We continue the modular, stream of consciousness approach. Summary and lots of links are here.
We believe the motive of the White House leakers was news management, as discussed here. Did the staffers seriously consider the legal or national security implications of identifying Ms. Wilson? Well, they may have. Robert Novak's experience with the CIA is puzzling here - he really did check with a CIA spokesman, who really did not wave him off this story.
It is possible the WH staffers had a similar chat with a CIA contact, and got bad info. Or, it is possible [UPDATE - substitute "insanely unlikely"] that the hype is wrong, and Ms. Wilson really is as inconsequential as the CIA spokesman seemed to think back in July. (Her status here) Under this theory, the WH staffers checked around, felt comfortable proceeding, and now appear to have stepped in it. Let's call this the "Ooops" Theory.
Is this exoneration? Legally, it might be - the law seems to require intent on the part of the leaker, which would be absent here. It also requires that the government be attempting to conceal the agent's identity. The CIA spokesman may have compounded an error, but his ineffectiveness provides a hurdle for the prosecution.
And how about "common-sense" exoneration? Well, these guys shouldn't have been taking a chance with national security for so little purpose. (Would any purpose be OK? Well, how about the Saudi leaks?) The "Ooops" theory leads to a "stupid, but not evil" conclusion, which may be better than the alternatives the Reps are contemplating.
It also explains the White House inaction, and current confusion. The CIA damage assessment is not yet complete (we are begging for leaks!); over the summer, the WH may have been reassuring itself that the Ms. Wilson's identity was no big deal, the press was ignoring it, and no further action was required. President Bush has been criticized for not reading the papers, but he could have missed this story even if he had been.
Was the lack of action hopelessly irresponsible? Well, the CIA was working on it - should Bush be firing people before he knows whether any harm has been done?
The alternative view strains credulity - they knew it was a crime, they knew it would impact national security, so they carefully limited their calls to six big-time reporters? If you are committed to a view that BushCo is hopelessly stupid, thuggish, and evil, this "Let's Pick Six" theory works. I am more comfortable with the view that they were missing some key information about her status, or else her status is overblown [SCRATCH].