In 1977, Nixon said

, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”? Well, Bush’s lawyers allegedly said this about the leak of classified intelligence: “Presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to declassification of the document.”

Got it? When the president leaks it, that means it is not illegal.

UPDATE: the White House tries to quell the furor over the leak.

The Washington Post has the best news and analysis of the issue.

The paper also has legal opinions on the president’s declassification maneuver.


Washington Post:

Bush Authorized Secrets’ Release, Libby Testified Prosecutor Says Disclosures on Iraq Were Aimed at War Critic

By R. Jeffrey Smith Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, April 7, 2006; A01

President Bush authorized White House official I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby to disclose highly sensitive intelligence information to the news media in an attempt to discredit a CIA adviser whose views undermined the rationale for the invasion of Iraq, according to a federal prosecutor’s account of Libby’s testimony to a grand jury.

The court filing by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time places Bush and Vice President Cheney at the heart of what Libby testified was an exceptional and deliberate leak of material designed to buttress the administration’s claim that Iraq was trying to obtain nuclear weapons. The information was contained in the National Intelligence Estimate, one of the most closely held CIA analyses of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the war.

Fitzgerald said Libby’s disclosure took place as the result of “a strong desire by many, including multiple people in the White House, to repudiate” claims made in a July 2003 newspaper article by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was hired by the CIA to evaluate whether Iraq sought nuclear material in Niger. Wilson wrote that “some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”



Washington Post:

Testimony Adds New Element to Probe of CIA Leak

By Michael A. Fletcher Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, April 7, 2006; A09

The allegation that President Bush authorized the dissemination of secret intelligence as part of an effort to buttress his case for war with Iraq introduces a new dimension to the long-running CIA leak investigation, while posing troubling new political problems for the administration.

Until now, the investigation had been about aides to Bush and their alleged efforts to attack the credibility of a vocal administration critic, including by possibly leaking classified information. Bush cast himself as a disinterested observer, eager to resolve the case and hold those responsible accountable.

But court papers filed late Wednesday night by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, in the perjury case of former White House official I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, implicate Bush as knowing about efforts to disseminate sensitive information — and also as orchestrating them.


Legal Opinions:

Washington Post:

Experts: Tactic Would Be Legal but Unusual

By Michael A. Fletcher Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, April 7, 2006; A08

Legal experts say that President Bush had the unquestionable authority to approve the disclosure of secret CIA information to reporters, but they add that the leak was highly unusual and amounted to using sensitive intelligence data for political gain.

“It is a question of whether the classified National Intelligence Estimate was used for domestic political purposes,” said Jeffrey H. Smith, a Washington lawyer who formerly served as general counsel for the CIA.

In court papers filed Wednesday, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald said I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, has testified that Cheney told him that Bush had authorized the leak of secret information from the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in the summer of 2003. Fitzgerald’s court filing portrays the leak as part of an effort to discredit former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who contended in a newspaper column that intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was distorted in the run-up to the U.S. invasion.


Details of Libby’s testimony are available in Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s court filing (see pages 23 and 24 below). A full pdf of the 39-page document is available here. (Hat tip: The Smoking Gun)

Fitzgerald Filing I. Lewis Libby Bush
Fitzgerald Filing I. Lewis Libby Bush
A full pdf of the 39-page document is available here.

The Smoking Gun:

A former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney told a federal grand jury that President George W. Bush authorized him to leak information from a classified intelligence report to a New York Times reporter. Details of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s testimony were included in a court filing made yesterday by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who is prosecuting Libby for perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements in connection with the probe into the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity. According to Fitzgerald’s filing, an excerpt of which you’ll find below, Libby, 55, testified in 2003 that he provided reporter Judith Miller with information from a classified National Intelligence Estimate after being told by Cheney that Bush “specifically had authorized” him to “disclose certain information in the NIE.” Libby also testified that Cheney specifically directed him to speak to other reporters about information in the classified NIE (which addressed Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction programs) as well as a cable authored by Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. The leaking of the classified material was apparently done in an effort to counter claims made by Wilson regarding the White House’s justification for invading Iraq. The Fitzgerald filing also notes that Libby told grand jurors that he conferred with David Addington, Cheney’s counsel, about the leak directive and that Addington told him “that Presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document.” While both Bush and Cheney have been interviewed by Fitzgerald, it is unknown whether they confirmed or disputed Libby’s assertion that he was authorized to disclose findings in classified reports. Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, resigned his White House post last October following his indictment on five felony counts.


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