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Why Is Congressman Peter King Lying About Glenn Greenwald?

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As has been widely reported, earlier this week New York Republican Congressman Peter King called for the prosecution of Glenn Greenwald, in response to Greenwald's role in bringing to light the sensational charges by former NSA employee Edward Snowden about pervasive government surveillance programs. King insisted on Fox News that the NSA disclosures harm our national security (a claim that numerous national security officials and experts dispute and that appears to have little merit). But King also claimed that Greenwald was threatening to disclose the names of "CIA agents and assets around the world," warning ominously that "the last time that was done in this country, you saw a CIA station chief murdered in Greece."

King's claim about what Greenwald has threatened to do is, of course, a complete falsehood. There is no record anywhere of Greenwald having made such a threat (nor is there of Snowden). And Greenwald himself has been adamant that he never would disclose such information. Greenwald also joked to Chris Hayes on MSNBC that King must be confusing him with Scooter Libby, the former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby, it will be recalled, was convicted of obstruction and other counts related to an investigation into the actual disclosure of an actual CIA agent, Valerie Plame. That disclosure was undertaken -- likely at the direction of Karl Rove -- in retaliation for a damaging article her husband Joseph Wilson had written in 2003 that undercut the Bush administration's WMD claims in Iraq. Robert Novak, the since-deceased conservative columnist, did the honors of outing Plame in July of 2003, shortly after Wilson's article appeared.

Since King wants Greenwald arrested for some Minority Report-esque imaginary future disclosure of CIA assets, I wondered what King's response was to the willful disclosure of a real CIA asset -- Plame. A quick Lexus-Nexis search provided the answer (though I am sure it won't be long before Republicans start accusing that database of being "skewed)." When Rove was first clearly implicated in Plamegate in 2005, King did not express dismay at the potential harm to national security that Novak's disclosure might have caused. Instead he defended Rove's alleged role in the affair, claiming that Rove was only trying to caution another journalist involved in the story -- Matthew Cooper -- about Wilson's credibility. In that case, King saved all of his ire for Democrats who had the temerity to want to make a federal case out of Plame's blown cover, calling for "Republicans [to] stop holding back and go on the offence: fire enough bullets the other way..." As the Irish Times wryly noted in quoting King at the time, this was "a rather unfortunate mixing of metaphors, given his well-known association with a certain party in Northern Ireland."

So King, we might infer, only cares about disclosing CIA assets when there is no actual prospect of that happening.

Writing critically about King in the Washington Post yesterday, Erik Wemple speculated about why King would lob such charges against Greenwald, noting that he might 1) know something the rest of us don't about Greenwald, 2) spouting off to a FOX audience on a subject about which he knows little or 3) is engaged in willful fabrication.

I think we can safely dismiss the first possibility, acknowledge that two and three could both be true and add a fourth -- that for holders of major elective office, there is little disincentive to engage in the most shameless demagoguery imaginable. Our political system doesn't punish people for blatant disregard for truth, as long as those individuals are generally mouthpieces for powerful vested interests -- like the national security apparatus or Wall Street. Accountability is only for those who challenge those interests. Such a warped political environment leaves little downside to lying shamelessly on national television in the context of a consequential matter of national affairs, including threatening core first amendment freedoms based on a complete fiction. King, a former chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and sitting member of the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees -- may not know much. But he knows that much.