PLAME UPDATE: Tom Maguire isn't blogging, but he's emailed comments to Mark Kleiman, which are included in this post of Kleiman's. Maguire and Kleiman think that the Ashcroft recusal suggests that there's serious Administration involvement. I'm not so sure about that -- it seems to me that if Ashcroft was going to come down hard on, say, Karl Rove people would be unlikely to scream conflict-of-interest. Instead, it seems that his recusal would make more sense if people were likely to scream "whitewash" because Rove wasn't involved. Kleiman mentions this possibility but discounts it.
1. The leaker has been discovered, but either the leak was not a crime or is too trivial to warrant prosecution. In this case, an honest prosecutor would come out saying that the Democrats were right in what they claimed occurred, but that it does not warrant prosecution. This, indeed, is what all the evidence so far is suggesting. The Democrats would make political hay of an official statement that Mr. X leaked the information but there would be no prosecution, saying that Ashcroft was just protecting his political allies. This is a little harder to do if someone other than an official Justice Department spokesman makes and defends the announcement.
2. The investigation has uncovered misbehavior, but by people in the CIA-- perhaps Plame herself-- who are opposed to the Bush Administration.
It is clear there was misbehavior in the CIA in selecting Wilson to go to Niger, since it was clear he would use the opportunity to embarass the Administration without collecting any real information. Someone ought to be fired for that. It may be that an actual crime has been committed, too--- say, misuse of government money for political purposes by civil servants, or violation of a confidentiality agreement (by Wilson), or violation of a nepotism rule (by Plame), or something we don't know about. If Ashcroft goes after the malefactors, he will be accused of trying to punish the victim or trying to punish whistleblowers. It is better to let a special prosecutor take the heat.
That's more in accordance with my sense of where this case is, but I could be wrong. Mostly, as I've mentioned before, I've taken my cues from Joseph Wilson, who isn't acting like it's a serious matter. As I said before:
Not knowing the underlying facts, I have to make my judgment by the behavior of the parties. And judging from that, the scandal is bogus, and Wilson is a self-promoter who can't be trusted.
UPDATE: I think, by the way, that the credibility of Plame-scandal-boosters like Kleiman would be stronger if it weren't for lines like this: "Go out and celebrate. The odds on a Democrat's replacing George W. Bush just shortened considerably."