Its amazing how quickly

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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.

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