Leak? What Leak?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 13, 2005; 10:21 AM

From the moment the Karl Rove story exploded over the weekend, I've been intensely curious as to what tack the conservatives would take.

This is a big political embarrassment, no question about it, and while Scott McClellan could try the old can't-comment-during-the-investigation (though he had earlier denied any Rove involvement during the same investigation), what would the denizens of the right do?

I tuned into O'Reilly and Hannity on Monday night, but there was no mention, none, of the Rove/Plame affair. Imagine if an e-mail had surfaced showing that a top aide to Clinton--say, Sid Blumenthal--had told a reporter about a covert CIA agent. Would those Fox shows have given the controversy a bit of air time? (Last night, O'Reilly said "some in the media are foaming" over the story but did call on Rove to "clear the air," then hosted Newt Gingrich, who attacked Joe Wilson. Hannity said Rove "wasn't on a witchhunt" because Matt Cooper called him , and guest G. Gordon Liddy ripped Cooper and said Valerie Plame wasn't really undercover. At least the show had a liberal guest, Bill Press, who got overheated in accusing Rove of "treason" and saying he "should be marched off to prison." No trial, Bill?)

While the White House remains in lockdown mode over Rove, my first clue to the GOP defense came in a statement from RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman:

"It's disappointing that once again, so many Democrat leaders are taking their political cues from the far-left, Moveon wing of the party. The bottom line is Karl Rove was discouraging a reporter from writing a false story based on a false premise and the Democrats are engaging in blatant partisan political attacks."

So the response is that 1) the Dems are playing politics (and Rove wasn't, in dragging in Mrs. Joe Wilson?). And 2) Rove was just performing a public service by steering a reporter away from a false story. (Actually, Wilson was right about the bogus Niger uranium tale, and the White House was wrong, although his credibility did take a hit from a critical Senate intelligence committee report.)

Another tactic: Change the subject to Judy Miller, as National Review 's media blog does in critiquing a NYT piece:

"This last part of the story seems calibrated to get Miller off the hook -- if there's no crime, why is she in jail? -- while the first part is focused on all the reasons the Bush administration should now feel obligated to fire Karl Rove. The Times is going for everything it wants here -- Rove fired and Miller exonerated.

"Convenient, but it doesn't change the fact that there's more to this story -- Miller's testimony. Miller's involvement in this case is still murky, and yet the consequences could reach far if the case costs Rove his job or results in any indictments. The Times wants you to forget that it is obstructing not just the investigation of a possible crime, but the public's evaluation of whether a high-ranking public official should continue to serve.

"What is Miller hiding? Conservatives should not let the Times get away with this just because it might be bad for Rove. We can go on without Rove. We cannot go on with a press that routinely defies the rule of law in defense of a practice that turns reporters into agents for unaccountable operators who leak to serve their own interests more often than the interests of the public."

NR's Byron York , by the way, quotes Rove lawyer Donald Luskin as comparing "the contents of a July 11, 2003, internal Time e-mail written by Cooper with the wording of a story Cooper co-wrote a few days later. 'By any definition, he burned Karl Rove,' Luskin said of Cooper. 'If you read what Karl said to him and read how Cooper characterizes it in the article, he really spins it in a pretty ugly fashion to make it seem like people in the White House were affirmatively reaching out to reporters to try to get them to them to report negative information about Plame.'" In fact, says Luskin, Cooper called Rove to talk about welfare reform, then switched subjects.

Still another approach is to blame Wilson, as John Podhoretz does in the New York Post:

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