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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN

Kay Issues Weapons Report; Schwarzenegger Fights Damaging Reports; Limbaugh Addresses Drug Allegations

Aired October 3, 2003 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone. The program is a bit different tonight. Most of the hour will be spent looking at the story that has dominated the news this week, allegations of a criminal leak by still unidentified senior administration officials.
We decided to do this first because the charges are serious, a criminal investigation into the White House and, second, because a lot has come out this week but in the drip that is daily journalism, some of the dots don't quite get connected. We'll connect them as best we can in the next hour.

We'll also deal with the day's major stories as well which, as always, begins with the whip and the whip begins at the White House, the emphasis today on weapons of mass destruction, Suzanne Malveaux with the duty tonight, so Suzanne start us off with a headline.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, really no smoking gun, no weapons of mass destruction, today President Bush and weapons hunter David Kay, both doing damage control, insisting that eventually those weapons will be found and that the U.S. was justified in going to war.

BROWN: Suzanne, thank you. We'll get back to you at the top.

Now to California, the recall election getting truly weirder by the day Kelly Wallace in Bakersfield, California, Kelly a headline.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, Arnold Schwarzenegger spent another day of his bus tour fighting off damaging allegations, the latest that we once expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler. He says not true and calls this all puke politics but will this and accusations concerning women hurt him at the polls -- Aaron?

BROWN: Thank you Kelly.

And back to Miami where Susan Candiotti has been following the saga of Rush Limbaugh, Susan a headline from you.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On his radio talk show today, Rush Limbaugh addresses claims from a woman who says she sold him thousands of prescription painkiller drugs illegally. You'll hear what he has to say.

BROWN: Susan, thank you, back to you and the rest shortly. Also coming up tonight, new video of the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch, the first words we've heard from her during that rescue.

Then, the remainder of the program we'll devote to "the leak." Our Senior White House Correspondent John King reports on the White House response to the leak, both when it first happened and now.

We'll look at the man at the center of the story, Joe Wilson, how he came to be involved in the search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

We'll talk with Howard Kurtz about why leaking is a way of life in the nation's capital.

And later, a special morning paper segment, aren't they all special, with several editors on how the leak story is playing out around the country, all that in the hour ahead.

We begin with a small piece of a thread running through the evening, the war and a pivotal moment for the Bush administration. It begins with the central case for going to war. It has evolved into a bitter political controversy over how far the White House has gone in defending that notion.

Throughout the program tonight we'll devote a good deal of attention to the gravest allegation that the administration outed a spy because her husband disagreed with the war, in a word the "leak," though we begin with the news of the day, the spin if you will, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

MALVEAUX: Well, Aaron, President Bush and the White House team were really spending the day trying to get control of the story even before President Bush went on his day trip to Milwaukee for fund- raising. He was out on the South Lawn trying to really knock the wind out of the headlines from the "New York Times," the "Washington Post," David Kay's report that no weapons of mass destruction had been found, no smoking gun.

President Bush, instead, stressed that this was an interim report that they needed six to nine months to come up with more information and he said while weapons were not found that Saddam Hussein in this report that he did have a weapons program component that could have been used to make weapons of mass destruction and that also Saddam Hussein had the intent of reconstituting that program in defiance of the world community.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The report states that Saddam Hussein's regime had a clandestine network of biological laboratories, a live strain of deadly agent botulinum, sophisticated concealment efforts and advanced design work on prohibited longer range missiles.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: So, Aaron, there were really two discoveries that were highlighted in this report, first of all this bacteria that was discovered in a scientist's refrigerator that if processed with technology, sophisticated technology could be used to make a biological weapon, also the fact that Saddam Hussein was trying to build these long range missiles that the United States -- the United Nation, rather, banned.

David Kay, it is important to note, was also out here too making his case. He went before members of Congress. He also had a conference call with reporters again to argue that eventually these weapons will be found.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID KAY, CIA CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: We have found a lot of evidence of the Iraqi regime's intent to continue to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We have found significant evidence of continuing and prohibited activities that were hidden from U.N. inspectors, particularly in the biological and missile area, a lot of examples of foreign procurement that went well beyond anything that was known before the war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So, Aaron, of course the big question is why weren't these weapons, why haven't these weapons been found so far, David Kay offering a couple of suggestions, first of all saying that some of the Iraqi scientists that have been interviewed said that one possibility that those weapons have been spirited out of the county to Syria, to Jordan, to Iran both before and after the war.

He also said one of the reasons that the investigation is going as it is is that some Iraqi scientists, those who have been cooperating with the United States have been assassinated, others who have been attacked as well -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, in both in David Kay's report and in the president's statement today there is lots about what could be, what might be, what may have been but what they haven't come up with are the goods essentially and that's the political problem for the president, isn't it?

MALVEAUX: Well, absolutely. The big question is whether or not this is going to become a political liability for the Bush administration. They are giving this another six to nine months. Also what's indicative of the concern of this administration, the fact that they are requesting $600 million as part of that $87 billion package specifically to go and try to find these weapons of mass destruction.

BROWN: Suzanne, thank you very much, Suzanne Malveaux at the White House tonight.

On to California and what you might call an iron rule of politics. Four days before an election the last thing any candidate wants is to be called a Hitler-loving surreal groper, tax and spend liberal maybe, but things haven't gotten that bad so Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign is rolling on, or at least trying to.

Here's CNN's Kelly Wallace.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE (voice-over): After the toughest day yet of his political life, Arnold Schwarzenegger's strategy try to stay on message and accuse Democrats of trying to bring him down.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: And let me tell you something they already have begun but I -- I will stay focused. I will always stay focused because the fight continues.

WALLACE: Schwarzenegger's fighting not only his opponents but his past, continuing to deny that during a 1975 interview for a documentary about his life he expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Because I don't remember ever having said any of those things because I despise Hitler and despise Nazis, despise anything that it stood for.

WALLACE: But in a phone conversation with CNN, the man who interviewed the then champion bodybuilder recalls Schwarzenegger saying in response to a question that Hitler was his first hero.

PETER DAVIS (via telephone): If I didn't think that he was in any way advocating anything that Adolf Hitler advocated. He was just saying this is what you do when you're a boy in Austria and your father is a police chief and he had been a member of the Nazi Party.

WALLACE: It was the second day of aides doing non-stop damage control about the alleged Hitler comment and Schwarzenegger's extraordinary apology following allegations he groped women. That apology too little too late said these women activists at a news conference, featuring one of the women who claimed Schwarzenegger made unwelcome advances in 1975.

E. LANE STOCKTON, SCHWARZENEGGER ACCUSER: And Arnold passed me by and he groped my breast. It completely caught me off guard. I was just shocked.

WALLACE: Outrage also coming from Schwarzenegger's main contender for the governorship.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR CRUZ BUSTAMANTE (D), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: All I can say is that had they been my daughters there wouldn't have been this kind of delay on what would have took place. It wouldn't have taken a campaign to resolve this matter.

WALLACE: But Schwarzenegger mainly stuck to his script standing with a very popular Republican and sending his wife to the campaign trail who made it very clear she won't be saying any more about these allegations. MARIA SHRIVER, WIFE OF ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: You know I'm not going to go down this road because I don't believe in gutter politics and I don't believe in gutter journalism so I think you can keep asking me that question but you're not going to get a response from me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: Schwarzenegger's aides remain confident. They say their overnight numbers show a slight increase in support for the candidate following his apology but the Davis team says it sees something else. It says it sees a slight increase following these allegations in support for keeping Gray Davis in his job -- Aaron.

BROWN: There's something else I heard today and you'll tell me if I'm right or wrong that an extraordinarily number or percentage of the electorate that intends to vote has already voted by absentee?

WALLACE: That is a very important point. A huge number of absentee ballots were sent out, in the millions, number of people who have voted absentee ballot and, again, these people cast their ballots, Aaron, before these allegations.

So, they obviously were voting before these latest allegations came out and because so many people are voting by absentee ballot it could be some time, possibly a day or two if this race is tight, before we know really what happens in the state of California -- Aaron.

BROWN: Kelly, thank you very much, Kelly Wallace on the campaign trail out west.

Next to the Rush Limbaugh story now more than just a PR nightmare and fodder for the gossip pages, firmly now in the legal realm.

Here again, CNN's Susan Candiotti.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): On his radio talk show, the usually outspoken Limbaugh was not saying much about a woman's claim he was illegally buying prescription drugs. There was no denial.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: I really don't know the full scope of what I'm dealing with. When I get all the facts and when I get all the details of this rest assured that I will discuss this with you and tell you how it is.

CANDIOTTI: Sources close to the investigation, being led by the Palm Beach County State Attorney's office, tells CNN they have been contacted by a representative of Limbaugh and hope those radio comments indicate Limbaugh will soon be talking with them.

The investigation, sources say, started nine months ago when Limbaugh's former housekeeper approached authorities. Investigative sources say the woman claims she sold Limbaugh prescription painkillers, thousands of pills, at his request.

Those sources also say she has turned over e-mails that appear to be from Limbaugh asking for drugs and answering machine recordings on the same subject and that the messages contain a voice that sounds like Limbaugh's.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: That was CNN's Susan Candiotti reporting from Florida tonight.

It's fair to say the saga of Private Jessica Lynch became one of the driving story lines in the war with Iraq and whether she wanted to or not she became kind of a star in part for what we did not see. Tonight a new look. It doesn't show a star, just a brave young woman.

Here's CNN's Barbara Starr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After commandos rushed Jessica Lynch out of an Iraqi hospital onto a plane to Kuwait and freedom, doctors tried to reassure the terrified and badly injured young woman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smile for the family, for your folks. There you go. You're doing great, Jessica. You're doing wonderful, OK. Welcome back. Just like I told you, OK, we're on a plane now and we're going to go to Kuwait, OK.

It's about an hour and 15 minute flight, OK. All these doctors are going to be in here the whole time and I'm not leaving, OK. OK, they're going to cut the dressings off your legs, OK? They're going to try...

STARR: Jessica Lynch would leave Iraq behind and be welcomed home to her family and friends two and a half months later in West Virginia, still recovering and getting ready to tell the story of her flight to freedom.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Still ahead on NEWSNIGHT, we devote the remainder of the program to the leak story, developing as many angles as we can tonight.

We begin at the White House, how it dealt with the leak in the first place and how it's dealing with the investigation now.

Later, we'll look at someone else in the middle of it, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and how a trip to Niger wound up the subject of such controversy, that and much more on this special edition of NEWSNIGHT from New York.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We said at the top of the program that much of our effort tonight concerns the leak and the implications of that leak, serious stuff we think no matter where you stand on the president or the war.

It is no exaggeration to say that when all is said and done, people could wind up in jail over this. Already a career has been ruined and the White House put on the defensive. There are a lot of questions tonight, not the least of which is how much of this is getting any traction beyond the Beltway.

Our Senior White House Correspondent John King starts us off by setting the stage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): July 14th in the Oval Office disputing any suggestion he exaggerated intelligence about Iraq's nuclear ambition.

BUSH: Well, the speech that I gave was cleared by the CIA.

KING: It was that very morning the leak first appeared in print, anonymous senior administration officials exposing the identity of a covert CIA operative whose husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was accusing the president of using discredited intelligence in making the case for war.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Her career is over now and this is what they do, George Bush and his operation. This was done for revenge because they didn't like what Ambassador Wilson had said.

KING: The administration's initial response was to dismiss any suggestion the White House was the source.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That is not the way this president or this White House operates and there is absolutely no information that has come to my attention or that I have seen that suggests that there is any truth to that suggestion.

KING: There is no evidence Mr. Bush was angry or even curious back then. Senior aides say they do not know when Mr. Bush first became aware the operative had been exposed and there was no effort, then or now, to conduct an internal White House investigation.

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's almost as if they're hoping that if they don't ask they won't be told the answer and that the story will go away.

KING: But the CIA asked for a Justice Department investigation and Mr. Bush is promising full cooperation.

BUSH: If there's a leak out of my administration I want to know who it is and if the person has violated law the person will be taken care of. KING: Democrats demanding an independent investigation are dismissed at the White House as overly partisan.

(on camera): Yet the administration and its allies are hardly shying away from the political debate that inevitably surrounds such a high profile investigation.

(voice-over): The White House, for example, says Ambassador Wilson has offered no evidence to support an initial claim that senior Bush adviser Carl Rove was the source of the leak or a later amended statement that Rove at least condoned the leak.

And, a key White House ally, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie mounted a TV offensive to characterize Wilson as a partisan Democrat out to undermine the president.

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: When Joe Wilson came out and said that Carl Rove should be handcuffed and arrested and frog-walked out of the White House, I think that was a reflection of his partisan point of view.

KING: Regardless of Wilson's politics, knowingly disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA operative is a felony and while Mr. Bush's senior staff is a fiercely loyal group veterans of past investigations say strain is inevitable.

PODESTA: They're looking around the table at senior staff meeting and wondering whether anybody sitting there may have been the source of this, you know, devastating leak. It really does get to a White House staff.

KING: John King, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Those who say this bears a certain resemblance to Watergate are correct in one respect. This is the first major investigation since Watergate, not conducted by an independent counsel.

As in the Watergate era, if a special prosecutor or independent counsel is named he or she will be a creature of the Justice Department. It hasn't happened yet even as the investigation gets up to speed.

From the Justice Department CNN's Kelli Arena.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Law enforcement officials say the investigation into who revealed the identity of former Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife as a CIA operative will proceed quickly.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Make no mistake about it, it is a very, very serious act. In fact, it's a crime. ARENA: Actually, that has yet to be determined.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's law.

ARENA: Under a law signed by Ronald Reagan in 1982, it is a crime to intentionally disclose the identity of a covert officer to a person without proper clearance.

An offender faces up to ten years in prison or a fine of up to $50,000 but if the person who leaked the information did not know about her covert activities, revealing her name would not be a violation.

MCCLELLAN: I think that's an important question. Was it known that information was classified information?

ARENA: It's up to the FBI to find out. About half a dozen agents and some supervisors from the FBI will work with career prosecutors from the Justice Department headed by John Dion a 30-year veteran.

The investigation started with identifying the universe of people, potentially hundreds, at the CIA and White House who had access to the leaked information. Investigators are also focusing on the State and Defense departments. White House staffers have already been given a Tuesday deadline to turn over relevant documents.

STEVE POMERANTZ, FORMER FBI COUNTERTERRORISM DIRECTOR: You can pursue telephone logs in their office to see who they called in the press or in the media. You can certainly do interviews. You ask them to submit to an interview. You can do polygraph examinations.

ARENA: There are about 25 leak investigations a year. Almost all are closed without ever naming a suspect.

RICHARD THORNBURGH, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: The track record on chasing down leaks through criminal investigations is markedly unsuccessful. When a leak occurs there are only two people who really know about it, the person who leaked the information and the journalist who wrote about it.

ARENA: And journalists do not reveal their sources. It's been more than 30 years and still no one knows the identity of the most famous anonymous source, Deep Throat.

If a journalist is subpoenaed, Attorney General Ashcroft must first sign off personally. Democrats are already calling for a special counsel to head the investigation or the attorney general to recuse himself.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: The close association between some in the Justice Department and officials in the White House really calls for a special counsel to do an independent review.

ARENA (on camera): Justice officials say they aren't ruling anything out but will let the evidence determine their next move and not politics.

Kelli Arena, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Coming up on this special edition of NEWSNIGHT, the man at the center of the controversy, Joe Wilson, what he found in Africa and why his political connections are being questioned.

This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Joe Wilson is a name that comes up a lot in this story, a bit now on the back story of what Mr. Wilson got himself into when he answered the call and set off on his mission.

Here's CNN's David Ensor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It all started with these documents bought on the black market, sources say, by an Italian intelligence officer, possible evidence of a contract for Niger to sell Iraq yellow cake, raw uranium used to produce nuclear weapons.

Information about the documents went to British intelligence leading to the claim's inclusion in a public dossier. CIA officials decided to send a former U.S. diplomat who had served there to Niger to check out the story.

JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER AMBASSADOR: I traveled out there, spent eight days out there and concluded that it was nigh on impossible that this sort of transaction could be done clandestinely.

ENSOR: An October, 2002 classified U.S. intelligence document mentioned a report that Niger planned to send several tons of pure uranium to Iraq, though a State Department annex called the claim "highly dubious."

Still, it was put into a draft presidential speech in October, leading CIA officials to write twice to the president's Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley telling him it should be deleted. It was.

In January, though, the White House decided to go ahead and include the allegation in the State of the Union speech this time quoting the British.

BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

ENSOR: In February, the CIA had the documents and sent them to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which quickly realized they were crude forgeries. MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: We have, therefore, concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded.

ENSOR: U.S. and coalition forces attacked Baghdad March 19. The invasion force followed. So did questions about the way the administration used intelligence before the war, including a July op- ed piece in the "New York Times" by the man who traveled to Niger for the CIA.

WILSON: I said that I thought using the Niger uranium story in the State of the Union address was a manipulation of intelligence because there was nothing. There was no basis on which to support that.

ENSOR: A week later came Robert Novak's column, quoting two senior administration officials as telling him Wilson had only been sent on the mission to Niger because his wife had suggested it. His wife, they told Novak, who is Valerie Plame, a CIA operative.

(on camera): U.S. intelligence officials say Novak's sources were wrong about how Wilson got the Niger assignment. His wife, they say, had nothing to do with it. But the administration sources were right about who she is and what she does for a living and that, of course, is the problem.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Now, another iron rule of politics, the intensity of a given scandal is directly proportional to the nearness of a presidential election and inversely proportional to the time it takes to mention the "W" word.

Here's Jonathan Karl.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrats see the leak's controversy in Watergate terms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a cancer spreading in this administration.

KARL: The whole issue is about integrity, Democrats say, something candidate Bush talked about in virtually every campaign speech.

BUSH: I will swear to uphold the honor and the integrity of the office to which I have been elected so help me God.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is outrageous that the president, who campaigned with a promise to restore integrity to the White House, refuses to get to the bottom of this.

KARL: In challenging the president's integrity, the Democrats are going after his most valuable political asset.

STU ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST: His one great strength has been his personality, his reputation for integrity. Once that is weakened, once there are questions about that his administration could fall apart. This could be really seriously damaging for George W. Bush.

JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: As we now know, the facts that we had were not facts.

KARL: Republicans sense the danger. Their strategy: attack the motives of their main accuser, Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

ED GILLESPIE, RNC CHAIRMAN: This is a guy who is a maxed-out contributor to John Kerry, who has spoken to organizations that are seeking to defeat the president of the United States.

KARL: In fact, Wilson has given money to Republicans, but he's given more to Democrats, including a $2,000 donation to John Kerry's presidential campaign. And, at an August event hosted by Democrat Jay Inslee, Wilson said he wanted to see the president's top political adviser in handcuffs.

WILSON: It's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KARL: Wilson has since backed away from the comments. But Republicans continue to portray the controversy as political gamesmanship.

(on camera): Republican Leader Tom DeLay has been handing out these so-called leak hyperventilation bags, accusing Democrats of blowing the whole issue out of proportion.

(voice-over): Privately, however, Republicans acknowledge the seriousness of the issue and the political challenge facing the president if he doesn't get this behind him, and quickly.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: More of our special edition of the NEWSNIGHT leak story. Next on the agenda, Howard Kurtz on why leaks are a way of life in the nation's capital.

Around the world, this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Much more of our special NEWSNIGHT ahead, a look at the business of leaking in Washington, D.C., and a special newspaper segment with editors of three papers on how the story is playing in their cities.

A break first.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Borrowing a line from Gordon Gekko, leaking is good. Leaking works. If it didn't, administrations wouldn't leak and reporters wouldn't report. Without leaks, trial balloons wouldn't get floated and a lot of bonehead ideas might otherwise come to pass. That's the upside of leaking. But there is also a dark side. And that, too, has been around forever.

Howard Kurtz is the media writer for "The Washington Post" and the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD KURTZ, "RELIABLE SOURCES" (voice-over): Judging from all the noise about this CIA leak, you would think that leaks were some kind of a shockingly rare occurrence in Washington.

But anyone can remember the shadowy Nixon aide dubbed Deep Throat whispering Watergate information to Bob Woodward -- or was it Robert Redford? -- knows that this sort of thing has been going on roughly forever.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN")

ROBERT REDFORD, ACTOR: I'll never quote you. I wouldn't quote you even as an anonymous source. You'd be on deep background.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Just in recent days, a "New York Times" piece on President Bush meeting Vladimir Putin quoted a senior administration official, "The Washington Post" on Bush's U.N. speech, a senior administration official, "The Los Angeles Times," "Newsweek," "U.S. News," senior administration officials everywhere you look.

Ever wonder why there are no junior administration officials?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sources also tell CBS News.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Sources telling CNN.

NORAH O'DONNELL, NBC REPORTER: A senior administration official says...

KURTZ: There was a time when everyone quoted a senior official aboard Henry Kissinger's plane, until someone outed the secretary of state as the source.

And Ronald Reagan's White House was such a sieve that the president claimed he was "up to my keister in leaks.

(on camera): So why do all these unnamed officials dish off the record or on background or on the basis of, you didn't get it from me and I'll deny ever talking to you? Because they're trying to get even with a bureaucratic rival, or push a proposal, or blacken an opponent's reputation, or just because it makes them feel important.

(voice-over): And why do reporters act as a conduit for these leaks? Sometimes, it's the only way to get vital information. And sometimes it's just laziness or makes the journalists look really plugged in.

Leaks can spring up anywhere. Ken Starr's office leaked during the impeachment investigation. And Bill Clinton's aides leaked right back. D.C. police officials leaked about Gary Condit's relationship with Chandra Levy. And authorities have leaked details about Kobe Bryant and his 19-year-old accuser. Prosecutors leak to put pressure on defendants or to make it look like they're close to cracking a case.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Now, some reporters on the CIA leak are quoting their own senior administration officials, speculating on the motives of Novak's senior administration officials. Only in Washington, Aaron.

BROWN: In that case, at your paper, too.

To date, do you think this has been -- has this made modern journalism look bad to date?

KURTZ: In a word, yes, because the average person out there doesn't understand, if it's a terrible crime for a federal official to leak the confidential name of a CIA operative or a covert agent, why is it that journalists can take that information and print it without getting their hands dirty?

And, in fact, they don't -- they just wonder why it is that we're exempt from this kind of scrutiny.

BROWN: And the answer to that question is what?

KURTZ: Well, legally we're exempt because of the First Amendment and because we're public watchdogs and because it's not a crime for a reporter to do this. We print all kinds of things, grand jury transcripts, you name it. I've used unnamed sources. I'm sure that you have.

But, morally, I think that we make compromises all the time. A lot of leaks are about partisan axe-grinding. But once you make that deal, once you say, all right, I'll protect you on this, I won't use your name, and if that information becomes radioactive or the leakers become the subject of an investigation, as in this case, then you're in a box. You can't reveal it. You've given your word. You've given your promise. And I think it puts journalists in a very awkward position. BROWN: Should reporters have written the story of the attempt to extract revenge, these reporters who, reportedly, were called about the story? Should they have written that story?

KURTZ: I think so. I think, even without violating any promise they made about the names of the senior officials they spoke to -- and "TIME" magazine online is one that did this -- the idea that top aides to President Bush were putting out the word about Joe Wilson and his wife in what appears to me to be a case of revenge, I think that was newsworthy.

I think more journalists should have found a way to have written that. I'm surprised this did not become a story for two months after that Novak column in July, until word of the investigation leaked to some of my colleagues.

BROWN: I am, too. Howard, thank you very much -- Howard Kurtz.

KURTZ: Thank you.

BROWN: And a reminder, "RELIABLE SOURCES" this coming weekend, 11:00 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday, a special live one-hour edition. And you'll want to see that.

Ahead on NEWSNIGHT: our panel of experts from political, legal and espionage worlds on the impact of the leak.

A break first. This is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Some perspective now.

We're joined from Washington tonight by Neal Katyal, a former federal prosecutor; Larry Johnson with us as well, formerly of the CIA; and Alexis Simendinger, a White House correspondent currently for "The National Journal."

Good to have all of you with us.

Mr. Johnson, let's start with you.

Is there any question in your mind -- because you know the woman in question here, Ms. Wilson.

LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Correct.

BROWN: Mrs. Wilson -- that the job she had would be covered by the criminal statute involved?

JOHNSON: No doubt whatsoever.

Aaron, this is the first time since the CIA was established, going back into the late 1940s that a political administration has outed a covert operator and outed them for political reasons. The outrage over this is so great, I've got four other colleagues -- three of them are Republicans, as am I. One is an independent. All are speaking out. This is an egregious breach of security.

BROWN: OK, Neal, let me turn to you next.

You argued, I thought persuasively, the other day that a special prosecutor or in independent counsel, is, A, not needed yet and not necessarily a particularly good idea, in any case.

NEAL KATYAL, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: Yes.

So the key word is, not yet. In other words, an independent counsel is a terrible idea at any point in time. A special counsel, which is the attorney general appointing some outside person who would report to him, is, I think, possible down the road, but not a good idea right yet. It's too premature. We don't know what the situation is.

It's a terrible crime, as Larry said. But we don't know who did it and what the circumstances are. And we shouldn't rush down the road to an independent or special counsel yet.

BROWN: I guess the question is, after you know who did it, there is no need for it. The whole point of having someone here is someone independent to find out who did do it.

KATYAL: Absolutely.

But even the independent counsel or a special counsel, there has to be some preliminary investigation by the attorney general before there can be a rush to an outsider. If we rushed to an outsider every time there was an allegation of a conflict of interest, tons and tons of cases would be thrown out of the Justice Department to these independent folks.

BROWN: Alexis, a couple of quick ones here. One is, do you have a sense that the White House is or is not rattled by this week's revelations?

Oh, clearly, they're rattled.

ALEXIS SIMENDINGER, "THE NATIONAL JOURNAL": On the outward appearance from talking to officials who are watching the president's schedule, this is not something they want to make us to think that they're worried about.

And, of course, they want to make it seem that the president is not paying any attention to this and is doing the business of government. That's something that you remember, actually, from Bill Clinton's days. Remember, he was working hard to do the people's business and not paying attention to the politically motivated investigations taking place in Washington.

But the White House behind the scenes is watching very carefully to see if there is any erosion in the Republican base of supporters in Congress or outside of the president's milieu in Washington to see if this is actually going to move closer to a special counsel or if there is going to be any worry or concern that would affect the president's reelection campaign efforts.

BROWN: Now, on the other side of that, do you have any feeling that the Democrats have some danger here, too? The Republicans found, in the Clinton years, that you can overplay your cards.

SIMENDINGER: Absolutely.

And Democrats are trying hard to stay in their seats. One of the things that they have going for them here is the element that this might involve -- and, of course, the White House has denied it -- the president's senior political adviser, Karl Rove. This is, in their minds, a way to actually undermine the president's reelection campaign.

Also, they understand that the president's father was the director of the CIA. The president himself has come out against leaks, classified leaks, before, has actually gotten upset with members of Congress for talking about classified material. So they're really interested in pinning him on that. And the third thing about it is that the president's strength with the electorate has a lot to do with security.

And, of course, he's in trouble a little bit with the Iraq reconstruction policy. And all of these things have combined to develop a lot of enthusiasm among Democrats to see if this can be dragged out into next year.

BROWN: Larry, as a former CIA guy, do you have any sense that some of what's involved here is a kind of intramural battle between a Central Intelligence Agency that feels somewhat blamed for the intelligence before the war and the White House, which in some respects has done the blaming?

JOHNSON: Yes, Aaron, what is going on, there is an element within the Bush administration that believes that the CIA has been undermining the president's policy.

And for that reason, in my judgment, they launched this attack on Joe Wilson by mentioning his wife's name to try to suggest, imply, impugn the motives of the CIA people who sent Joe Wilson overseas. They refused to deal with the fact that it's not only Ambassador Wilson who was unable to corroborate the intelligence report about the yellowcake uranium being sold to Iraq, but the U.S. ambassador to Niger, a Bush appointee, as well as a Marine Corps general attached to one of the major U.S. military commands.

So instead of dealing with that issue, they've launched this partisan attack. And, unfortunately, this has been a pattern of behavior for this administration by these elements. For example, they launched a similar attack against the national intelligence officer for Latin America when he refused to allow secretary -- Undersecretary Bolton at the State Department to go testify that there were bioweapons in Cuba.

Bolton was going to hype the threat. He was stopped by the intelligence community. And, in response to that, they went after this intelligence officer, who was not undercover. But in this case, they've gone after a woman who was undercover, has been undercover since 1985. And it doesn't matter whether she's an analyst, whether she's an operator. She's undercover.

BROWN: Neal, let me give up the last word here.

What would it take, in your mind, to change your position on a special prosecutor? What would have to happen before you said, this can't be handled within the normal game at the Justice Department?

KATYAL: Well, I'd have a very high threshold.

It's -- truth is one thing. And truth is obviously very important. But what cost is that going to be? What cost are we going to arrive at that with? Ken Starr arrived at a lot of truth and so did the Iran-Contra prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh. But it tore up the country in both instances. So I would like to see, before we rush to an independent investigation, some serious conflict of interests between the targets of the investigation and the leadership in the Justice Department.

Before doing that, we shouldn't really create this kind of extraconstitutional outside body that really could wrap up hundreds of people in a long investigation and thousands of documents and e-mails and polygraphs and reporters. This is going to be really a mess to investigate.

BROWN: All of you, thank you. Each of you has opened up an area that is worth pursuing some. And I hope you will all come back separately or together before this thing is over. Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Still ahead on the program, how the leak story is playing in the country, in Austin, Texas, in Detroit, in Grand Forks.

We'll take a break first. This is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We gave the rooster a night off. We normally feature the front page in this spot. Tonight, it's the op-ed page.

We're joined from Austin, Texas, by the Rich Oppel, the editor of "The Austin American-Statesman"; in Detroit, Carole Leigh Hutton, the managing editor of "The Detroit Free Press"; and from Grand Forks in North Dakota, Mike Jacobs, the editor of "The Herald" there.

We're glad to have you all with us.

Ms. Hutton, let's start with you.

Is the story taking in Detroit or are there other things on the minds in the city?

CAROLE LEIGH HUTTON, MANAGING EDITOR, "THE DETROIT FREE PRESS": This story really hasn't registered in a big way.

We have not gotten the letters, the calls, the inquiries from readers that we do often on other sorts of stories. I think it's overshadowed by a lot of things. We're a state with a 7.4 unemployment rate. We're a state where the major automakers are shedding jobs. The economy is just always slower to recover here than it is elsewhere. This story is not generating the kind of buzz in this community that other investigations, White House investigations, some of which, of course, were much more titillating, have generated in the past.

BROWN: Rich, correct me if I am wrong. I think of Austin as a Democratic town in a Republican state. Has the story taken there?

RICH OPPEL, EDITOR, "THE AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN": Not yet, Aaron.

We've gotten two letters. One, we published. One is coming up for publication. The big story here is Iraq. There is strong anti- war sentiment. This indeed is a liberal, progressive island in the center of a conservative state. I think it might get traction if it is shown that the leak was by a higher-up aide to the president. If it's close to the Oval Office, then it will get traction.

BROWN: Do people see it as part of the Iraq story or as something separate?

OPPEL: It hasn't been connected insofar as I've seen.

BROWN: OK.

And, Mike, Grand Forks is interesting in that it has a lot of connections to the war. A lot of reservists have come out of there. I know -- is the story seen as part of Iraq or is it seen separately, or is it pretty much ignored?

MIKE JACOBS, EDITOR, "THE GRAND FORKS HERALD": No, I think it's seen separately.

The story has not yet made the front page but "The Herald." But, of course, we're very focused on local news. I do think, though -- and what I hear in the coffee shops and on the streets and the telephones is that there is a lot of concern about the president's credibility, his position.

I mean, we've -- this is a state of small towns and wide acquaintances. There are a lot of reservists in Iraq. The fellow who sells me wine at the local liquor store lost an arm a couple weeks ago. There was another death in a guard unit today, a noncombat death, but still a death. And all of this that's going on -- no weapons of mass destruction discovered yet, $87 billion and so on and so on -- this is just another layer on that little bit of angst that people here are feeling about the situation in Washington.

BROWN: Carole, when you don't get a lot of letters, how do you decide -- or does that affect how you decide where in the paper to play the story, how hard to play the story?

HUTTON: In all honesty, no, because we're looking at the story before readers have a chance to react to it and we're making that decision really on the spot.

But I'll tell you that I do think -- I do sense in the community that there's less a willingness to indulge in scandal today than there was maybe a few years ago. And maybe this is the ramifications of a post-9/11 world. Maybe this is post 9/11 and two wars. But I think people are less indulgent of scandal inside the Beltway and much more concerned with the more serious issues.

National security certainly is a issue. We're a border community. We have the largest Arab-American population. We have a lot of issues that are of importance to our community. They're just not engaging in whether or not there was a political scandal of sorts between the White House and the CIA. Even if it's serious, even if there is a felony involved, even if a former agent's safety and security was compromised, it's not striking people that way.

And as the story unfolds and we will continue to publish it, we'll probably see a little bit more reaction. But I don't know that people will become as engaged in it, as locked on it as they were on the last White House scandal.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Thank you, all. Thank you all for joining us.

We're out of time tonight, so we'll say goodbye to our guests. We'll say goodbye to you as well. We'll see you all next week. Have a wonderful weekend.

And good night for all of us.

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