Leaking for Fun, Profit, and Jail Time

Kevin Drum our attention to the Washington Post’s scoop this morning that lends further credence to the claim that Bush administration officials deliberately leaked the identity of former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson’s wife — an undercover CIA officer. From the Post:
At CIA Director George J. Tenet’s request, the Justice Department is looking into an allegation that administration officials leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer to a journalist, government sources said yesterday.
The operative’s identity was published in July after her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush’s claim that Iraq had tried to buy “yellowcake” uranium ore from Africa for possible use in nuclear weapons. Bush later backed away from the claim.
The intentional disclosure of a covert operative’s identity is a violation of federal law.
The officer’s name was disclosed on July 14 in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak, who said his sources were two senior administration officials.
Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak’s column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson’s wife. Wilson had just revealed that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson’s account touched off a political fracas over Bush’s use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.

Atrios is all over the story (natch) and Hesiod is asking where the top conservative bloggers are on the issue (using the Ecosystem as his source, which is nice: but damn, Hesiod, it’s The Truth Laid Bear — it’s not like you haven’t had a good year plus to get that right or anything…) Even the Bad Dude himself is joining the fun.
The facts are still coming out on this case, so I’ll reserve making any sweeping judgments until the full story (or at least, more of it) is known. But there’s no great moral conundrum here: if the facts of the Post story are true, then the administration sources clearly acted unethically, immorally, and illegally. And if their actions can be proven in a court of law, they should go to jail. We’ve got plenty of legal processes to deal with this sort of thing — and it appears that, thus far, those processes are functioning properly (the lead of the Post story is that the Justice Department is investigating the issue, after all).
As for broader conclusions on what this says about the Bush administration — I’ll wait on that. Obviously it isn’t good, but leaping to conclusions like impeachment (Hesiod) is a bit premature in my view. If, however, it can be shown that Bush himself authorized (or even knew of) the leak — then yes, impeaching a president for willfully violating the law is just fine by me. Ditto on a smaller scale for kicking out Karl Rove, if he proves to be responsible (which, to be clear, there is absolutely no evidence of at this time, although the speculation is not an unreasonable one).
But before celebrating the prospect of impeachment all too much, Hesiod should of course consider that it would leave him with President Cheney…
Update:Josh Marshall has some speculative, but excellent, thoughts on the matter