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Ive spoken to a

I've spoken to a number <$NoAd$>of lawyers over the last 24 hours about what would be standard and appropriate practice for the White House in turning over documents to the Justice Department investigators, particularly the degree to which the counsel's office gets to review the documents for issues of privilege and/or relevance.

This from this morning's gaggle ...

Q Democrats are raising questions about the fact that the Counsel is going to be screening the material before, for relevance, as you said, before turning it over. They say that the past practice, in fact, is that the Counsel's Office didn't do that, that that's up to the prosecutors to decide what's relevant and what's not.

McCLELLAN: Yes, it's --

Q Past practice is simply send it all over for --

McCLELLAN: Well, one, I disagree at the way you characterize it and the premise of what you're saying. It is standard practice for the Counsel's Office to be the point of contact to get the information to the Department of Justice that they requested. And that's exactly what -- keep in mind, we are here to assist the Department of Justice get to the bottom of this, because no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than we do. And the sooner the better, as far as we're concerned. And that's why we -- the Counsel's Office will be moving as quickly as they can to get the information to the Justice Department that they requested.

Q Well, they don't dispute that the Counsel's Office is typically the point of contact -- what they say is, though, is that in the past, the Counsel's Office's doesn't filter for relevancy, the Counsel's Office's has sent everything over to Justice that's responsive to -- that fits --

McCLELLAN: That's right, exactly, that's responsive to the request.

Q Well, they say that --

McCLELLAN: And I said -- and, remember, I said yesterday they're welcome to look at other materials if they want. I mean, the President made it very clear that we will be cooperating fully.


More to come on this ...

As you may have

As you may have noticed, we've redesigned the site. On the surface it looks almost identical. But on the back-end, it's completely different. It's now entirely automated, which makes it much easier to update and add new features to, and so forth. One of several new features is the printer-friendly function right there next to the permalinks.

At the moment, it's taking me a bit of time to get used to the new interface, which is of course different from the one I've been using for the last three years. I'm not sure if it'll affect the way I write or not; but I'll let you be the judge.

In any case, if something doesn't look right on the site, please drop us a line, letting us know what the problem is and what browser you're using.

So Donnie Fowler is

So Donnie Fowler is out as sorta kinda campaign manager of the Clark campaign.

I'd been getting hints and allegations of this for several days from various fronts. The first round of coverage last night had it that this was a dispute between the Internet-savvy draft Clark types and the professionals from the Clinton-Gore scene. This morning there's more of a focus on Fowler getting demoted to a "lesser role but still an important role" and deciding instead to quit.

Really, I'm not sure quite what to make of these various interpretations of what happened. It's not like Fowler is some sort of grass-roots activist. His CV, even his ancestry, is very much from Clinton/Gore-land. On the other hand, he saw first hand in Gore 2000 what can happen to a top-heavy, insidery operation.

My sense is that there are just no clear lines of authority in that operation. That leads not only to chaotic management but also to everyone having a different sense of what 'the problem' is.

Based on things I hear from various folks who are in the mix, I think that it's much less clear-cut than this Internet types versus the insiders line we're hearing.

What surprises me and, to an extent, impresses me is that Clark has managed to do as well as he has, even with this sort of chaotic management at the home office.

The thing about campaigns is that they end up telling us something about the candidate. Getting a campaign up to speed in a few weeks is no simple task. If Clark is someone who will make a good president, he'll get this situation in hand.

The big picture here is that there's a vacuum of authority in the campaign operation. Because of that, all the various currents in the Dem party -- out-of-power Clinton-Gore types, new-fangled Internet types, etc. -- are trying to fill that vacuum. Bottom line: Clark has to assert himself over his campaign back office.

Am I wrong to

Am I wrong to think his heart's not really in this one?

Comments today from President Bush ...

I mean this town is a -- is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators -- full disclosure, everything we know the investigators will find out. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is -- partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers. But we'll find out.


Rather short of dead or alive ...

When I come across

When I come across something fishy from the Bush administration, I try to use what I call the Clinton Test to keep myself honest and steer me right. As I’ve noted before in these pages, the Clinton Test is quite simply, how would I react to situation X if it was Clinton --- someone I supported --- rather than Bush --- someone I oppose.

It’s a good rule of thumb because seeing a given action through the prism of someone whose motives you are inclined to view favorably is a good check on unwarranted suspicions.

Having laid out the Clinton Test, I think the report in this morning’s Dallas Morning News pretty clearly passes the test. In other words, this is more than worthy of criticism -- no matter who is involved. According to the Morning News, all the White House documents requested by the Justice Department are first being reviewed and vetted by the White House counsel's office.

That sounds a bit different from a normal criminal investigation, doesn’t it?

Now, it’s worth noting that the White House has the right --- subject to a great deal of judicial interpretation --- to claim executive privilege for certain sorts of White House communications. And one could imagine various issues which could come up in such documents for which a privilege might reasonably be asserted.

But it seems from the description in the article that the White House is getting to decide which documents the investigators get and which they don’t without having to go to the trouble, the contest, or the political fall-out of actually exerting privilege.

I’d like to hear more about just what the process is. But on the face of it, it seems like the entity being investigated (i.e., The White House) gets to determine what evidence can be used against it. I mean, I’ve heard of defendants’ rights and all. But this seems to take that notion a bit far, doesn’t it? If the Justice Department investigators have acquiesced in this scheme that also gives me the impression that they’re falling, shall we say, rather short of the Ken Starr level of zealousness.

Finally, let’s say there really are compelling national security and/or executive privilege grounds for refusing to turn over some of these documents. Isn’t that the best argument yet that the president should do the right thing and get to the bottom of this right now?

They could get to the bottom of this by the end of the day. If they don’t even try, I think we know why.

Its amazing how quickly

It's amazing how quickly people can get thrown off the scent.

Look at all the chatter swirling around the Wilson/Plame scandal: the pros and cons of leaks, the difficulty of unearthing and prosecuting leakers, attacks on Joe Wilson, Novak's never-ending-story, back and forth about this, that and the other. Bill Safire has 701 words in Monday's Times all devoted to churning these points and covering for his friends with artful zingers and disinformation.

All of it is beside the point.

For the last ten days we've known that two senior administration officials blew the cover of an undercover CIA employee for some mix of retribution and political gamesmanship.

It's next to certain that the president --- like the rest of those who read Novak's original column or heard about it --- knew this in mid-July. But it's absolutely certain he's known about it since September 27th.

And what has he done about it? Nothing.

All mumbo-jumbo to the contrary, the universe of possible culprits is quite small. I suspect the identity of the two is already well-known in the White House. But even if that's not the case, the president could quickly figure out who they are --- probably by demanding that they come forward, and certainly by reviewing phone logs and emails. Yet he has done neither.

We now have the farcical spectacle of the Justice Department initiating a massive investigation --- with the net thrown almost comically wide --- in order to find out what the president could find out in a few hours, tops.

That's the whole story right there.

The president has said he wants to get to the bottom of this. Yet he has done nothing to get to the bottom of it. The only credible explanation is the obvious one: that he doesn't want to get to the bottom of it.

Whether the Justice Department can find the culprits on its own is an interesting legal chess game. But no more.

The president's lieutenants did this. Rather than trying to punish them, he's trying to protect them. The only thing the White House has been aggressive about is attacking the victims of its own bad-acts: Wilson and Plame.

These simple --- and I think indisputable --- facts tell you all you need to know about what's happening here.

In the end, I strongly suspect that Bush will rue the day he didn't do the right thing on day one.

From the Department of

From the Department of Says It All ...

Kay's discovery of one vial of a reference strain of botulinum toxin that an Iraqi scientist had stored in his refrigerator in 1993 at his government's request was described by Bush on Friday as a piece of evidence that Iraq was prepared to have prohibited biological weapons.
From Walter Pincus' piece in Monday's Post.

And they were off

And they were off to such a good start. Unless I'm mistaken Tony Snow led off Fox News Sunday this morning by calling Valerie Plame a CIA "analyst." In other words, rather prejudicing the question by introducing it packaged in a bit of misinformation.

A few days ago

A few days ago I wrote about the potential ripple effect of exposing Valerie Plame. You go back and see what companies she worked for, who her associates were, where she traveled and so forth, and you probably unravel a lot -- stuff that probably leads to the exposure of other agents and operations.

The Washington Post today has one example: the apparent CIA front company that Plame listed as her employer, Brewster-Jennings & Associates.

People are noting that the company's name made the rounds yesterday after Bob Novak mentioned it on TV, in apparent attempt to discredit Plame as a Democratic partisan.

I've avoided the rush of Novak-bashing that's swirled around this story. But his stance as a journalist simply trying to report out a story is being rapidly and severely diminished by his desperate effort to advance the agenda of those who leaked to him in the first place, i.e., to smear and discredit the Wilsons. (It's also being diminished by his far from credible efforts to exonerate the leakers by again and again revising what he's said on the subject.)

The truth, however, is that Novak's televised mention of Plame's 'employer' is a non-issue -- at least in terms of doing further damage.

The damage was done on July 14th when he first mentioned her name.

The point here is what foreign intelligence agencies (and to a lesser extent transnational corporations and perhaps terrorist groups) are able to find out. And you can rest assured that from the moment she was fingered as a CIA agent in a prominent nationally-syndicated newspaper column, all of them ran her name to map out her lists of associations and activities.

Information which was readily available on the Internet in a public database like the FEC's would have popped up really quickly.

So Novak didn't do any real damage yesterday -- but that's largely because there wasn't much damage left to do after his original disclosure.

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