The Justice Department investigation into who leaked national security secrets hasn't even started yet and most experts say it will drag on for months but a rising chorus of conservatives think they've got their man: national security adviser Tom Donilon.
It's a charge based on pure speculation, but you wouldn't get that impression if you were, say, watching Sean Hannity this week. On a broadcast Monday, the Fox News host claimed to be introducing a guest "who knows exactly who spoke to The New York Times" about the classified information and proceeded to interview former Democratic pollster Pat Caddell. When asked to spill the beans, Caddell a Fox News contributor and semi-famous "self-loathing Democrat" started bizarrely parsing his words. "
HANNITY You're a Democrat, you are saying definitively you know.
CADDELL: I didn't say I definitively know. I said I definitively know who it was. You know, there is a difference.
We have no idea how there's a difference between those two statements but regardless, that didn't stop Caddell from being supremely confident about the source of the leak. "The culprit is clear. It's Tom Donilon, the national security adviser," he said. "Tom Donilon is a political hack. He was a political operative." Hannity immediately weighed in on the significance of Caddell's speculation, saying "Caddell's allegation is critical to this investigation, because Tom Donilon is the man who leads the presidential daily briefing each and every day inside the Oval Office." The speculative exercise didn't stop there.
Yesterday on Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade pressed the angle with Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. "Senator, you think it was Tom Donilon?" Chambliss replied with the ground-breakingly obvious statement that he doesn't know: "I mean obviously this is what the investigation is for."
Then, today, creeping its way into Peggy Noonan's Wall Street Journal column condemning the White House leaks, was the suggestion that it was Donilon. "When I was a child, there was a doll called Chatty Cathy. You pulled a string in her back, and she babbled inanely," she wrote. "Tom Donilon appears to be the Chatty Cathy of the American intelligence community."
Why is the right convinced it's Donilon? The oft-cited reason is that he's quoted liberally in David Sanger's book Confront and Conceal, which detailed much of the national security secrets members of Congress are so outraged over. By all accounts, Donilon did speak extensively with Sanger for the book. In Thomas Ricks's review of Confront and Conceal for the Times he says "Mr. Donilon, in effect, is the hero of the book, as well as the commenter of record on events." Unfortunately, just because you were quoted on-the-record in the book, doesn't mean you originally leaked the details of the classified events. All we know about the source so far comes from Sanger, who told PBS this wasn't leaked from top White House officials, but from the "bottom up":
DAVID SANGER I reported this from the bottom up. So, you know, you hear the word leaks, it really doesn't do justice to the process of piecing things together out in the old-fashioned way of doing reporting. And. . .
JEFFREY BROWN: But you are quoting people who are inside these meetings.
DAVID SANGER: That's right. But that, by and large, comes only after you have put together the essence of the meeting — the essence of the story.
Sanger's statements don't guarantee that Donilon wasn't the original leaker but for right now, it's the only evidence to go on. And given that Sanger would be on the line for clearly misleading people about the nature of his story if it was Donilon, the speculative allegations don't really have much to stand on. Of course, this is all at a very early stage. Given that the investigation hasn't even started yet, expect a lot more Obama officials to get dragged in to this mess as "leak fever" continues.