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Latest in Leak Farce: the 'Special Counsel' Folly

Looking out at the dreadful but lovable 1962 Mets, Casey Stengel used to wail, "Can't anybody here play this game?" Were he here to watch today's not so lovable Republican leadership in action, "the Ol' Perfessor" would be making the same observation.

As reported by PJM's Bridget Johnson, with Beltway fixtures John McCain and Lindsey Graham pointing the way, the GOP has loudly demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder name a "special counsel" to investigate Obama administration leaks of national defense information to the New York Times. Seeing his opportunity to bury this embarrassing episode until after the November election, Holder is naturally accommodating them -- or at least doing enough to appear to accommodate them that the media will applaud as the story goes dark.

The whole thing is a farce. You don't need a special prosecutor to know who talked to the Times. All you need to do is read the two stories -- the first on Obama's assassination list and the follow-up on cyber-warfare. The Times tells you who its sources are. At the very beginning of the 6300-word kill-list epic, it says: "In interviews with The New York Times, three dozen of [Obama's] current and former advisers described Mr. Obama's evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda." The account goes on to quote, for example, former White House chief-of-staff Bill Daley, who not only confirms the existence of a kill-list but describes the considerations behind adding names to it. Current and former national security officials are quoted, in many instances by name (e.g., national security adviser Thomas Donilon and former national intelligence director Dennis Blair). And when names are not given, the Times quotes, for example, "one participant" in the approximately weekly meetings -- videoconferences run by the Pentagon but involving national security officials across the administration -- who describes some of the criteria for adding or removing terrorists from the kill-list.

Furthermore, at the very beginning of the cyber-war article, the Times describes "a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room" in which the president, vice-president and CIA director deliberated over whether the "Stuxnet" worm that had so vexed Iran's nuclear efforts had been compromised. The report elaborates: "'Should we shut this thing down?' Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president's national security team who were in the room." There is no mystery here. The report goes on to say that current and former American officials involved in the program provided information to the Times -- and that "none would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified." In other words, they knew full well that they were disclosing information that should not be disclosed and they demanded the cover of anonymity before doing so (and the Times, for its part, is protecting them because the paper, too, knows that what is being published should never have been shared with its reporters).

President Obama's mock outrage at yesterday's press conference -- "The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive!" -- was laughable, albeit with an Alinskyesque flair. Notice he referred to "my White House" not "my administration." This allows him to feign indignation while later saying he was referring only to current (not former) members of his White House staff. But if you know how these things work, the information the Times got is almost certainly not coming directly from the current White House staff; it comes (just as the stories themselves expressly indicate) from intelligence agencies, other administration officials, and former White House staffers who no doubt got the green-light to speak. And note that the Times reporters -- who would ordinarily refuse to discuss their sources at all, but make an exception when it comes to covering for The One -- are careful to deny, as the Daily Beast put it, that "the information was spoon fed to them from the White House." Well, no -- it was fork-lift fed to them by executive branch agencies and former administration officials.

So we know where the leaks came from. Now we're down to putting a particular name on particular leaked information. Relatively speaking, that is a matter of close to zero importance. The lesson here -- of far more political than legal significance -- is that President Obama is a reckless custodian of the nation's secrets. That is yet another good reason why it is so important to defeat him come November. The rest -- who said what -- is details. It's the guy in the Oval Office who sets the tone. And that guy, by the way, is fully empowered to declassify whatever information he chooses to declassify, no matter how sensitive, no matter how damaging its disclosure. So if it turns out that Obama effectively approved the leaks, they are probably not actionable disclosures of classified information anyway.