The Gonzales gap grows

It now appears that the White House staff had more than 12 hours' notice that a Plame probe was underway.

Published July 25, 2005 10:34PM (EDT)

Remember how earlier today we told you about the missing 12 hours -- the time that passed between when the White House was first notified about the investigation of the Plame leak and when Alberto Gonzales told the staff to preserve all documents? Well, forget what we said. It now appears that the White House had a lot more than 12 hours' notice that an investigation was imminent -- indeed, White House staffers knew for several days before Gonzales was even notified. How did they know? It was front-page news.

As The Carpetbagger Report reminds us, the White House was formally notified of an investigation on Monday, Sept. 29, 2003, and Gonzales told the staff about the investigation on Tuesday morning. But NBC had already reported news of an imminent investigation on Friday -- that is, days before Gonzales' notification went out. And on Sunday -- 48 hours before Gonzales told the White House to save everything -- the Washington Post put news of the investigation on its front page. In that story, White House press Secretary Scott McClellan was quoted as saying about the leak, "That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing.... I don't have any information beyond an anonymous source in a media report to suggest there is anything to this. If someone has information of this nature, then he or she should report it to the Department of Justice."

Yesterday, Gonzales said that he waited 12 hours to tell everyone about the inquiry because he wanted to ask Justice Department lawyers some questions about it, and they'd all gone home by the time he received the news. But on the weekend before Gonzales got the formal news, McClellan -- a member of the White House staff -- clearly anticipated an investigation into the matter; his quote seems to suggest that an inquiry would be inevitable. So if Scott McClellan knew that the Justice Department was investigating the matter, and if media reports had been warning for several days of a coming investigation, shouldn't Gonzales have been more prepared when he finally got formal notification of the criminal probe?

We're not saying, of course, that Gonzales had another reason to delay telling everyone to save everything. But to those people who are now suggesting as much -- say, Sens. Joe Biden and Charles Schumer -- this whole thing sure must look fishy.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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