Bush Should Live Up to 2000 Pledge

By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 18, 2005; 8:04 AM

During the year and a half that I covered George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, I must have heard his stump speech a thousand times. The lines changed little over the months, and the ending almost never changed -- Bush would raise his hand, as if taking an oath, and promise to restore honor and dignity to the White House.

He also vowed to restore civility to the poisonous atmosphere of the nation's capital, declaring at a GOP fundraiser in April 2000 that "it's time to clean up the toxic environment in Washington, D.C."

A few months later, Bush told voters at a campaign event in Pittsburgh that his administration would "ask not only what is legal but what is right, not what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves."

The latter comment in particular was a not-so-subtle slap at the legalistic parsing of words of both President Clinton, who parried with prosecutors over the meaning of the word "is," and Vice President Al Gore, who twisted himself into a pretzel with legalisms about raising money at a Buddhist temple during the 1996 presidential campaign.

Bush's speech resonated with many voters, and the themes of honesty and integrity helped propel him to the White House in one of the closest elections in decades.

Today, the president's White House and party are mired in scandal, and Washington waits breathlessly to see whether special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to the reporters, will indict any prominent West Wing staff members.

Political strategist Karl Rove, aka "Bush's Brain," and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, are believed to be possible targets in the investigation. An indictment of either man would be a serious blow to the administration, but what many observers are watching is how President Bush will respond.

After all, back in June 2004 the president said he'd fire anyone involved in the leak of Plame's name. But Bush seemed to lower the standard this summer -- when it became clear that Rove and Libby did in fact have conversations with reporters about Plame -- saying only that if someone "committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration."

Given the opportunity on Monday to reassure the public that he meant all of those things he said back in 2000 during the campaign and specifically what he said in June 2004 about the Plame scandal, the president punted.

"There's a serious investigation," Bush said when asked by reporters during a White House photo-op with the Bulgarian prime minister. "I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation."

But Bush wasn't being asked by the press to "prejudge" the outcome. He was, essentially, being asked to define his standard of propriety. Does someone have to be indicted and convicted of a specific crime in the Plame case to deserve dismissal from Bush's staff? Or does a person merely have to have engaged in questionable, or possibly unethical, behavior?

The investigation into the Plame leak raises plenty of questions that the president may eventually be forced to answer. Among the biggest is what exactly have Rove and Libby told Bush about their roles in the leak?

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company