Why couldn't this summer's Washington controversy over the outing of a CIA agent be nice and simple? A garden-variety scandal that Americans might understand for a change: bribery, perjury, extortion, something like that.
But no, the public has to try to sort out complexities such as these:
A New York Times reporter who goes to jail for refusing to reveal a source for a story she never even wrote. Meanwhile, the columnist who actually published the agent's name appears to be quietly waiting it out on the sidelines, not commenting.
And speaking of no comment. How can it be that the White House press secretary now refuses to comment because the case is under investigation (a defense that didn't stop him before), while the GOP chairman (after speaking with alleged White House leaker Karl Rove), is giving out talking points to defend him?
Another mind-bender: Republicans and Democrats are battling over a case in which it's very difficult to prove wrongdoing. The prosecutor would have to establish that the disclosure of the agent was intentional, and that it was done by someone with authorized access to classified information. The leaker must know that he or she is revealing a covert agent whom the US is trying to conceal.
Just on face value, and that's a huge caveat because no one knows what the grand jury in this case knows, it doesn't look as if Mr. Rove has broken the law. But leak? Yes.
And perhaps, when one clears away all the weeds in this overgrown story, that's the bottom line - the leaking. The question is why? If the motives were not in the nation's interests but to score political points, then leaking is an unsavory practice, and sadly, a typical one in Washington. You might even call it a garden variety.