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Another Blow For Bush

It seems clear from most of the reports I've read this morning that President Bush had full authority to declassify information from the NIE to rebut claims made by Joe Wilson. Here is a clip from Josh Gerstein's report in the New York Sun:

A Republican attorney and former prosecutor, Joseph DiGenova, blasted Democrats and the press for describing Mr. Bush's alleged actions as an instruction to "leak."

"This was not a leak. This was an authorized disclosure," the ex-prosecutor said.

Mr. DiGenova said the fact that Mr. Fitzgerald has not brought any charge in connection with the release of the intelligence estimate shows Mr. Bush and his subordinates acted legally.

"If Pat Fitzgerald, a guy who gloms onto every illegal and unethical thing he can, thought he could sink his teeth into this, he would have," Mr. DiGenova said.

Still, the former prosecutor said the White House made a "tactical error" by providing the information to Ms. Miller at a hotel.

"I never understood why they didn't bring the best possible person to the podium at the White House and just rip Joe Wilson to shreds," Mr. DiGenova said.

I couldn't agree more. Joe Wilson declared open war on the administration by publicly accusing the White House of lying. They had every right and every reason to respond. The problem, however, is the administration seems to have reacted quickly and defensively (a common and understandable impulse in most White Houses) using backchannels to get information out to try and defend itself instead of waiting and making a more full throated public defense - something they eventually did by officially declassifying parts of the NIE.

The result is that, once again, the administration has opened itself to attacks and is coming off looking badly, with Democrats and the press characterizing President Bush as "the leaker in chief" and citing yet more parallels (as unwarranted as they might be) to the Nixon administration. For a taste of what I'm talking about, here's a roundup to more Libby/Cheney/Bush stories from this morning's major papers:

David Johnston and David Sanger
in the New York Times

R. Jeffrey Smith in the Washington Post

David Jackson in USA Today

William Douglas in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Craig Gordon in Newsday

Michael Krainsh in the Boston Globe

This sort of coverage is bound to take its toll on a White House already struggling with low approval ratings.