When Bushies blew a CIA cover, it was 'treason'; now, it's a mistake
. . .The White House quickly explained that a mistake had been made, but did not offer any details. Top officials announced that White House counsel Neil Eggleston, a veteran of many Washington investigations, will "look into" the matter. "It shouldn't have happened," deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken told CNN on Tuesday. "We're trying to understand why it happened. In fact, the chief of staff, Denis McDonough, asked the White House counsel to look into it, to figure out what happened and to make sure it won't happen again."But as he goes on to point out, that did not prevent accusations of treason:
Many observers seem satisfied with the White House's explanation that the incident was just a regrettable error. And that is indeed what it appears to be. But such assessments represent a remarkable change in tone from the discussion several years ago, when the George W. Bush administration leaked Valerie Plame's identity as part of a bitter fight over the origin and direction of the Iraq war. Back then, it was quite common to hear the words "traitor" and "treason" used to describe top Bush officials involved in the controversy.
There's no doubt the Bush officials deliberately revealed Plame's CIA connection, if not her name, to the press. But the Plame leak could be characterized as inadvertent in one sense: the leakers, both in the State Department and the White House, did not know that Plame's status at the CIA was classified when they mentioned her to reporters. That is why no one was ever charged with leaking her identity; they did not knowingly and deliberately reveal classified information. So in that sense it was all a mistake. Yes, it was inadvertent, colossally stupid, an embarrassment -- but it was a mistake.
The accusation that Rove, or Libby, or others in the Bush White House -- including the president himself -- were "traitors" or had committed "treason" got its start in late September 2003, when Democrats dug up an old quote from George H. W. Bush, who was not only a former president and George W. Bush's father, but a former CIA chief. In 1999, when the senior Bush attended a ceremony in which CIA headquarters was named for him, he said in his speech: "Even though I am a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are in my view the most insidious of traitors."Of course, as is well known by now, the actual leak came from Richard Armitage, one of Colin Powell's aids at the State Department, both of them being stout opponents of the war policy. Neither was indicted.
The Washington Post published the quote in a story on September 29, 2003. By that night, it was repeated on cable TV, and the accusations of treason started flying. They would continue for years.
Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, led the attack. "Scooter Libby is a traitor," Wilson said on CNN in July 2007. But others went there, too — even high-ranking government officials. For example, when the Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg appeared on the now-defunct liberal talk radio network Air America — a hotbed of traitor talk — he was asked, "Karl Rove is guilty of treason, isn't he?" Lautenberg's answer was, "Yes, I think so."
In October 2004, Terry McAuliffe, who was at the time chairman of the Democratic National Committee, demanded that Rove reveal his testimony before the grand jury so the public could learn "who in the White House committed treason by outing a CIA operative."
No one will be surprised that Rachel Maddow, now an MSNBC host but back then on Air America, took part, too. "Is Karl Rove a traitor?" Maddow was asked on MSNBC in July, 2005. "I believe it," she said.
Al Franken, now a Democratic senator from Minnesota but then also with Air America, made the treason accusation in a characteristic non-joking joking manner. "They wanted to smear the guy who came back with the report, and so they out his wife and said she sent him there," Franken explained on "Late Night With David Letterman" in October 2005. "This is essentially -- you know, George H.W. Bush, the president's father, was the head of the CIA and he has said that outing a CIA agent is treason."
"It is treason, yes," said Letterman.
"And so basically, what it looks like is going to happen is that Libby and Karl Rove are going to be executed," Franken said. When the crowd began to laugh, Franken added, "Yeah. And I don't know how I feel about it because I'm basically against the death penalty …"
If it is true that consistency is the hobgoblin of a little mind, none may accuse democrats of having foolish little hobgoblins.