THE ORIGIN OF THE PLAME AFFAIR….Nick Confessore muses about how the Plame affair got started:

I have a hard time believing the Plame leak was cooked up at a meeting — it seems more likely that a couple of top officials cooked it up in the men’s room and acted rashly out of the belief that they would never be caught or held accountable.

Nick is a very sharp guy and I’m loathe to disagree with him, but….I’m going to disagree with him on this.

This is rank speculation, of course, but what the hell. Read no further if rank speculation raises your blood pressure.

My guess is that after Wilson’s op-ed came out, a few White House folks got together to decide how to react to it. Nothing unusual about that.

And it was a pretty ruthless conversation. Nothing unusual about that either. That’s how Washington works.

And someone suggested that they play up the angle that Wilson did nothing more than sit around a hotel pool drinking mint tea. Check. And someone else remarked that no one in the White House had ever seen Wilson’s trip report anyway. Check. And there was lots of other evidence for the Niger uranium connection that Wilson didn’t know about. Check. And Wilson is just a partisan shill interested in bashing the Bush administration. Check.

And then someone casually mentioned that, hell, did you know Wilson’s wife works at the Agency? Some kind of analyst or something. They probably only sent him because she suggested it.

And the response was: Check. When you’re talking to reporters about Wilson, be sure to throw that in. Helps to show that he wasn’t really qualified for the trip in the first place. Plus it sends the right message to anyone else thinking of ratting on us. Good work guys. Let’s wrap this up.

And I suspect that was all the thought they gave it. It didn’t really occur to them that Plame was ? or perhaps used to be ? covert, and they didn’t think to check on it. It was just one of several good talking points.

In other words, there probably wasn’t any intention to expose a covert agent, and therefore nobody’s broken the law. And that makes it even worse. These guys probably didn’t poke around and consciously decide that outing Plame wasn’t likely to do any damage. They just didn’t even think about it.

And these are the people running our country.

POSTSCRIPT: On the other hand, maybe I’m still being too generous toward these guys. Maybe they did know she was covert and deliberately decided to go ahead anyway.

But you know what? Even after everything they’ve done, I still don’t want to believe that about them.

UPDATE: In comments below, Shermaclay makes a pretty compelling argument that I’m wrong. The fact that the leakers deliberately used her maiden name is, indeed, telling, and his other points are good too.