Rearranging the Chairs

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, October 24, 2005; 1:15 PM

White House staffers are a nervous lot these days.

Not only are they waiting uneasily to see if special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation claims any of their hides this week. But there are signs that whatever personnel moves might be necessitated by the indictment of top officials could be the beginning of a bigger upheaval among the president's advisers.

The Mood

All eyes are on the president. And apparently, he's good and mad.

Thomas M. DeFrank writes in a New York Daily News cover story: "Facing the darkest days of his presidency, President Bush is frustrated, sometimes angry and even bitter, his associates say.

"The specter of losing [Karl] Rove, his only truly irreplaceable assistant, lies at the heart of Bush's distress. But a string of political reversals, including growing opposition to the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina's aftermath and Harriet Miers' bungled Supreme Court nomination, have also exacted a personal toll.

"Presidential advisers and friends say Bush is a mass of contradictions: cheerful and serene, peevish and melancholy, occasionally lapsing into what he once derided as the 'blame game.' . . .

" 'The President is just unhappy in general and casting blame all about,' said one Bush insider. 'Andy [Card, the chief of staff] gets his share. Karl gets his share. Even [Vice President] Cheney gets his share. And the press gets a big share.'

"The vice president remains Bush's most trusted political confidant. Even so, the Daily News has learned Bush has told associates Cheney was overly involved in intelligence issues in the runup to the Iraq war that have been seized on by Bush critics.

"Bush is so dismayed that 'the only person escaping blame is the President himself,' said a sympathetic official, who delicately termed such self-exoneration 'illogical.' "

Richard W. Stevenson and David Johnston write in the New York Times that the uncertainty about Fitzgerald's intentions "has left much of official Washington and nearly everyone who works at or with the White House in a state of high anxiety. That has been compounded by the widespread belief that there are aspects of the case beyond those directly involving Mr. Rove and [vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis 'Scooter'] Libby that remain all but unknown outside of Mr. Fitzgerald's office. Among them is the mystery of who first provided the C.I.A. officer's identity to the syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, who published it on July 14, 2003.

"The negative effects on Mr. Bush's presidency if his senior aides were indicted, said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington, would be as great as the positive effects of Mr. Bush's handling of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: " 'The general mood is one of grim determination to conduct business as usual, even though it's clearly not possible,' said a Republican close to Mr. Rove who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to antagonize the White House by talking about internal thinking. 'It colors the mood, it colors everything that people do, say and think about.' "


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