WASHINGTON, DCThe recent leak revealing Santa Claus to be "your mommy and daddy" has been linked to President Bush's senior political adviser and deputy chief of staff Karl Rove.
"If this devastating leak, which severely undermines the security of children everywhere and has compromised parent-child relations, came from the highest levels of the White House, that is an outrage," said former Bush counterterrorism adviser and outspoken Bush Administration critic Richard Clarke.
The identity of the mythical holiday gift-giver, previously known only in grown-up circles, was published in the popular Timbertoes cartoon in the December issue of Highlights For Children. Jean Abrams, a conservative firebrand known to have close ties to Bush appointees in the Department of Education, revealed "Santa" to be a code name for anonymous parental gift-giving.
Abrams and several other children's-magazine journalists, including Ranger Rick's Kristin Brittany and Cricket managing editor Shaina Belowitz, have testified before a federal grand jury on the source of the leak. Sources say that Randall Polk, Washington bureau chief for Weekly Reader, named Rove after serving eight days in jail for refusing to divulge his sources.
Federal investigators began to suspect a White House connection to the Santa leak when Abrams wrote in Timbertoes that the character of Pa had some "devastating information" on "very high authority."
"Did you know that Santa Claus is really just your mommy and daddy?" Pa's dialogue read. "It's true. Sometimes parents tell little white lies to their children to make them feel special."
Clarke criticized the leak as "foolhardy," saying it was "the kind of conduct you would expect from dangerous zealots who routinely confuse short-term political gain with the national interest."
"This leak compromises generations of undercover work on the part of U.S. parents," Clarke said. "Consider all the covers that will be blown, all the secret gift-hiding places that will be exposed."
The motivations behind the leak remain unclear, but some political observers have characterized it as a calculated act of retribution against Fairfax, VA second-grader Madison Harris. Harris, 7, wore an antiwar T-shirt to her elementary school during a Nov. 2 visit by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.
"The shirt, decorated with doves and the word 'peace,' angered White House ideologues, who felt that Harris had undermined a tightly orchestrated visit," independent political media watchdog Ellen Applebee said. "An aggressive attempt to hit Harris where she lived was set in motion."
On Nov. 3, Rove told reporters, "People shouldn't take too seriously the opinions of someone who still thinks a fat man slides down the chimney into her living room every December 25." On Nov. 6, he told several aides, "I don't consider it precocious to wear peace T-shirts and, from what I hear, read Highlights."
Applebee cited these comments as evidence of "Rove's deliberate campaign against Harris."
During that same week, Rove is also believed to have placed calls to several of the children's-magazine journalists who were later called before the grand jury.
If Rove is responsible for leaking Santa's identity to the world's children, it would not be his first political "dirty trick." In 1988, he was fired from George H. W. Bush's presidential campaign for sending an unsigned letter to the young daughter of a Dukakis campaign adviser. In the letter, he revealed the sad ending of the film Old Yeller.
On Capitol Hill, many say they believe that the damage has already been done. Clarke cited the absence of Santas from several department stores across the country as possible evidence that their compromised identities fatally damaged their credibility.
"I don't envy parents of young children right now," Clarke said. "Trust has been shattered. I wouldn't be surprised if some moms and dads are forced into hiding."