The military space shuttle scandal involved a leak from the White House of information about a top secret military version of the NASA space shuttle.
The International Space Station (ISS) was rapidly losing oxygen with three astronauts aboard, two Americans and a Russian, and they needed assistance. NASA's space shuttles were grounded due to being in various states of maintenance, and they wouldn't be available in time to rescue the astronauts. The Russian space program was also unavailable to mount a rescue. ("Things Fall Apart")
There was one other possibility. The U.S. military had a highly classified space shuttle of its own that was available for launch. The few members of government who knew about the shuttle were unwilling to launch it, however, because using it would reveal its existence to the Russian cosmonaut on the ISS.
Toby Ziegler, who called it one of the most tightly-held secrets he had ever known, heard hints about the shuttle's existence from his astronaut brother David. Technically, Toby shouldn't have known about it though. White House Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg discussed the issue with Toby, since the pair had bonded after David's death, asking how his brother would have felt about using the secret shuttle. Toby told CJ that David would've sacrificed his life to protect a secret of this magnitude.
While the ISS astronauts were still stranded in space, a story in The New York Times by Greg Brock publicly revealed the secret space shuttle as an option. Brock's story did not provide a source. The White House would not officially back the claim, hoping that it wouldn't be taken seriously.
- Numerous investigations were started to find the source of the leak.
- Reporter Greg Brock was held in contempt of court for refusing to name his source.
- Several members of the White House were subpoenaed.
- Toby Ziegler finally confessed to the leak to CJ and Oliver Babish.
- Toby hired a lawyer named Alana Waterman.
- President Bartlet fired Toby. (Will Bailey was brought into the White House to fill his shoes.)
- Toby became "radioactive". Everyone with political aspirations was careful not to appear friendly to him in the press. For instance, he couldn't be photographed together with his ex-wife Congresswoman Andy Wyatt when their kids went trick-or-treating.
- Toby faced up to 6 years in prison in minimum security at FCI Petersburg.
- Toby repeatedly met with the U.S. Attorneys. They wanted him to reveal who told him about the secret space shuttle. He refused. ("Welcome to Wherever You Are")
- The U.S. Attorney threatened to further indict Toby for obstruction of justice unless he revealed his source. This came on the eve of the 2006 election and would've ensnared Democratic vice-presidential candidate Leo McGarry. Also, C.J. Cregg would once again be under the gun for her conversation with Toby.
Toby's ex-wife, Andrea Wyatt, started the ball rolling with CJ for a pardon. Toby had a number of high-profile supporters, mainly representing scientists and those who opposed the militarization of space. ("Institutional Memory") Ultimately he seemed to patch up his relationship with CJ as well, however she didn't openly support him when the President asked. In a last-second decision, President Bartlet pardoned Toby on Inauguration Day. ("Tomorrow")
Behind the scenes
- This was a major storyline starting at the end of season 6 and throughout 7.
- Despite Toby's confession, it's never confirmed that Toby actually committed the leak. It's possible he was covering for someone else. Visual storytelling at the end of "Things Fall Apart" implies that C.J. was the source of the leak. Though this seems unlikely, since C.J. is shocked and immediately calls the WH Counsel's office when Toby privately confesses to her.
- In fact, at 9:00 into the episode, a NASA administrator or engineer briefing CJ uses the phrase "That's the civilian shuttle..." which leads to her inquiry into a secret military shuttle program both in the Sit Room and when she asks the question that reminds Toby of what his brother had shared with him in hints.