The Bush administration and its loyalists have an uphill battle on their hands to persuade the public that whomever revealed the White House's secret eavesdropping on U.S. citizens' telecommunications, and probable violations of the Fourth Amendment, was anything but a patriot.
Whether the White House can make a criminal case in court is another matter. That, too, is improbable, if history holds. And it could be politically suicidal as well.
So-called insider "leakers" who've revealed secret presidential abuses of power have emerged in recent years as heroic figures loyal to their oaths to defend the Constitution, rather than fealty to politicians determined to abuse authority and skirt laws.
President Nixon literally was driven from office by leakers. Presidential counselor John Dean revealed office tapes implicating Nixon in the Watergate burglary.
Leaks also revealed President Reagan's secret Iran-Contra arms deals that created such a furor. No leaker was successfully prosecuted.
Threats by Bush yes-men in Congress and in the Justice Department to track down and prosecute leakers is part of the same pattern of past presidential fury designed to frighten leakers and the media and thus protect secrets that could land presidents in dire legal straits.
The Bush White House has a special disposition not only for secrecy but also for unchecked abuse of power and authority.
The CIA's retired European operations last weekend confirmed the generally understood wisdom that the White House lied about intelligence leading to the attack on Iraq, and literally rigged reasons for the war.
Leaked information revealed the White House's attempt to waive Geneva Conventions to allow harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects. And it was a leak to The Washington Post that revealed the CIA's use of overseas prisons to interrogate detainees.
Critics who've maintained that the Bush administration callously imprisoned "suspects" in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to avoid congressional and judicial oversight and accountability finally are being vindicated.
The Pentagon announced Tuesday it's releasing 141 of the 490 "enemy combatants" still held at Gitmo without any charges. Another 250 were released earlier. Only 10 in the facility have been charged.
With polls showing the public doesn't trust President Bush by overwhelming percentages and the Republican Party suffering a political backlash, prosecuting government leakers for exposing high-level wrongdoing would only confirm the worst fears and suspicions about this president and his circle.