The political topic-du-jour (or headache, if you prefer) is the disclosure that Bush declassified excerpts of the National Intelligence Estimate in the lead-up to war in 2003, then passed these documents off to his staff to distribute to the press. By definition, the president has the power to declassify documents, but the controversial decision to release only specific portions, and only those portions that would justify the then-upcoming war, and only to the press, have laid him bare to bipartisan criticism.
Undeniably, this has all the makings of a great political intrigue, with the added element of courtroom drama: allegations of Bush’s “leak” were made in the heat of an already notorious trial, by shamed former vice presidential aid Lewis “Scooter” Libbey (the allegations have since been confirmed by Bush). Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald — himself an almost legendary figure for his reputation as a tireless investigator — has already weighed in by accusing various White House officials of being vindictive against an early Iraq War critic, ostensibly former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson himself suspected that the release of these documents in 2003 was partly a rebuttal to his published accusation that the Iraq threat was exaggerated for political reasons.
In the wake of the newest charges against Bush and his covert declassification, general opinion on the legality of this issue tends to fall into one of three categories: that Bush’s decision to release the documents was legal; that it was legal, but unconscionable; and that it was categorically illegal.
As this new leak case dominates op-ed pieces and television pundits fall over themselves to excuse or decry Bush’s actions, citizens of Ventura represented a full range of opinion when asked if Bush was justified in declassifying these documents. Barbara Higgins, a homemaker, responded, “Yes — because if it’s something that’s permissible, why should he not do it?” Local mom Lori Jones agreed, saying, “I think Bush is trying to do what he needs to do to protect us,” adding, “I think people are giving him way too much guff [for doing what he must] to ensure people’s freedom. He’s not in there because he wants to be popular. He’s there because he wants to do what’s right.”
On the flipside, many residents were wary of the uneven nature of the documents that were declassified, and local barista Zac Cromer ventured, “I don’t know if it’s ever really justified to give classified information away.”
Stay-at-home dad Kevin Clark was suspicious. “I don’t believe his intentions in declassifying were pure or righteous,” he states. Similarly, 25-year-old firefighter Andrew Flores took issue with a friend who showed support for Bush’s recent decision by saying, “No, it’s not justified if he didn’t do it officially; it’s for his own agenda.” When his companion suggested that Bush was acting in the best interest of the country, Flores shot back good-naturedly, “His decisions are in the best interest of the oil companies.”
Joanne Toth, a Ventura teacher, agreed that Bush “did it for political reasons, to justify [the war in Iraq]. It was not for us. It was for himself.”
Perhaps the strongest condemnation came from retired elementary school teacher Laura Gulovsen, “It’s just a political ploy; it helps us disagree; it shows he’s an absolute liar.” She added, “I don’t understand why people aren’t more outraged.”
But local coffee house manager Wolf Campbell saw a different motive behind the information trickle. “I think [Bush] was justified, and probably pressured to do so,” he considered, “the same way people are pressuring him about wiretapping. People want to know why.”
An equal number of residents expressed confusion about the issue, with the most popular questions being, “Is this related to the wiretapping issue?” and “Can’t Bush release these documents under the Freedom of Information Act, or is that only for us?”
Citizens interviewed at the Pacific View Mall and the Victoria Plaza Shopping Center. All citizens were asked, “Do you think Bush’s decision to declassify war intelligence documents was justified?”