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Either a leakeror a hypocrite

Other editors say

That's the uncomfortable choice facing Bush after Libby's revelations

Los Angeles Times

The latest revelations in the investigation into the leak of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame raise a question that every Sunday school student is familiar with: Can God make a boulder so heavy that he himself cannot lift it?

For President Bush, the question is more like this: If information comes from the president, is it still a leak? And if that information is classified, by revealing it, has he declassified it? After all, the president has the legal power to declassify information. And a leak authorized by the president is ' by most definitions, at least ' not a leak, but an officially sanctioned release of public information.

The legal and political ramifications of the papers prosecutors filed late Wednesday in the case against former White House aide I. Lewis Scooter Libby remain unclear. But if what Libby asserts is true, the president would be faced with an uncomfortable choice: He is either a leaker or a hypocrite.

In the filings, Libby says he was told by Vice President Dick Cheney that Bush had given presidential permission for Libby to disclose certain information to Judith Miller, then a reporter for The New York Times, about a classified prewar intelligence report. Libby has been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation into who outed Plame.

The legal papers do not say exactly what Bush told Cheney, or what Cheney told Libby. And the administration is well within its rights to justify its policy in Iraq, which is what Libby was supposed to be doing when he was talking to Miller. It's entirely possible that Bush told Cheney to take the administration's case to the public, and that the vice president interpreted the mandate broadly, as is his wont. But he should have known, or the president should have told him, that such a mandate does not include the disclosure of classified information.

There also is the issue of Bush's numerous previous statements, now making their way across the Internet at the speed of a DSL line, about leaking. One of the most popular is from Sept. 30, 2003: Let me just say something about leaks in Washington. There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington. There's leaks at the executive branch; there's leaks in the legislative branch. There's just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.

Leave the legal issues about classified information and executive power to the constitutional scholars. The simpler question is whether Bush still believes, if he ever did, what he said in September 2003. If so, who in his administration needs to be taken care of?