Things are seldom as they appear on the surface. And the Plame matter is a case in point.
At the moment the discussion is about whether the doers can beat the rap. (Did the person at the White House know she was covert, etc.?)
(Along those lines, here's a question worth asking. Has Victoria Toensing or, more importantly, her husband and legal partner in their criminal defense firm, Joe diGenova, taken on any clients who might be targets in the Plame probe?)
But that's not the issue and it never has been. At least it hasn't been since very early on. Because the basic facts of the matter have been in plain sight from the beginning. And whether an aide to the president is indicted or goes to prison is largely an issue for that particular person.
The issue here -- from the beginning, and now to the end -- is whether the president accepts such behavior and what the standard operating procedure in the Bush White House is: Do you punish a political opponent by attacking his family if it means exposing one of the country's covert intelligence operatives and breaking the law?
That's a pretty straightforward standard. And by all the available evidence this White House considers it acceptable behavior.
Why do I say this?
From the start it's been clear what the essential facts are -- who did what. If the White House didn't know, it would have been a simple matter for the president to find out. And as I noted in the previous post, we now know that they did know who the people were from the beginning -- since they knew who to issue non-denial-denials for.
Now, just for the sake of the conversation, let's say that the perp didn't know Plame was covert. As I've discussed previously, there are many reasons why this is extremely unlikely. But let's say it's so. If that's the case, it would become an issue of manifest negligence and recklessness that should in itself qualify as a firing offense.
Again, a hypothetical.
Let's say the leaker ... and well, hold on. We don't know the person's or persons' name. So let's assign them a nickname to use as a placeholder. Let's call the person Hopper.
Ok, so back to the leaker.
Let's say Hopper just knew that Joe Wilson's wife was involved at CIA doing some work on the WMD front (remember, Hopper had to know that, because the accusation was that she had gotten him the uranium gig.) We now know -- or we seem to know -- that Plame was not at that point involved in any particular operations the exposure of which would have led to immediate and grave harm to national security or a threat to her life. But if Hopper only knew vaguely that she was at CIA and working on WMD stuff, then it was possible she was abroad and in danger if her name was exposed. Or, more to the point, she might have been involved in a covert operation trying to shutdown a shipment of weapons-grade uranium from Pakistan to al Qaida terrorists in Yemen. Or perhaps the front energy company she worked for was involved in ferreting out a uranium shipment from the Russian mafia to al Qaida operatives in Hamburg?
Was it likely that at that moment she was working on something so, shall we say, thermonuclear?
No, but WMD, in case you hadn't noticed, is a rather big concern for us at the moment. So before picking up the phone and calling Novak you'd think Hopper might have done a little checking and made sure her exposure as CIA wouldn't cause that much damage, right? Make sure she was just an analyst?
We could play out these hypotheticals ad nauseam of course. But I think the point is clear. As a matter of acceptable behavior, Hopper (or perhaps someone near Hopper ) should go pretty much anyway you slice it. If he spilled the beans on Plame without having any idea what she did in the WMD field, that's almost worse than if he knew just what she was working on.
And yet the White House seems to consider this acceptable behavior. Or at least it's behavior that is tolerated just as long as the perp can figure out a way to avoid criminal possible prosecution, by hook or by crook.
And the White House isn't the only place on the line. Not even the most.
For all who have eyes to see, the White House has made pretty clear where they stand from the beginning. They're going to see if they can brazen it out.
But where does the press stand? Do the big papers put heavy investigative resources on to this? Who's working this story at the Times. Does Mike Allen have to break all the stories? Do the editorial pages care? Does David Broder care? Tim Russert? George?
They're the ones on the line here. The issue of criminal prosecution is almost secondary. What do they think is important? What do they care about? It's been that way from the word go.