- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

The political feeding frenzy over the White House/CIA leak story spotlights just how desperate the Democrats are to find an election issue with legs.

For nearly three years, they have repeatedly attacked this administration, hoping by sheer numerical odds to find the one issue that would politically damage George W. Bush. Naturally, not one — the corporate accounting scandal, the tax cuts, the Iraq war or the failure to find weapons of mass destruction — has had any long-term traction.

Now, three months before the opening bell for the 2004 election year, the Democrats claim they smell blood in the water.

Unlike the indictment-plagued Clinton administration, Mr. Bush’s presidency has been remarkably free of any deeply penetrating scandal. But last week the president was clearly on the political defensive, denying charges anyone in the White House illegally revealed the wife of a Democratic critic of President Bush’s Iraq war policies is a CIA operative. Revealing the agent’s identity is a criminal offense, and Democrats believe someone in the Bush administration should be held accountable for it.

Despite the severity of this alleged crime, this has little potential to do Mr. Bush harm, so long as the White House properly handles it. Here’s why:

• There have been countless illegal leaks and investigations into who leaked what. (The CIA refers about one a week to the Justice Department for investigation). I do not recall any leak probe that led to an indictment. This is due to the unspoken alliance between the news media and government sources.

No reputable reporter will ever reveal his source, nor will any source reveal he or she talked to that reporter, or at least admit telling them anything of consequence. So this potentially months-long investigation will result in little.

c Then there are the deeply political motives behind the Democrats’ attacks, especially those of Mr. Bush’s chief accuser: former Middle East diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, who supported Al Gore and now backs Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts for president.

An example of how blatantly political this is: Mr. Wilson was scheduled to address the House Democratic caucus last Thursday about his charges. But a more rational party official abruptly canceled the event, fearing the meeting with Mr. Wilson would only show how political his charges really are.

c As for Mr. Wilson himself, his hatred for Mr. Bush’s policies borders on the pathological. This is a far-left Democrat who has been relentlessly bashing the president’s Iraq war policies.

Writing in the Nation, a leftist journal, Mr. Wilson said just before the war began that, under Bush policies “America has entered one of its periods of historical madness,” ushering in a “new American imperialism.”

His long, single-minded crusade against Mr. Bush has one purpose: to undermine the president’s credibility. But Mr. Wilson should consider his own credibility. He told C-SPAN last week he did not think Saddam Hussein ever had weapons of mass destruction. But before the Iraq war began, he told ABC News that Saddam might “use a biological weapon in a battle that we might have.”

• More profound questions are raised about Wilson’s CIA-approved mission to Niger to investigate whether Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium. By his own admission, he had no investigative background and said his trip consisted of “eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people.”

His perfunctory report home said “it was highly doubtful that any [uranium sale] had ever taken place.” The mystery behind this dubious investigation is why this Bush-hater was chosen for so sensitive a mission. Reportedly, his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, an undercover CIA agent, suggested to her superiors that he be given this assignment.

Enter conservative columnist Bob Novak. In the course of investigating Mr. Wilson’s trip and his crusade against the president’s pre-emptive antiterrorism policies, somebody in the administration mentioned Mrs. Wilson’s role in passing and Mr. Novak reported it in his syndicated column, triggering the CIA’s request for an investigation into his source.

Mr. Wilson has alleged, without proof, that White House political adviser Karl Rove was Mr. Novak’s source, then backed away from that charge. Anyone familiar with Mr. Rove’s methods — and I have interviewed him many times — knows he is super-cautious during interviews, rarely talks on the record and knows all the rules, including the ones banning disclosure of CIA agents.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush is playing this episode by the book. He has pledged full cooperation with the investigation, his White House counsel has told his staff to preserve all telephone logs and documents. And he acknowledged this is a serious offense and wants the perpetrator caught.

The Democrats, of course, are having such a field day they seem to be blissfully unaware this would-be scandal is distracting the president’s attention from the much more important economic issues that will decide who wins next year’s presidential election.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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