NBC's Gregory uncritically reported dubious White House defense of Bush's alleged leak

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

On Hardball, NBC News' David Gregory repeated the Bush administration's defense of President Bush's alleged authorization of a leak of classified information to the press in 2003. Gregory cited White House officials' argument that "the reality is, once the president makes a decision to authorize the release of information, it's no longer classified, it's instantly declassified." Host Chris Matthews challenged Gregory's assertion, noting that it "doesn't hold up."

On the April 6 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory repeated the Bush administration's defense of President Bush's alleged authorization of a leak of classified information to the press in 2003. Gregory cited White House officials' argument that "the reality is, once the president makes a decision to authorize the release of information, it's no longer classified, it's instantly declassified." Shortly thereafter, host Chris Matthews challenged this assertion, noting that it "doesn't hold up." Matthews asked: "If he [Bush] was within his rights to do ... what he is now exposed as having done, why didn't he do it openly?"

Court filings recently submitted by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor in charge of the CIA leak case, show that former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby told the federal grand jury in the CIA leak case that Bush himself had authorized the release of classified intelligence information to a New York Times reporter in 2003. The court papers, disclosed by New York Sun reporter Josh Gerstein on April 6, detail Libby's testimony in which he asserted that Vice President Dick Cheney had told him to pass on key portions of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to reporters in order to rebut allegations by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a vocal critic of the White House's decision to go to war with Iraq. According to Libby, Cheney assured him that the president had authorized the disclosure.

Media Matters for America previously noted other media figures simply asserting as fact that Bush acted legally and simply assuming that the act of authorizing the release of the information constituted an appropriate exercise of his declassification authority.

From the April 6 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

GREGORY: Well, a couple of points here, Chris. The White House -- White House officials making the point today that nowhere in this filing does it indicate that the president or the vice president was in any way -- were in any way behind leaking Valerie Plame's name. And it also makes the point, White House officials do, that when we talk about leaking classified information, it may sound like parsing information to a lot of people, but the reality is that once the president makes a decision to authorize the release of information, it's no longer classified, it's instantly declassified.

[...]

MATTHEWS: But David, I think objectively that argument the White House is putting out to you and other reporters doesn't hold up because it says that the president, by the very fact of authorizing a leak, is declassifying. If he felt he was within his rights to do so, why would he tell the vice president to tell his chief of staff to go under cover, use a separating identity like "former Hill staffer" on background to leak the information? If he was within his rights to do what he claims -- what he now is exposed as having done, why didn't he do it openly? Why didn't he put out a White House press release and say, "Here's some elements from the National Intelligence Estimates that shoot down the arguments of Joe Wilson"? Why didn't he do it that way?

To Matthews' questions, Media Matters offers numerous others.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
David Gregory
Show/Publication
Hardball
Stories/Interests
CIA Leak Investigation
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