06/08/2012 05:34 pm ET

White House Leaks Mattered Less To GOP During Bush Administration

WASHINGTON -- Republicans who bristled at the suggestion the George W. Bush White House did anything wrong in revealing the identity of a CIA operative are taking a much more aggressive tack in the furor over potential leaks in the Barack Obama White House.

Bush administration officials unmasked Valerie Plame as a CIA agent in 2003 after her husband, a U.S. ambassador, produced a report critical of their claims that Iraq was trying to get uranium from Niger, evidence that they used to build support for the Iraq war. Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was later convicted of four counts of perjury, lying to an FBI agent, and obstructing a federal investigation for his role in the leak.

But as the Plame case unfolded, many Republicans now calling for administration heads accused Democrats of playing politics and conducting an unwarranted witch hunt. They urged at the time that Bush administration officials be given the benefit of doubt.

"I do believe that every American has the right of presumption of innocence until proven guilty," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in 2005, when suspicions were focused on top Bush adviser Karl Rove. "Karl Rove has stated that he did not do anything wrong and break any law. I take him at his word."

"In their eagerness to smear the president and his administration, it has become increasingly clear that the president's opponents jumped out way too far, way too fast," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said regarding Democratic criticism of the Plame scandal. "‘I hope that the embarrassing antics will stop, but I'm not convinced they will."

Now that a Democrat sits in the Oval Office, the GOP complainers are unwilling to hold off on predeterminations.

The administration is "intentionally leaking information to enhance President Obama's image as a tough guy for the elections," McCain recently said. "That is unconscionable."

McCain repeated the assertion Friday after Obama told reporters at a White House press conference, "The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It's wrong."

“What the president did not unequivocally say today is that none of the classified or highly sensitive information recently leaked to the media came from the White House," McCain said in response. "I continue to call on the president to immediately appoint a special counsel to fully investigate, and where necessary, prosecute these gravely serious breaches of our national security.”

Obama, whose administration has rung up a record of aggressive leak investigations and prosecutions, insisted in his press conference that he'll probe the latest alleged leaks.

Cornyn said on Thursday that he does not trust the Obama White House to "investigate itself."

When the tables were turned, Democrats were just as vigorous as the GOP is now in demanding answers.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has been silent on the latest cases, was the first in the Senate to call for a special prosecutor to look into the Plame leak. "This is one of the most reckless and nasty things I've seen in all my years in government," Schumer said in 2003 as he speculated that Plame might have been "burned" by the White House for political motivations.

"I think not only should the president appear before the American public and explain what is going on and take a few questions from the press, but certainly the vice president should do that," said Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) during the Plame affair. "Everyone knows Karl Rove is involved," Reid said. "If the president is a man of his word, Rove should be history."

"The White House's credibility is at issue here, and I believe very clearly that Karl Rove ought to be fired," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said during the Plame affair.

Neither Cheney nor Rove were prosecuted in the Plame case.

With a party ally in the White House, some Democrats are leaping to their leader's defense and dismissing allegations that the White House leaked classified information for political gain.

“I know that people at the White House were not involved,” Kerry declared recently.

Others said the leakers need to be nabbed.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Thursday that "wherever the chips fall, they fall" in saying she believed a fair, non-partisan probe was warranted. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), among others, also criticized the leaks.

Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.