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Court Leak is catnip for those who love a juicy DC crime thriller

WASHINGTON – Washington loves a thriller. And the latest comes with the stunning twist of a leak from the famously buttoned-up Supreme Court.

The release last week of a draft opinion stating that Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion in the United States, was wrong from the start and should be overturned, has sparked scrutiny in all corners of the US capital.

Who could be behind such a blatant breach of trust? Why did this person choose to publish the draft? Why did this person choose a reporter from Politico? Who is investigating the matter? Will there be consequences? What will the final verdict of the court say?

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Washington inherently abhors a vacuum. So the two months before the court actually issues a final ruling will be filled with conjecture, conjecture, false starts — and maybe even the truth about who’s behind the leak.

It’s an intrigue in the tradition of Watergate’s “Deep Throat” – one of Washington’s best-kept secrets for more than three decades; by Iran-Contra, with classified documents hidden in a secretary’s underwear; from “Primary Colors,” a roman à clef about a certain southern governor.

The Trump era delivered almost an entire genre. Among them: an unidentified whistleblower’s complaint about Donald Trump’s phone call with the President of Ukraine and the writings of “Anonymous,” a senior administration official who remained anonymous for only about two years after writing an opinion piece and subsequent book, in which he insulted the President.

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The Supreme Court leak is “up there with the most important revelations of this century and the last century — maybe ever,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the private Project on Government Oversight Wikileaks and Deep Throat.

As leaks emerge daily in garrulous Washington, the explosive unveiling of a draft advisory that would overturn the 1973 decision creating a nationwide abortion law has the city captivated.

The hunt for the High Court leaker is on. Chief Justice John Roberts has ordered an investigation into what he called a “egregious breach of trust”. Amateur detectives are eagerly trading theories on social media.

Is it even possible to keep that kind of secret in Washington anymore?

“Of course not,” said Eric Dezenhall, a crisis communications expert who has been monitoring leaks in the capital for decades.

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“Very few people who really lick just keep it to themselves,” Dezenhall said. “There’s always a conversation where it’s like, ‘You have to swear not to tell anyone’ — and that’s the beginning of the end.”

He added that there’s often a psychological – and financial – incentive to making yourself known as a character in the story.

“The endgame is a book deal, a movie deal, to be on TV,” he said.

Even if leakers are cautious, there is the thorny issue of digital footprints, which make it much easier for leak hunters to track down modern sources of information than in the past.

“The way some sources have been able to maintain their anonymity has really been influenced by the age of surveillance and technology tracking, so it’s possible we can find out who it is,” said Brian, who has a “reflexive instinct” within the Government sued to track leaks and contain information.

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Big secrets in Washington will eventually come to light one way or another.

The identity of Deep Throat, the source who directed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the Watergate investigation, was unknown until 2005, when a 91-year-old former FBI official, W. Mark Felt, revealed that he was the one who met reporters in an underground parking garage at 2 a.m. to offer them tips on how to uncover wrongdoing by President Richard Nixon and his allies. A Post editor had dubbed it “Deep Throat,” after the 1972 pornographic film of the same name.

The secret identities of many other soothsayers, leakers, and whistleblowers of various persuasions were of shorter duration.

Anonymous — whose 2018 New York Times op-ed piece and later book blasting Trump left the president furious and on the hunt for the leaker — decided to reveal itself six days before the 2020 election when Trump was seeking re-election.

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Stepping out of the shadows, Miles Taylor, a former chief of staff for Homeland Security, called Trump “a man without character” and urged other former administration officials to “find their conscience” and speak out as well.

In 2019, it was a CIA officer’s whistleblower complaint about Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelenskyy that led to the president’s impeachment. The whistleblower’s identity has been kept confidential in accordance with federal laws protecting whistleblowers from retaliation. But conservatives widely speculated about the identity of the officer.

In January 1996, an anonymous author’s fictional account of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign sparked a hunt for the writer who seemed to know so much about the inner workings of the political operation.

Six months later, journalist Joe Klein confessed to being the author after the Post fingered him through a handwritten analysis of an annotated manuscript it had received. Klein said he kept his name out of the book, his first novel, because he wasn’t sure it would do any good. He ended up with a film deal.

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Military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who published a secret 1971 study exposing America’s misguided involvement in the Vietnam War, publicly identified himself as the source of the Pentagon Papers weeks after the Times and the Post published articles that sparked a massive legal battle over the free press. Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy and violations of the Espionage Act, but his case ended in a jury trial when evidence of government-ordered wiretaps and break-ins emerged.

The drama swirling around the Supreme Court leaker is compounded by conjectures about motivation. Was someone trying to ward off a final opinion that toppled Roe? Or someone trying to do the opposite – to prop up judges who originally voted to oust Roe but may be getting cold feet?

Depending on readers’ politics, the leaker has been alternately labeled as a cultural hero or villain. Some speculators, after some deliberation, switched their theories during the debate. The White House wants people to focus less on the leaker and more on the potential impact of the draft advisory itself.

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The idea that the leak was intended to ensure that the final opinion was consistent with the first draft “might be halfway too Machiavellian,” Dezenhall posits. “It was probably who you think it is – someone who wanted to screw this thing up. ”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/05/08/court-leak-is-catnip-for-those-who-love-a-juicy-dc-whodunit/ Court Leak is catnip for those who love a juicy DC crime thriller

Justin Scacco

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