President wants a plumber

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2009; 9:41 AM

President Obama has had it up to his keister with leaks.

That's the phrase Ronald Reagan famously used about a problem that bedevils every president.

During his network interviews in China -- including one with Major Garrett (of FOX NEWS!) -- CBS's Chip Reid asked the president whether he, like his Defense secretary, is "angry about these leaks, and do you think it makes you look uncertain?"

The president replied: "I think I am angrier than Bob Gates about it, partly because we have these deliberations in the Situation Room for a reason -- because we are making decisions that are life-and-death, that affect how our troops will be able to operate in a theater of war. For people to be releasing information during the course of deliberation --where we haven't made final decisions yet -- I think is not appropriate."

Reid followed up: "Firing offense?"

"Absolutely," Obama said.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that no one gets sacked.

George W. Bush also vowed to fire anyone found leaking in the Valerie Plame case. He didn't, even after Scooter Libby and Karl Rove were found to be among the leakers.

Practically speaking, unless there's a criminal investigation, as there was in the Libby mess, the leakers are rarely caught.

On one hand, I sympathize with Obama. Even the deliberations of his war council aren't immune from the whispered relationships between journalists and their sources. Gen. McChrystal writes a classified report on Afghanistan options and it ends up in Bob Woodward's hands.

On the other hand, welcome to Washington. Reporters thrive on leaks, and sources have all sorts of reasons --including pushing their own agendas -- for cooperating. What's more, the same administrations that decry the release of unauthorized information play the same game themselves. These are known as authorized leaks. You think those "senior administration officials" are all freelancing? How about those background briefings arranged by the White House?

As for the president's Afghan strategy and whether he'll send more troops, it's making the debate over the public option seem brisk. Obama told NBC's Chuck Todd that "this decision will put us on a path towards ending the war." And one day we'll find out what that decision is -- if it doesn't leak first.

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