March of the Frogs

by Ted on January 13, 2004

A few thoughts on Paul O’Neill vs. the person who leaked Valerie Plame identity:

1. An investigation of O’Neill seems like an easy call to me. He did hand over massive volume of documentation to a journalist, and it’s entirely reasonable that the government would want to know what he had. We just can’t have every government official grabbing classified information on the way out the door.

2. It seems that there’s not much reason to believe that an investigation will reveal wrongdoing on O’Neill’s part. World O’Crap seems to have a good argument for why he’s probably is in the clear. The documents in question were apparently provided by the Treasury, not snatched by O’Neill. But I can’t pretend that I understand the relevant law.

For what it’s worth, O’Neill says that the documents were sent to him by the general counsel for the Treasury Department. I find it hard to believe that O’Neill and Suskind would have published this book without making sure that they were protected on this front. Who knows.

3. I honestly don’t understand some of the stormy rhetoric I’m hearing from the right. O’Neill is being investigated. It took less than 24 hours. If O’Neill did anything wrong, you can be assured that he’ll be prosecuted. Seriously, what else do you want?

If you expect liberals to go to the board and write “I will not make a fuss about Valerie Plame” 500 times, it’s not going to happen. We don’t know if O’Neill revealed any classified information. The question is, “was there a violation of the law?” In contrast, we already know that someone revealed the identity of Valerie Plame. The question is, “who did it?” And the fact that it took 74 days before there was any interest in the second question doesn’t smell any sweeter today.



theCoach 01.13.04 at 9:09 pm

You really think it is kossher that the investigation comes from the White House? Regardless of whether or not something was leaked, it gives me the distinct impression taht if the interview had been supportive of Bush, we would not have this investigation of O’Neil, unless called for by one of the investigative agencies.
Using Federal investigations to punish people who disagree with you is an abuse of power. The right wing would not have tolerated this kind of thing with Clinton — certainly an investigation into the investigation would have begun.


taak 01.13.04 at 9:18 pm

I honestly don’t understand some of the stormy rhetoric I’m hearing from the right.

Uh, just maybe it’s to shift the focus of attention away from Bush?

Worked for Arnold (groping -> LA Times), Plame leak (W.H. culpability -> Wilson is a liberal), etc. Call it the “deflector shield” tactic.


Thomas 01.13.04 at 9:55 pm

I see the words “in contrast”, but I don’t see a contrast. The question in both cases is, was there a violation of law.


Ted Barlow 01.13.04 at 10:10 pm


I don’t have a problem with an investigation. The guy gave 19,000 documents to a reporter, and he had been in a position to obtain classified materials. It seems reasonable to double-check that the materials he disclosed were classified or not. Sure, the right would have screamed about a parallel situation during the Clinton years, but they wouldn’t have been wrong.


In the case of Valerie Plame, we know that information has been released that was classified and illegal to disclose. What we don’t know is who did it. (It’s possible that there may be a narrow legalistic defense, based on the idea that the leaker didn’t know that Plame was covert. T think that that’s unlikely, for a number of reasons I’ll go into if you like.)

In the case of O’Neill, we don’t know that there was any illegal disclosure. But if there was, it’ll be easy to find out who did it.

It’s “who did it?” vs. “did our suspect do anything?”


theCoach 01.14.04 at 12:06 am

I do not see how you can not view this, with the timing, that this is using a federal investigation as a vendetta. That is always wrong. Investingating a possible leak is certainly a function of government, but the concern in this case should come from professional rather than from a purely political perspective. If you think this investigation would have happened if O’Neil said only glowing things about the administration, fine, but if you do not, I do not see how you cannot view this as outrageous — and for a libertarian leaning person, this should be over the top (not that you are, just many of Bush’s supporters seem to be).


praktike 01.14.04 at 1:45 am

I say investigate. Bring it on. But investigate Bob Woodward, too.


fyreflye 01.14.04 at 2:26 am

And Bob Novak.


Doug 01.14.04 at 12:38 pm

Josh Marshall is all over this. Apparently, this Administration thinks it’s ok to give classified info to a cooperative reporter. It’s not a privilege that they want to extend to anyone else.

“[Peter] Beinart raised the quite apt point that members of the Bush administration gave Bob Woodward classified documents for his highly flattering book about the lead-up to the war (did I mention it was highly flattering?). So why wasn’t there an investigation then?

Deborah [Perry] responded that this was a case ‘where the Bush administration was working with’ the reporter. (That’s what I caught by ear and remembered for the few moments it took me to put the dog down and grab the computer.) In other words, when it’s a compulsively friendly reporter who’s working with the White House on an adoring book, then they can give out classified documents at their discretion. But when it’s unfriendly, you go to the slammer!

(Late Update: Here’s the actual quote from the transcript: ‘But, again, that was the Bush administration working with Bob Woodward in terms of what they were willing to…’)”


gowingz 01.14.04 at 4:30 pm

I’m sensing some circularity in your post… which is not a criticism of the post as much as the logic apparently underlying this O’Neill thing…

First, you say “an investigation of O’Neill seems like an easy call” because he “did hand over [a] massive volume of documentation to a journalist” and “we just can’t have every government official grabbing classified information on the way out the door” Of course not. On the other hand, if DC were a ship, its perpetual (and perpetually permitted) leaks would’ve sent it to the bottom of the Chesapeake long ago, so it’s not like everyone and their mother’s uncle doesn’t know that this is standard operating procedure among both gov’t officials and DC media types…

Then you write that “it seems that there’s not much reason to believe that an investigation will reveal wrongdoing on O’Neill’s part,” an assuption with which I agree, by the way…

So my question (to the White House, I s’pose) is this: though an investigation seems like “an easy call” because “we just can’t have every government official grabbing classified information” on their way out of office over to their publisher’s office, isn’t the fact “that there’s not much reason to believe that an investigation will reveal wrongdoing on O’Neill’s part” an equally good reason NOT to have an investigation? Do we really believe that either O’Neill or CBS News are dumb enough to put CLASSIFIED (not SECRET, CLASSIFIED) info on National Television during Wartime? Think of the ratings nightmare…

Additionally, isn’t an investigation into a guy most agree didn’t really do anything wrong in the first place sort of redundant, not to mention WASTEFUL? Isn’t this exactly the sort of Big Government waste this administration has opposed since day one?

If there is any evidence to suggest “political” motivations behind this investigation (and O’Neill’s sudden half-retraction- “I think I’d vote to reelct the President, by the way…”- yesterday), this is it… The administration is willing to break its Amazing track record of Conceptual Continuity and Principled Faith in Something just to make O’Neill look like some candy-assed, fondue-swilling Euro-geek in the Big Media…

… And all this at a time when billionaires are being taxed into multi-millionaires… SHOCKING.


Ted Barlow 01.14.04 at 7:17 pm


The thing is, while I think that O’Neil is telling the truth, the government can’t just take his word for it. It has a responsibility to investigate. It doesn’t need to be expensive- they could check the files that the general counsel provided, check the files that Suskind was provided to write the book, and see if (a) they match, and (b) they were classified. I don’t think that this is the place to economize.

Imagine that, say, Dick Morris had given a journalist 19,000 government files for a book slamming the Clintons in the late 90s. Wouldn’t you expect that there’d be an investigation to take a peek at what was in those 19,000 documents? I would. Sure, the right would scream that the investigation was politically motivated. But what’s the alternative?

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