through the selective leaking of classified information. The information pertained to Iraq's alleged, and now soundly disproved, efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. This leak is similar in pattern to the leak of the identity of a CIA officer whose husband discredited your assertions about Iraq's nuclear ambitions. We ask that, once and for all, you publicly admit the extent of your role in authorizing the selective leaking of information to discredit your critics and detail what other leaks you have authorized that are relevant to the war in Iraq.

As you are aware, at least two senior Administration officials disclosed the fact that Valerie Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA officer. The Justice Department, through Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, began investigating the source of the leak of this highly-classified information. In October 2005, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Libby for obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements pertaining to his involvement in the leak.

In the course of this investigation, according to the Justice Department, Mr. Libby testified that you authorized him to leak classified information about Iraq's alleged nuclear ambitions. He testified before a grand jury that "the Vice President later advised him that the President had authorized [Mr. Libby] to disclose the relevant portions of the [classified National Intelligence Estimate]."1 What makes Mr. Libby's testimony especially troubling is that you have repeatedly implied that you have not had any role in the leaking of classified information.

In fact, you have stated several times that leaking classified information is a serious crime and that perpetrators should be brought to justice. These statements were in connection with the Valerie Plame Wilson leak2 and the disclosure of the NSA spying program3. Mr. Libby's sworn testimony, however, indicates that you have been personally involved in trying to undermine the credibility of those who question your claims about Iraq; as part of that effort, you have permitted the leak of classified information on at least one occasion.

Moreover, even Presidents are not outside of the law in this area. It is apparent that, at a minimum, you are bound by your own executive orders and the executive orders of your predecessors governing the declassification of certain information. It is not clear what those procedures are and whether you have followed them.

For these reasons, we ask that you immediately disclose not only the extent of your role in authorizing the disclosure of information to discredit critics of your Administration but also any other information related to the war that you have leaked and the rationale for each such leak.


John Conyers Jr., Jerrold Nadler, Sherrod Brown, Jim McDermott, Tom Udall, Tammy Baldwin, Gary Ackerman, Steven Rothman, Betty McCollum, Ellen Tauscher, Robert Wexler, Maurice Hinchey, David Scott, Michael Honda, Anthony Weiner

1. Government's Response to Defendant's Third Motion to Compel Discovery at 23, United States v. Libby (D.D.C. 2006) (Cr. No. 05-394).

2. "There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington. There's leaks at the executive branch; there's leaks in the legislative branch. There's just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of. And so I welcome the investigation. I -- I'm absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job. There's a special division of career Justice Department officials who are tasked with doing this kind of work; they have done this kind of work before in Washington this year. I have told our administration, people in my administration to be fully cooperative. I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business." The President, President Discusses Job Creation With Business Leaders (Sept. 30, 2003) (press briefing). You reiterated the point just one month later:

"I'd like to know if somebody in my White House did leak sensitive information. As you know, I've been outspoken on leaks. And whether they happened in the White House, or happened in the administration, or happened on Capitol Hill, it is a -- they can be very damaging." The President, President Holds Press Conference (Oct. 28, 2003).

3. "But it is a shameful act by somebody who has got secrets of the United States government and feels like they need to disclose them publicly." The President, Press Conference of the President (Dec. 19, 2005).