Obama Would Fire The Afpak Leaker

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At least, that’s what he tells CBS’s Chip Reid:

Reid says he asked the president if he’s as angry as Defense Secretary Robert Gates about all the leaks coming out of his administration about the Afghanistan decision.

“I think I’m angrier than Bob Gates about it,” Mr. Obama replied. “We have deliberations in the situation room for a reason; we’re making life and death decisions that affect how our troops are able to operate in a theater of war. For people to be releasing info in the course of deliberations is not appropriate.”

“A firing offense?” Reid inquired.

“Absolutely,” Mr. Obama responded.

Of course, that’s an easy thing to say. But leaks have always been a lubricant of debate here in Washington. Why do people leak? Sometimes because they are on the losing side of an internal argument, and want to have another chance to make their case, to a broader and more sympathetic audience. Or they want to cover their, um, bases if things go wrong. Or it has something to do with their own egos. Or all of these things.

Absent a subpoena or a best-selling memoir somewhere down the line, we probably will never find out who did the leaking. But it’s still worth recalling what happened the last time a President promised to fire a leaker. It got pretty sticky:

President Bush said yesterday that he will fire anyone in the administration found to have committed a crime in the leaking of a CIA operative’s name, creating a higher threshold than he did one year ago for holding aides accountable in the unmasking of Valerie Plame.

After originally saying anyone involved in leaking the name of the covert CIA operative would be fired, Bush told reporters: “If somebody committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.”

This is a small, but potentially very significant, distinction, because details that have emerged from the leak investigation over the past week show that Karl Rove, Bush’s top political aide, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, discussed Plame with reporters before her name was revealed to the public. It is unclear whether either man committed a crime, according to lawyers familiar with the case.

Democrats pounced on Bush’s comments to accuse him of trying to shield White House aides from future punishment.

“This is about the credibility of the president of the United States,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). “He said he would fire anyone who was involved in leaking this sensitive information. Now, he’s changing his tune.”

Reid and other Democrats said that even if administration aides did not violate the law, they should lose their security clearances — if not their jobs — for trafficking in information about a CIA operative.

But Bush, speaking to reporters during a news conference with Indian Prine Minister Manmohan Singh, said, “It’s best that people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions.”