Some Explaining To Do

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, April 10, 2006; 12:42 PM

The White House's longtime rationale for its stonewall on all matters even vaguely related to the CIA leak investigation -- that it can't comment on an ongoing legal proceeding -- was never a particularly plausible excuse, even though it has thus far proved oddly effective at keeping the press and the public at bay.

But now, with the president's personal conduct very much in question, it doesn't even come close to hacking it anymore.

There's no indication that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald ever asked the White House for anything remotely like the sweeping gag rule it has imposed on itself.

If President Bush is sincerely worried about Scooter Libby's ability to get a fair trial, he and his aides could avoid comments directly related to the charges lodged against the former vice presidential chief of staff. Those charges are not even that Libby leaked classified information -- but, much more narrowly, that he lied about a handful of conversations he had with journalists.

Yes, it's true that Fitzgerald's investigation is continuing, and that White House political guru Karl Rove is still widely considered a potential target.

But in a normal world, none of these elements come close to outweighing the public's urgent and considerable need to know what's been going on here.

The latest twist in the leak investigation -- the news that Libby told a grand jury that he had Bush's permission, via Cheney, to divulge sensitive information to journalists -- raises a slew of questions too important for the White House to duck:

Is the president telling the truth? Is he a hypocrite? Under what circumstances did he take the country to war, and how far was he willing to go to cover them up? Can the president be trusted to distinguish what's truly in the national interest, as compared to what's simply in his political interest?

What's clearly needed now is full disclosure, on the record, starting at the very top.

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Calling for an Explanation

Nedra Pickler writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should speak publicly about their involvement in the CIA leak case so people can understand what happened, a leading Republican senator said Sunday.

" 'We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people,' said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee."

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