By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 12, 2005 7:57 AM
The liberal blogosphere is aflame with animosity toward Karl Rove, now that he's been sucked deeper into the Plame probe.
Some folks out there think he should just be thrown in the jail cell next to Judy Miller's, no indictment or trial necessary.
To some on the left, Rove is the epitome of all they despise about the administration. He is Bush's brain, pulling the strings from behind the scenes, injecting politics into every conceivable decision. Rove further infuriated his critics a couple of weeks ago when he seemed to use the 9/11 tragedy to score political points, saying Republicans wanted to wage war and liberals wanted to offer the terrorists therapy.
Add the fact that this controversy is about the runup to the Iraq war and an apparent White House effort to discredit a prominent Bush critic, Joe Wilson, and you have an incendiary mixture. (It was Wilson, Valerie Plame's husband, who once declared that "fun to see Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.") And this dovetails nicely with the conviction that the press did a lousy job on WMD before the war and has been too soft on Karl & Co. ever since.
There are two issues here, it seems to me. Legally, what Rove said to Matt Cooper on "double super secret background" (according to this Mike Isikoff piece) may or may not have violated the law against identifying intelligence agents. There are questions about whether Rove knew that Plame was undercover, whether he was "knowingly" outing her, and so forth.
But politically, this is a bombshell. Rove, who has insisted he did not leak Plame's name, had something to do with this effort, even if he didn't "name" her. ( The defense: It all depends on the meaning of the word "leak?") He was attempting to undercut Wilson when he told Cooper that wifey had helped set up Wilson's fact-finding trip to Niger (where Wilson didn't find the facts the administration wanted on Saddam seeking uranium) and that the uranium business could still be true (it wasn't). And didn't the White House promise to fire anyone involved in the leak?
What does Rove do now? Give a couple of interviews and explain his role? Or remain in the background while his lawyer issues carefully parsed statements?
The newspapers all jump on the White House in stonewall mode, beginning with the New York Times :
"Nearly two years after stating that any administration official found to have been involved in leaking the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer would be fired, and assuring that Karl Rove and other senior aides to President Bush had nothing to do with the disclosure, the White House refused on Monday to answer any questions about new evidence of Mr. Rove's role in the matter.
"With the White House silent, Democrats rushed in, demanding that the administration provide a full account of any involvement by Mr. Rove, one of the president's closest advisers, turning up the political heat in the case and leaving some Republicans worried about the possible effects on Mr. Bush's second-term agenda. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, cited Mr. Bush's statements about firing anyone involved in the leak and said, 'I trust they will follow through on this pledge.'. . . .
"In two contentious news briefings, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, would not directly address any of a barrage of questions about Mr. Rove's involvement."
"Reporters at Monday's question-and-answer session at the White House peppered spokesman Scott McClellan with 41 questions in 35 minutes," says USA Today .
Chicago Tribune : "Sensing vulnerability on the part of a formidable political adversary, Democrats on Monday urged hearings into the conduct of presidential adviser Karl Rove and demanded his security clearance be revoked as the White House grew close-mouthed about allegations that Rove played a role in revealing a CIA employee's identity."
WP columnist Dana Milbank captures the tone:
"'This is ridiculous!'
"'You're in a bad spot here, Scott.'
"'Have you consulted a personal attorney?'
"The 32-minute pummeling was perhaps the worst McClellan received since he got the job two years ago. His eyes were red and tired. He wiggled his foot nervously behind the lectern and robotically refused to answer no fewer than 35 questions about Rove and the outing of the CIA's Valerie Plame. Twenty-two times McClellan repeated that an 'ongoing' investigation prevented him from explaining the gap between his past statements and the facts."
The Wall Street Journal notes: "In an email message to supporters, Mr. Bush's defeated 2004 election rival, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, wrote: 'It's perfectly clear that Rove -- the person at the center of the slash-and-burn, smear-and-divide tactics that have come to characterize the Bush administration -- has to go.'"
Here are some of the anti-Rove posts:
Slate's Tim Noah : "Inside the Bush administration, lying to reporters doesn't even come close to being a firing offense, so neither Rove nor Scott McClellan, who first called the accusation that Rove exposed Plame "totally ridiculous" and then flat-out said "it is simply not true," need fear for his job on that score. But Rove blew the cover of an undercover CIA official. If Dubya doesn't fire the man he nicknamed "Turd Blossom" for this offense, he's an even bigger hack than I think."
"Way to go Karl. Only in a Bush administration could you still be working at the White House instead of scrubbing toilets in prison. . . .
"Rove is attempting to wiggle away from criminal charges based on a literal interpretation of the law and a lot of weaselly little garbage. For instance, he is making sure to let everyone know he didn't 'name' Valerie Plame. No, he didn't. He just referred to Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife. So he didn't 'name' her, he merely identified her, but not by name, so be careful you don't say that he 'named' her. Dear Karl, do you actually feel good about yourself when you have to rely on that kind of maneuvering to look innocent?"
"Karl Rove is Mr. Disinformation himself. Mr. Smear. By refusing to give up his name, Judy Miller is aiding and abetting government corruption -- not much of a surprise, considering her stellar work in the lead-up to the war and in its early days as she danced around the desert with Super Secret troops declaring WMD found here and there."
Uh, small problem: We don't know whether Miller's source was Rove or someone else.
"I think there's ample evidence that Rove is in a world of legal trouble right now after intentionally disclosing information identifying an undercover CIA agent. But put that aside for a moment while the White House criminal investigation continues to unfold.
"Instead, let's consider the defense. Under the best case scenario, if Rove's conversations about Joseph Wilson's wife were not technically illegal, we still have the president's top political aide covering up a White House lie by smearing an opponent, going after his wife, and in the process 'accidentally' exposing an undercover CIA agent. For the White House, that's the best case scenario.
"Indeed, the defense isn't that Rove has acted in an ethical and principled fashion; the defense is that Rove is merely a vicious smear artist who helped disseminate classified information to cover his lies about Iraq. But it's not a problem, according to the defense theory, because he didn't literally leak Plame's name. Yeah, that's persuasive."
"ROVE WAS COOPER'S SOURCE: Well, we kinda knew this already, but it's good to have it confirmed. The salient fact is that Rove appears to have told Cooper about Wilson's wife working at the CIA before the Novak column appeared. Rove was clearly coordinating a message to discredit Wilson by linking him to his wife, and implying that Wilson had no real authorization from the senior levels of the administration. Rove may not be guilty of a crime, if he did not disclose her name and did not know she was undercover. He is guilty of sleaze and spin. But then that's also hardly news, is it?"
Craig Crawford ponders whether it was all a Rovian plot:
"If Karl Rove planned this -- which I doubt -- he really is a genius:
"1.) He leaks to Time's Matt Cooper in such a way that he avoids the law's intent requirement for criminal liability (Newsweek notes that Cooper's email shows nothing indicating Rove knew or revealed that Valerie Plame was an undercover agent, only that she worked at the CIA).
"2.) The ensuing grand jury investigation dramatically weakens the news media and future leakers, as reporters must decide whether to testify or go to jail, and even turns Rove's foes in the public against the reporters involved because they are seen as protecting him.
"In other words, by making himself a protected source who loses that protection, Rove makes it easier for the government to use federal courts to target all leakers. This would give Machiavelli a migraine."
John Hinderaker of Power Line explores the legal liability question:
"A violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act seems highly unlikely. It is doubtful whether Rove or any other administration source knew of Plame's affiliation with the CIA through access to classified materials; it is further questionable whether Rove or any other source knew that she was a 'covert' employee, or that the government was making an effort to keep her affiliation with the Agency a secret. (In fact, it is unclear whether the Agency did make such an effort.) As to the third situation covered by the statute, neither Rove nor any other administration source identified Plame as part of a 'pattern of activities intended to identify or expose covert agents' for the purpose of impairing national security.
"It is hard to see how Rove could be indicted for violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, and it is very unlikely that he would have been foolish enough to testify falsely before the grand jury about his conversations with journalists. None of this will matter much, though, when it is publicly acknowledged that Rove was one of the sources of the Plame 'leak.' (This isn't, by the way, the sort of communication that is ordinarily referred to as a 'leak.') We can expect a media feeding frenzy or potentially unprecedented proportions.
"Rove presumably told the President that he was one of the sources of the Plame information long ago. It is interesting that Bush didn't take the path of least resistance and ease Rove out of the administration at the end of his first term. The President's reputation for loyalty to has aides is certainly well-deserved."
Almost obscured in all this is the fact that Judy Miller is sleeping on a foam mattress on the floor of the Alexandria Detention Center. The Dallas Morning News gives Judy a standing O:
"Your decision to pay a personal price to protect the confidentiality of professional conversations sends powerful signals. It tells authorities that an ardor exists among journalists equal to the force of subpoenas. It tells would-be sources, who may want to reveal an awful truth, that it's still possible to speak in confidence.
"And it tells the public that an uncowed press -- the founders' desire -- still exists 214 years after the Bill of Rights was ratified."
David Kidwell of the Miami Herald measures the Time/Times fallout:
"It seems like such a simple concept that any 10-year-old can easily grasp. You make a promise, you keep it.
"But some in journalism's executive offices -- Norman Pearlstine among them -- are having a difficult time with it.
"Anyone who reads the paper or watches television is going to hear a lot of snarky criticism of Judith Miller in the coming days and weeks as she sits alone in a jail cell. You're going to hear about her personality quirks, her past mistakes as a journalist, even her perceived ulterior motives to enrich her career.
"All you really need to consider is this: If you were a government employee with a nagging conscience, if you had secret records that would expose corruption or lies at the highest levels, if your job was on the line and you needed to find a journalist whose promises you could trust with your life -- who would you call today: Matt Cooper and Time magazine, or Judith Miller and The New York Times?"
Times Editor Bill Keller, by the way, told me that criticism of Miller was "repellent" and coming from the "partisan fringe."
GOLDBERG: "He's written various other pieces of the same sort since then and has another coming out tomorrow that once again states his position that a reporters' right to protect his or her source is not necessarily more important than the government's right to get the information it needs. He specifically takes on the long NYT editorial that ran a few days ago.
"This is a bit of a long shot, but I thought that perhaps Judy Miller would like to write some kind of rejoinder (especially now that Kinsley's columns and editorials, as I understand it, are being used by the prosecutor to help make his case). Is such a thing possible? Is there a way to contact her and ask if she's interested?"
KELLER: "How clever of the Los Angeles Times to propose that Judy Miller debate Mike Kinsley on the subject of press freedom. Sadly, Judy is not on a fellowship at some writers' colony. She is in JAIL. She is sleeping on a foam mattress on the floor, and her communications are, shall we say, constrained.
"I have to tell you that Mike's contrarian intellectualizing on the subject of reporters and the law was more amusing when it was all hypothetical. Back then it was just punditry. But that was before Norm Pearlstine embraced acquiescence as corporate policy, and before Judy Miller braved the real-world discomforts of the moral high ground. Of course this is an important issue, and clever minds should wrestle with it. But at the moment Kinsley and Pearlstine seem perversely remote from the world where actual reporters work."
On to the Supreme Court--hey Novak, Rehnquist still hasn't retired!--the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes tells the prez to hang tough:
"President Bush needs to keep two facts in mind as he looks to replace retiring Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor (and, should he step down, Chief Justice William Rehnquist). The first is that he can win confirmation of almost any conceivable nominee for the High Court, screams of protest by Democrats and hostile media coverage notwithstanding. The second is that he has a promise to keep. Since he began running for the White House six years ago, he has declared endlessly his intention to select judges who interpret the law rather than create it--in a word, conservatives. On this, he has never equivocated.
"The number 55 (or 56 if you count Vice President Cheney's vote in the event of a tie) looms large. The Senate majority of 55 Republicans limits Democrats to three possible means of blocking a conservative nominee. 1) Through a procedural maneuver like a filibuster, or by demanding documents they know the White House will never release. 2) By discovering an ethical lapse in a nominee's past. 3) By spooking the president with disingenuous calls for an O'Connor clone, or by claiming every potential conservative nominee is outside the mainstream. None of these is likely to work.
"For a filibuster to succeed, Democrats would need the cooperation of three of their seven colleagues who joined the Gang of 14 in limiting the filibuster in cases of judicial nominations. And they would need at least six of the seven Republican gang members to agree that 'extraordinary circumstances' have occurred and that a filibuster is permissible. The possibility of this happening is--well, it's all but impossible."
Finally, this doesn't sound like the most incendiary line of all time, but the New York Post says GOPers are really, well, MAD:
"Republicans yesterday blasted Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for ridiculing President Bush by comparing him to Mad magazine's mindlessly goofy Alfred E. Neuman, known for his trademark line of 'What, me worry?'
"'Hillary Clinton's opportunistic attempt to market herself as a centrist is like a wolf dressing up in sheep's clothing,' said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt. 'The truth is that Hillary is in lockstep with today's wild-eyed Democrats who have nothing to offer the American people but anger.'"