Who is protecting the Plame leakers?
Which Washington journalists -- in addition to Robert Novak -- did Bush administration officials select to receive the revenge leak about Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife? And why hasn't a single one of them stepped forward to report the crime?
Now that we know the CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate the "outing" of Valerie Plame -- aka Mrs. Wilson -- as an agency operative, this scandal has broken onto the front pages. Sooner or later, John Ashcroft may be forced to appoint a special counsel, as both Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and John Kerry, D-Mass., have demanded. (One reason to name a special counsel, or independent counsel, is that a key suspect named Karl Rove used to work as a political consultant for Ashcroft -- and played a part in his appointment as attorney general.)
While the president's press secretary insists that Rove was not involved in this outrage, I can't help wondering how reporters, editors and bureau chiefs in the capital justify their silence. Tim Russert of NBC and Robin Sproul of ABC both said they wouldn't discuss any matter involving sources. That's an ironclad rule of journalism, up to a point. But what should a journalist do when a source commits a serious crime in his or her presence? What if that crime not only threatens to jeopardize human lives, but also harms U.S. national security in the most profound way?
The spiteful unveiling of Plame very likely did both. She is reported to have worked undercover on matters involving weapons proliferation, an issue of the deepest concern at the moment. Those who exposed her, including Novak, ran a great risk of compromising her sources. In many countries where proliferation is a problem, those people could be killed immediately.
It will be interesting to hear Novak try to explain himself on CNN's "Crossfire" this afternoon. And it will be equally interesting to learn, as this scandal unfolds, whether (and if so, why) members of the Washington press corps concealed a serious offense committed for the pettiest of political purposes.
[11:30 p.m. PDT, Sept. 29, 2003]