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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 12, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Why didn't Bush mention declassification 3 years ago?

President Bush said Monday that he declassified sensitive prewar intelligence on Iraq in 2003 to counter critics who claimed the administration had exaggerated the nuclear threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

"I wanted people to see the truth and thought it made sense for people to see the truth," Mr. Bush said. "You're not supposed to talk about classified information, and so I declassified the document."

Mr. Bush has picked a convenient time (for himself) to reveal that he declassified the document that resulted in the disclosure of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity three years ago, eight days after Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the administration of manipulating prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraq nuclear threat.

The timing is not so convenient for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the indicted former chief of Vice President Dick Cheney's staff. Mr. Libby faces charges of perjury, obstructing justice and lying to the FBI in special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the Plame leak.

Mr. Bush's timing couldn't be more convenient for himself. It comes within days of Mr. Libby's revelation that Mr. Bush authorized the disclosure.

If Mr. Bush had simply informed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2003 that the document was declassified, there would have been no need for a grand jury investigation or a special prosecutor. There would have been no need for the nervousness of Mr. Libby, or the anxiety of Mr. Bush's chief political advisor, Karl Rove, who is still under investigation.

There would have been no need for President Bush to solemnly declare that the leak was "a criminal matter" and "a serious matter." He would not have needed to say, on Feb. 10, 2004, "If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. ... I want to know the truth. Leaks of classified information are bad things."

There would have been no need for Mr. Bush to consider hiring a private criminal defense attorney to represent him in the matter.

Either Mr. Bush — who is so concerned about "the truth" — is not being entirely truthful about the declassification, or he is exactly as smart as we think he is.

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