Fox Misrepresents Quote To Attack Obama Over Leak Investigation

Fox News misrepresented a quote by President Obama to accuse him of hypocrisy over an investigation of possible national security leaks.

The Fox & Friends co-hosts claimed that Obama had called for a special counsel to investigate the leak of the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame when he said that “a special counsel will ensure the public's confidence in the investigation and prosecution and help to restore its faith in our government.” In fact, the quote came in the context of the Jack Abramoff investigation, and the Bush administration rebuffed calls for a special counsel in that case.

Indeed, Obama was not even a U.S. senator at the time a special counsel was appointed to investigate the Plame leak.

Fox also relied on false comparisons between the Plame case and the current leak investigation to push for a special counsel.

Obama Did Not Call For A Special Counsel To Investigate The Plame Case When He Was A Senator

After Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he was asking two U.S. attorneys to conduct a special investigation into the possibility of leaks of classified information, right-wing media have repeatedly pushed for an investigation by a special counsel who does not report to the Justice Department, pointing to the investigation into the Bush administration's leak of Plame's identity to the media.

Fox & Friends' latest strategy was to falsely claim that Obama, as a senator, had called for a special counsel to investigate the Plame case. In fact, Obama did not call for a special counsel to investigate the Plame leak as a senator. Indeed, Fitzgerald was appointed in December 2003, close to a year before Obama was even elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2004.

Fox aired a quote of Obama saying, “A special counsel will ensure the public's confidence in the investigation and prosecution and help to restore its faith in our government.”

Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy even suggested Obama was hypocritical for calling for a special counsel in the Plame case while not appointing one in this case, saying, “when it came to the Valerie Plame case, Mr. Obama ... said you gotta have a special counsel, you just gotta. Today don't gotta.”

Actually, the statement in question came in a letter, signed by Obama and 35 other senators, that called for a special counsel to investigate the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal. The Bush administration, however, rebuffed calls for a special counsel who did not report to the Justice Department. Indeed, as late as December 2008, the Criminal Division of the Bush Justice Department was conducting the trial of top General Services Administration official David Safavian on charges related to the Abramoff scandal.

The Plame Case Had Special Circumstances Not Present In The Current Case

Furthermore, contrary to Fox's suggestion, the Plame investigation is not at all comparable to the current leak investigation. In the Plame case, the Justice Department investigated the leak internally until it became clear that a senior member of the Bush administration with ties to the attorney general was involved in the leak. Only at that point did the Bush administration name a special prosecutor. In the current investigation, by contrast, no one has uncovered evidence of senior Obama administration officials with ties to Holder leaking any information.

In 2003, senior officials in the Bush administration -- including Karl Rove and vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby -- leaked the identity of CIA covert officer Valerie Plame to the media. The CIA asked the Justice Department for an investigation.

As with the current case, the Bush Justice Department initially conducted the investigation under its normal procedures.

However, according to journalist Murray Waas, investigators became concerned that Rove was one of the leakers and had given possibly false statements about the leak. Waas added that Rove's involvement made it problematic for the investigation to continue under the auspices of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft: “Several of the federal investigators were also deeply concerned that then attorney general John Ashcroft was personally briefed regarding the details of at least one FBI interview with Rove, despite Ashcroft's own longstanding personal and political ties to Rove.”

Waas reported that investigators were also concerned that “a number among Ashcroft's inner circle had partisan backgrounds that included working closely with Rove.”

Waas added:

“It would have been a nightmare scenario if Ashcroft let something slip to an aide or someone else they had in common with Rove . . . and then word got back to Rove or the White House what investigators were saying about him,” says a former senior Justice Department official, familiar with the matter.

In late 2003, Ashcroft recused himself from the case. It was only at this point, months after the Justice Department began investigating, that then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey appointed Patrick Fitzgerald to pursue the Plame case, investing Fitzgerald with the full power of the attorney general.

Unlike the Plame case, no one has produced evidence that top administration officials with ties to Attorney General Holder have leaked confidential information or lied to investigators.

Furthermore, veteran reporters say the current claims of leaks are very different from the Plame affair, which they contend was a specific effort to leak classified information to journalists.

Therefore, the conditions that led to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the Plame case simply don't exist in the current investigation.

The Bush Administration Did Not Appoint A Special Counsel In Other Cases Involving Top Administration Officials

The Bush administration did not appoint a counsel with powers similar to Fitzgerald's in multiple other cases involving top administration officials:

  • As mentioned above, the Bush Justice Department did not appoint a special counsel to investigate the Abramoff scandal.
  • The Bush Justice Department also did not appoint a special counsel to investigate the conduct of top Justice Department lawyers who drafted the so-called “torture memos,” memos that used questionable legal analysis to justify the use of waterboarding and other interrogation tactics by agents of the U.S. government. Rather, the Bush Justice Department conducted the probe internally.
  • The Bush Justice Department did not appoint a special counsel to conduct the investigation of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, who ultimately resigned amid charges of favoritism in the awarding of HUD contracts. Rather, the Justice Department conducted the investigation internally.