By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Remember folks, these are only exit polls, we don't know anything yet, relax, it's all speculation. . . . Oh wait, that was last year's teleprompter script.
Forget the part about the exit polls. Otherwise the script is still good. No story with so few facts has so thoroughly distracted Washington like the CIA leak story has this week. Yesterday was especially excruciating as we waited to hear if there would be indictments of people in the White House.
You know it's a screwy week in Washington when presidential spokesman Scott McClellan so perfectly sums up the gestalt of the town -- albeit in that banal, totally unrevealing way of his:
"There's a lot of speculation going around," McClellan said in his White House briefing yesterday. "And I think there are a lot of facts that are not known at this point."
Our little power corridor is, it's safe to say, entranced by this story -- even as we acknowledge that there are large swaths of the country that couldn't care less.
"It's like the evil that dare not speak its name," says Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), referring to the only thing "it" can possibly refer to this week. In other words, it has come to suffice for a broad and complicated story with all manner of weird dimensions -- yellowcake, covert agents, and a cast of characters with great comic strip names like Scooter, Judy and Valerie Flame.
" It's obviously very big and very distracting," King says. " It's just everywhere."
Amid all the cable blather, BlackBerry chatter and "what'dya hears," the one truly reliable piece of information yesterday was that the federal grand jury met for three hours and adjourned without announcing any action.
In other words, happy waiting, come back tomorrow.
"There's a certain element of 'Groundhog Day' to all this," says Kevin Madden, the spokesman for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), referring to the Bill Murray movie in which one day keeps repeating itself. He dismisses most of the speculation as "a Washington parlor game." He posits that "Joe Taxpayer" is more interested in issues like energy, the economy and the budget. (He conveniently leaves out that little thing about his boss getting indicted.)
If nothing else, the first three days of this week offer an object lesson in how information is power. And how Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald can suddenly acquire a cachet by hoarding details about his intentions. Potent entities hang on his next move -- the media, Wall Street, even Karl Rove.
"It's like one big 'West Wing' episode," says Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). "You have a lot of drama, high stakes, media's in a frenzy, staffers glued to the TV and hitting the refresh key on the Drudge Report." He mentions secret plans and secret talking points that may or may not exist.
Give us something, Fitz, anything!
Believe it or not, King says, there was actually some real, substantive business being conducted yesterday. He attended a meeting at the White House with several House colleagues and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to discuss reinstating the Davis-Bacon Act (a federal law that requires paying "prevailing wages" on public works projects) for Hurricane Katrina reconstruction. And not one person mentioned the investigation in the meeting, King says.
"Then we walked out and all these reporters and photographers rushed up to us," he says. "And then, as soon as they realized none of us was Rove or Libby, they sat back down."
There were no shouted questions about Davis-Bacon.