Saturday, April 08, 2006

The National Interest


Here's what I'm thinking -- and forgive me if someone else has already gotten there yet. President Bush has the authority to declassify documents like the National Security Estimate. This is what probably keeps what he and V.P. Cheney did from being criminal, at least if they fell short of knowingly blowing Valerie Plame's cover.

But is there a particular procedure in place -- say, a document that needs to be filed and signed -- in order for the President to make something declassified? He can't just wake up one morning, wave his hand over the NSE, and make it public information? Or can he?

If not, then this document is going to come out, if not during the course of Libby's criminal trial, then through political pressure. And it will be a political disaster -- the president's signature authorizing the declassification of national security information for no reason other than to silence and punish a critic. And there will be subpoenas for other documents and testimony as well -- especially regarding whether Bush, Cheney, or both did, in fact, knowingly disclose Valerie Plame's identity.

This is where the Bush administration may finally have to choose between denying what it may have done or making a full disclosure in the assertion of the legality of its actions, and those of its former aides. To date, they've almost always maintained a middle position, asserting their fundamental (bordering on definitional) innocence and refusing to give any evidence supporting that assertion. It's a way of claiming the bare minimum of adhering to the law while simulataneously presenting oneself as above it. Well, the clock is ticking: that time might finally be over.

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