The Bush administration will be remembered for breaking the law to spy on Americans. One lawyer will be remembered for blowing the whistle.
Thomas Tamm, a Justice Department attorney, has revealed himself to Newsweek's Michael Isikoff as the key source who tipped off New York Times reporters to the existence of a secret wiretapping program, ordered by White House officials, which operated outside the laws which govern spying on U.S. citizens.
And what has Tamm gotten for outing what is almost unanimously seen as a gross violation of the U.S. Constitution? He's $30,000 in debt; loopy right-wing blogs are deriding him as a Bush-hating lunatic; and he could face years in prison on charges of leaking classified information. Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general who ended up resigning in disgrace over the program, said the leaker "hurt our country."
Tamm is a deeply implausible country-hurter. Hegrew up in a family of high-profile FBI officials. As a toddler, he crawled around the desk of J. Edgar Hoover. So it was all the more shocking when FBI agents busted into his Potomac, Md. home last year and interrogated his wife and children. (Tamm was not home at the time.) That incident prompted the first speculation that Tamm was a source for the Times stories.
It's easy to be cynical about the timing of Tamm's revelation. With Barack Obama set to take office, Tamm can expect a Justice Department which is unlikely to press charges. And the nation seems eager to find some good guys to dredge from the muck of Bush's reign. But that shouldn't minimize Tamm's courage. Instead, it just speaks to the powerful opponents he had to defy to tell his story.
(Photo by Nigel Parry/CPI for Newsweek)