Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The outing of Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife as an undercover CIA agent (if that is what she was) would be contemptuous — not to say felonious. As former President Bush said in 1999 of those who expose intelligence agents, they are “the most insidious of traitors.” We fully agree. While we do not yet know most of the facts, what is beyond doubt is that “two senior administration officials” did the deed. The eminent journalist, Robert Novak, used that phrase to describe his sources for the story. No experienced Washingtonian will doubt Mr. Novak’s veracity in characterizing a source.

The president has days, not weeks or months, to snap into action. He does not need a Justice Department investigation at this point. Yesterday, his spokesman reiterated that there’s no need for an internal investigation, while the president said, “I want to know the truth. If anybody’s got information inside or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward.” The president expressed the right sentiment, but it is too passive a stance. He has all the authority he needs to question his staff, seize phone logs, e-mails and vacation schedules. He must do all in his power, immediately, to identify and fire the malefactors — whomsoever they may be. There is a need for an internal investigation — now.

It is a natural instinct of any White House to hunker down when political opponents are making accusations of wrongdoing. This page supported the president in 2000 and anticipates doing so again in 2004. But this is beyond politics. It is a simple matter of right or wrong. And it is precisely at such moments that the moral and ethical measure of a statesmen is taken.

The president should personally make it known to the public that it is his highest priority to get to the bottom of the matter. There may be traitors in his midst — even if the actors may not have appreciated the nature of their conduct. At some point, presumably, the Justice Department will be needed for prosecution. But the president should be first on the job to cleanse his own house.

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