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'Leakgate' Has Legs
by Tommy Ates
January 2, 2004

Now, Fitzgerald's on the case.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's decision to recluse himself from the 'Leakgate' investigation involving the outing of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's wife, Valerie Plame as a CIA operative means one thing.

The potential suspects currently on the table are pretty close to the Oval Office (as in the West Wing).

And this story may even rival Clinton's Whitewater, and Hillary's Travelgate affairs.

As if the ongoing guerrilla war in Iraq, and the looming Democratic presidential nominee wasn't occupying the political calculations of Presidential Advisor Karl Rove and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, they may have to add subpoenas and depositions to that list.

A bit of a distraction from the re-election campaign of President Bush.

Chicago-based U.S. attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald is a career prosecutor with a "relentless" demeanor for closing cases against his legal opponents. Sending this New York bred lawyer to Washington does give the Ashcroft Justice Department a degree of leverage against charges of political bias, unfortunately as with the buddy system of up and coming professionals on the federal level. Fitzgerald's friendship with the number two Department of Justice official James B. Comey Jr. (a political appointee) may raise some eyebrows as whether he, too, could unduly influenced by the Bush administration.

Or Ashcroft himself, though his sudden move to distance himself from the case isn't turning out as "appropriate" as he hoped for. In past comments, in the weeks following the decision for a Justice Department investigation previously insisting that his involvement as its lead would not develop into a conflict of interest with the White House.

As in the previous scandals of the Clinton administration, the questions of "what happened" and "who knew what when" are already bubbling forth at Washington water coolers as people (particularly Democrats) are looking forward to any fireworks, while Republican consultants and pollsters hedge their bets on any broad political ramifications to the President and possibly the Republican Party.

But will this serious episode of secrecy legal violations resonate in the minds of Americans at large? At present, heads already filled with rising death tolls in Iraq and the emerging contenders in Democratic field may not have a lot left over of a trail of witnesses and White House assurances that the President wants to find out who did it. However, a confluence of an uncertain war, sluggish economy, and perhaps internal intrigue may cement the impression of a Bush presidency as erratic and unpredictable.

This view could hinder votes with soccer cum "security" moms (post-September 11th), essential for any presidential victory in the fall.

On a practical note, more important than any outcome of the investigation should be the creation of new safeguards protecting the identities of national intelligence employees from political appointees whom, in this increasingly partisan Washington, are becoming prone to using unorthodox, seemingly-unethical tactics to secure votes (as in last year's House vote on Medicare) or to ensure policy (the President's 2003 State of the Union address).

All of which overseen by the Bush administration or in Congress pursuing the success of his political agenda.

And of course, the crux of the CIA operative leak is the potential human toll.

The complaints by former Ambassador Wilson regarding his wife's compromised position underscore the need for division between politics and intelligence, but also security. Leaking identification information on federal agents may not only place their lives in jeopardy, but potentially damage our domestic security in being reactive to threats (which foreign or domestic) from rogue regimes to terrorist cells. Intelligence is America's #1 weapon against the war on terror.

And the release of the ambassador's wife name to a reporter was a crime.

U.S. attorney James Fitzgerald has not only a mission, but ethical gravitas to find out what happened and who may the source of the leak. No matter where the road travels in Washington or in the White House.

The knowledge that this attorney may be "apolitical" gives some comfort to those jaded Americans who know all too well the power of politics to create government gridlock, twist the truth, and corrupt sworn office holders. Perhaps this attorney's investigation will be the first honest one since Iran-Contra when the affair wasn't just a game of 'gotcha' politics, but the potential undermining of the Constitution by politics run amok.

One thing is for sure, for this case the Department of Justice will not be playing legal 'politics as usual.' In this election year, too much is at stake.

And if Fitzgerald's career reputation as a dogged prosecutor is any indication, if there is a solid case against the perpetrator(s) of the CIA leak.

He will build its legs.

Copyright A9 2003 Tommy Ates. All Rights Reserved.

Posted: January 2, 2004


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