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Name a special counsel

Here’s the allegation: White House officials leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame in order to exact revenge against her husband, former acting U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Joseph C. Wilson IV. He publicly questioned President Bush’s State of the Union claim that Iraq tried to buy enriched uranium from the African nation of Niger. She is a case officer for the agency’s clandestine service and works as an analyst on weapons of mass destruction.

Here’s some background: An unnamed Bush administration official told The Washington Post that Ms. Plame’s name was leaked in order to call attention to her, apparently hoping to undermine Wilson’s credibility by implying he had received an assignment in Niger only because she had suggested it and recommended him for the job.

Here’s the problem: If the allegation is true, the leak not only may have violated federal law but endangered the life of Plame and any or all of the intelligence operations and operatives in which she might have been involved. Again, if true, it’s a heinous, traitorous act made all the more horrid by the alleged politics behind it.

Here’s some more background: It was regular Trib columnist Robert Novak who first reported Plame’s name in July. He cited “two senior administration officials” as his source. An unnamed administration aide tells The Post that two White House officials shopped the story “to at least six Washington journalists and identified Wilson’s wife.”

Here’s the question: The CIA believes the allegation to be serious enough that it has asked the Justice Department to investigate. But can, and should, the Bush administration’s Justice Department investigate an alleged leak within the Bush administration• Isn’t the conflict not just perceived but real?

Democrats, naturally, smell blood. And frothy redcaps coinciding with a presidential election are simply too hard to resist, no matter the veracity of the allegations. The White House says it will cooperate with any investigation, including the surrender of telephone logs. But one administration arm investigating another administration arm is not likely to inspire much public confidence, no matter how forthcoming the White House is.

Thus, the investigation into this very serious matter should be handled by a third party. And that means Attorney General John Ashcroft should name a special counsel to learn if there’s any fire behind all this smoke. That said, though, if there is, let the chips fall where they may.


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