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Rove's Last Campaign

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, October 26, 2005; 2:54 PM

Will Karl Rove, architect of President Bush's improbable political career, snatch one last victory from the jaws of defeat? (Or at least avoid getting indicted?)

Something appears to have provoked special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald into a last-minute flurry of activity centered around Rove.

Tom Hamburger, Richard B. Schmitt and Peter Wallsten write in the Los Angeles Times: "Prosecutors investigating the leak of a CIA agent's identity returned their attention to powerful White House advisor Karl Rove on Tuesday, questioning a former West Wing colleague about contacts Rove had with reporters in the days leading to the outing of a covert CIA officer. . . .

"Fitzgerald's investigators asked the former colleague about any comments Rove may have made about his conversations with journalists in the days before Plame's name was made public by syndicated columnist Robert Novak."

Whether this is good or bad news for Rove is unclear. But here's what you need to keep in mind: There is every reason to think that Rove is throwing every move he's got at Fitzgerald in an attempt to escape criminal charges.

In the Atlantic magazine's seminal profile of Rove last year, Joshua Green wrote that throughout his storied career, Rove has been at his most ferocious and wily when cornered.

"By any standard he is an extremely talented political strategist whose skill at understanding how to run campaigns and motivate voters would be impressive even if he used no extreme tactics. But he does use them.

"Anyone who takes an honest look at his history will come away awed by Rove's power, when challenged, to draw on an animal ferocity that far exceeds the chest-thumping bravado common to professional political operatives."

And Rove partisans, who sounded almost hopeless just a few days ago, now appear to be sending out mixed signals.

Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig write in The Washington Post that "two Republican officials said Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove, the president's top strategist, is not sure whether he will face indictment as the case winds down. Rove was said to be awaiting word from Fitzgerald, even as prosecutors questioned at least one former Rove associate about Rove's contacts with reporters before Plame's name was disclosed."

As a result, journalists are now scratching their heads.

John D. McKinnon and Anne Marie Squeo write in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "It isn't clear if anyone outside the vice president's office would be charged with a crime. President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, testified four times before the grand jury, but as of late yesterday, it wasn't clear if he would be caught in the prosecutor's net. If Mr. Rove isn't charged, it would be a relief for the White House and Republicans -- though one significantly tempered if several White House officials are indicted."

There's evidence of last-minute negotiations.

Mary Ann Akers writes in her gossip column in Roll Call (subscription required): "Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was spotted Tuesday at the law offices of Patton Boggs paying a visit to Robert Luskin, the eccentric (for Washington, D.C.) lawyer who represents Karl Rove."

And TalkLeft blogger Jeralyn Merritt writes this morning: "I'm beginning to think it possible that Karl Rove either is not going to be charged in the Valerie Plame Leak investigation, or if he is charged, it will be with a false statement rather than perjury offense."

But, she concludes: "If Karl Rove isn't indicted, or gets a sweetheart deal, I can't conceive of any reason why other than he sang his heart out."

Live Online

I'll be Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET, taking your questions and comments .

The Big Day?

Fitzgerald and his grand jurors entered the courthouse around 9 a.m. today.

Broadcast journalists are reporting that there will be no public announcement today. But one popular rumor is that Fitzgerald will indeed present indictments to his grand jury today, the jury will vote on them -- and then he will put everything under seal, pending a public announcement tomorrow.

I can't think of any reason for Fitzgerald to put anything under seal -- unless he's offering his targets the opportunity to turn themselves in before it turns into a real circus over there.

So, two suggestions for the folks staking out the courthouse:

* Even if he seals everything, Fitzgerald would have to take any indictments returned by the grand jury to a judge today. And he would be accompanied by his grand jury foreperson. So keep an eye out for that.

* Also keep an eye out for senior administration officials showing up at the courthouse very, very late at night.

Where Things Stand

Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig write in The Washington Post:

"The prosecutor in the CIA leak case was preparing to outline possible charges before the federal grand jury as early as today, even as the FBI conducted last-minute interviews in the high-profile investigation, according to people familiar with the case. . . .

VandeHei and Leonnig write that "officials are bracing for the kind of political tsunami that swamped Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan in their second terms and could change this presidency's course."

Richard W. Stevenson and Anne E. Kornblut write in the New York Times: "The flurry of last minute activity had White House officials anticipating an announcement as soon as Wednesday about whether the prosecutor would seek indictments. Indictments of Mr. Libby or Mr. Rove or both would leave Mr. Bush a political crisis with the potential to reshape the remainder of his second term. . . .

"White House officials did not respond to questions about a report on Tuesday in The New York Times that Mr. Libby had first learned of the C.I.A. officer from Mr. Cheney several weeks before Mr. Novak's column. On a day when the mood at the White House was described by one friend of the president as grim, Mr. Bush used his public appearances on Tuesday to show himself as focused on the nation's business, most notably Iraq, and undeterred by what he has characterized as 'background noise.' "

John D. McKinnon and Anne Marie Squeo write in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "Administration officials were bracing for the likelihood that Mr. Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, who is known to have talked at least three times with New York Times reporter Judith Miller about the Central Intelligence Agency operative whose identity was leaked, would be indicted, according to people close to the administration."

And here's a tantalizing sentence: "Others in the vice president's office also could face charges, these people said."

Tom Hamburger, Richard B. Schmitt and Peter Wallsten write in the Los Angeles Times: "Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald also dispatched FBI agents to comb the CIA officer's residential neighborhood in Washington, asking neighbors again whether they were aware -- before her name appeared in a syndicated column -- that the agent, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA. . . .

"On Monday, two FBI agents, dressed in black, combed the northwest Washington neighborhood where Wilson and Plame live, flashing their badges and questioning neighbors about whether they knew about her affiliation with the CIA before she was exposed in an article by Novak in July 2003.

"Critics of the leak investigation have argued that it was an open secret that Plame worked for the CIA; if many people knew that she worked for the agency, it would make prosecution under the 1982 law protecting covert agents impossible.

"But neighbors contacted by The Times said they told the FBI agents that they had no idea of her agency life, and that they knew her only as a mother of twins who worked as an energy consultant."

Adam Entous writes for Reuters: "White House officials were anxiously awaiting the outcome of the leak case since any indicted officials were expected to resign immediately. If indictments are brought, Bush was likely to make a public statement to try to reassure Americans that he is committed to honesty and integrity in government."

Suzanne Malveaux told Lou Dobbs on CNN last night: "One insider says Mr. Bush is ready for the outcome. His feeling being, whatever it is, let's get on with it . . . .

"Should the president's top political adviser, Karl Rove, or the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, be indicted, insiders say it is widely assumed they will resign immediately, and trusted aides will move in to fill the void. The president will make a brief statement citing the legal process that is ongoing, and the White House and its friends will make a dramatic pivot to change the subject and move forward. . . .

"While one White House insider says losing Karl Rove would be a devastating blow to the president, Mr. Bush thinks that his own ability and authority derives from his policies; that Rove is an extension of the president, not a puppet master, that the administration can move forward on its long-term agenda, including tax reform and immigration."

NBC's Norah O'Donnell told Chris Matthews last night: "A senior Republican tells MSNBC that the president's damage control handlers are preparing for, quote, 'multiple scenarios to defend against potential indictments.' And this adviser says, quote, 'it would be foolish not to.' "

The Big Picture

Marc Sandalow writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "The decisions to be made this week by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald could touch off a national debate over the lengths to which members of the Bush administration were willing to go to advance their war plans, the credibility of Washington press corps and the ability of the White House to persevere in the midst of a scandal."

Ron Fournier writes for the Associated Press: "It should surprise nobody that Vice President Dick Cheney is at the center of another firestorm. He's got his hands in just about everything at the White House. . . .

"There is nothing in the public record to suggest that Cheney, like perhaps Libby and deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, pointed reporters toward the CIA official in conversations about her husband, diplomat Joe Wilson.

"But the investigation has lifted the veil on the White House's brass-knuckle political culture and Cheney's role in it.

"The latest disclosure also raises fresh questions about the vice president's credibility, long-ago frayed by inaccurate or questionable statements on Iraq."

Jonathan S. Landay writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "The grand jury probe into the leak of a covert CIA officer's name has opened a new window into how the Bush administration used intelligence from dubious sources to make a case for a pre-emptive war and discarded information that undercut its rationale for attacking Iraq . . . .

"A Knight Ridder review of the administration's arguments, its own reporting at the time and the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004 report shows that the White House followed a pattern of using questionable intelligence, even documents that turned out to be forgeries, to support its case -- often leaking classified information to receptive journalists -- and dismissing information that undermined the case for war."

Craig Gordon writes in Newsday: "It was the last week of August 2002, and the Bush administration's case for war against Iraq was running into serious headwinds - internal dissent, go-slow warnings from Republican elders, grumbling in Congress.

"And one man, Vice President Dick Cheney, was doing his best to shock the nation into action.

"Cheney ratcheted up the war rhetoric in speeches that week that highlighted a particularly frightening notion, one Cheney had tracked intently in his Pentagon days a decade earlier: charges that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons.

" 'Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon,' Cheney said Aug. 26, warning of a 'mortal threat' that would enable Hussein to blackmail the United States and seek domination of the Middle East.

"So when former ambassador Joseph Wilson publicly charged in an op-ed article a year later that the White House had 'twisted' intelligence to exaggerate Hussein's nuclear threat, Wilson was taking direct aim at the case for war championed by the vice president himself."

Cheney and the New York Times

On MSNBC's Hardball last night, there was much talk about the New York Times story placing Cheney himself at the heart of the leak investigation.

While no other news organization has been able to confirm the Times story, Washington Post reporter Jim VandeHei told Chris Matthews: "I have no reason to think it's not true. Nobody is waving us off that story today. . . . I haven't heard anybody deny it all, in the vice president's office, the White House, anywhere, that this not true."

CNN legal analyst Jonathan Turley opined: "For the vice president to be the source of this name, it puts him at risk of being an unindicted co- conspirator or even an indictment."

He added: "Libby is so close to the vice president that to indict Libby, it would be hard not to nick the vice president. You can't get a clean shot at Libby without coming a hair's breadth from the vice president.

"They are that close."

Meeting the Press

When Cheney appeared on NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert on Sept. 7, 2003 -- three months after his reported conversation with Libby about Wilson and his wife -- the vice president sure made it sound like he didn't know anything at all about the topic.

This clip was replayed a lot yesterday on TV:

Cheney: "I don't know Mr. Wilson. I probably shouldn't judge him. I have no idea who hired him and it never came. . . . "

Russert: "The CIA did."

Cheney: "Who in the CIA, I don't know."

So, was that a lie?

VandeHei and Leonnig write in The Post: "Republicans close to the White House said Cheney was careful to distance himself from Wilson in the interview without lying about what he knew about the diplomat and his wife."

John Roberts reported on the CBS Evening News: "If the vice president made an untruthful statement in public, it may certainly look bad, but it doesn't amount to a crime."

Not Under Oath After All

The New York Times runs a correction: "A front-page article yesterday about the C.I.A. leak investigation misstated the terms under which Vice President Dick Cheney was interviewed last year by the special counsel in the case. He was not under oath."

My understanding is that if Cheney's interview was not under oath, that precludes a perjury charge -- but not necessarily obstruction of justice, making false statements or conspiracy.

The Forged Niger Documents

Wilson was initially dispatched by the CIA to investigate claims that Iraq sought uranium from the African nation of Niger Hamburger, Schmitt and Wallsten write in the Los Angeles Times: "As anticipation swirled in Washington of potential indictments -- and what it would mean for a Bush administration already beset by low approval ratings, the Iraq war and an embattled Supreme Court nomination -- a related controversy was brewing in Italy over how the Niger allegations made their way into the intelligence stream."

Laura Rozen has more in the American Prospect about forged documents and the previously secret meeting in September 2002 between the chief of Italy's military intelligence and then -- Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. At that meeting, the Italian official brought the unfounded claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium "yellowcake" from Niger directly to the White House's attention.

Poll Watch

This from the just-out Gallup Poll:

Question: "As you may know, several members of the Bush administration have been accused of leaking to reporters the identity of a woman working for the CIA. Which of the following statements best describes your view of top Bush administration officials in these matters - some Bush administration officials did something illegal, no Bush administration officials did anything illegal, but some officials did something unethical, or no Bush administration official did anything seriously wrong?"

Answer: 39 percent believe some Bush administration officials did something illegal; 39 percent believe they did something unethical though not illegal; 10 percent believe they did nothing seriously wrong at all; 12 percent have no opinion.

Yes, that means just shy of 80 percent of Americans think something stinks.

Here are the complete results .

Among the other findings: Only 40 percent of those polled would vote for Bush today if he were running for re-election; an all-time high of 50 percent don't think Bush has the personality and leadership qualities a president should have; and 57 percent don't think that Bush agrees with them on the issues that matter the most. The good news for the White House: Bush's job approval rating is up to 42 percent, from an all-time low of 39 percent a week ago.

Briefing Follies

Here's the transcript of yesterday's briefing with press secretary Scott McClellan. There were lots of emotional questions about whether the press corps should trust McClellan -- or Cheney.

Thomas M. DeFrank and Kenneth R. Bazinet write in the New York Daily News:

"Bush spokesman Scott McClellan used carefully parsed language to hint that Karl Rove and Lewis (Scooter) Libby could have misled him when they said they were not involved in outing CIA spy Valerie Plame."

Ken Herman writes for the Cox News Service: "McClellan did, however, defend Cheney in response to a published report that Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, first learned about the CIA officer from Cheney himself.

"When asked whether Cheney is always truthful with the public, McClellan said yes. But when pressed about Cheney's credibility, McClellan called the questions 'ridiculous,' adding, 'The vice president, like the president, is a straightforward, plain-spoken person.' "

Cheney and Torture

Charlie Savage writes in the Boston Globe: "Senator John McCain yesterday warned that a push by the White House to exempt overseas CIA agents from a proposed ban on mistreating prisoners in US custody would exacerbate the problem of detainee abuse by giving interrogators legal authority to torture suspected terrorists. . . . .

"McCain went public with his concerns after published reports yesterday that Vice President Dick Cheney met with him to urge changes to his widely supported proposal to outlaw cruel and degrading treatment of detainees by any US official. Cheney suggested exempting CIA counter-terrorism agents working overseas, but McCain balked."

The Washington Post editorial boardtoday minces no words: "Vice President Cheney is aggressively pursuing an initiative that may be unprecedented for an elected official of the executive branch: He is proposing that Congress legally authorize human rights abuses by Americans . . . .

"The Senate's earlier vote suggests that it will not allow such a betrayal of American values. As for Mr. Cheney: He will be remembered as the vice president who campaigned for torture."

2,000

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush tried Tuesday to begin reviving U.S. support for the war in Iraq and reinvigorating his troubled presidency as the U.S. military death toll topped 2,000."

Here is the text of his speech at Bolling Air Force Base.

Michael A. Fletcher writes for The Washington Post about "a solemn vow from President Bush not to 'rest or tire until the war on terror is won.'

"Bush's voice cracked as he acknowledged those who have died in the war.

" 'Each loss of life is heartbreaking' he said. 'And the best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission and lay the foundation of peace by spreading freedom.' "

Bush's speech started off very lightheartedly. "Speaking about decisions, I've got another decision to make, and maybe after the lunch you can help me, and that is what do I get her on the 28th anniversary? (Laughter.)"

At this point, someone in the audience shouts out, "Diamonds!"

The transcript picks up: "Never mind. (Laughter.) "Never mind.

"(Laughter.) Sorry I asked. (Laughter.)"

In fact, the transcript records 14 bouts of laughter during the speech.

And then, as Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post, Bush ended the day with a party.

"It was, perhaps, not the best possible time for the Republican Party to hold a soiree. . . . .

"And yet, there they were at the gilded Mellon Auditorium last night: the Republican Party's biggest donors, men in tuxedos and women in cocktail dresses, dining on Asian spoon canapes, orange carpaccio and seared mignon of beef, and listening to the soothing tones of a jazz band and a keynote address by President Bush."

Here is the text of Bush's speech.

"The donors greeted Bush warmly, but they struggled to rouse themselves to honor the applause lines. Bush earned only a smattering of applause for his usually reliable call to end 'frivolous lawsuits.' His boast that his economic plan 'is working' garnered no applause. And his mention that 'I've been talking about Social Security' was greeted with dead silence."

Meanwhile, Agence France Presse reports: "Cindy Sheehan, mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq, said she planned to be arrested outside the White House Wednesday to protest US troops presence in Iraq as US military deaths hit 2,000.

"'We've identified the problem and it's not going away. What I think it's going to take now is non-violent, peaceful civil disobedience all over the country,' Sheehan told reporters across the street from the White House."

Economic Talk

Bush speaks to the Economic Club of Washington this afternoon, just two days after nominating Ben S. Bernanke to take over the Federal Reserve Board.

Edmund L. Andrews, David Leonhardt, Eduardo Porter and Louis Uchitelle write in the New York Times: "In settling on Mr. Bernanke, President Bush avoided embroiling himself in another confirmation fight at a time when Republicans and Democrats alike are questioning his nomination of Harriet E. Miers to the Supreme Court. But in doing so, he essentially chose a candidate who would satisfy others - investors on Wall Street, lawmakers in Congress - more than himself or his Republican base."

Caroline Daniel and Christopher Swann write in the Financial Times, citing a former administration economist, that Bernanke's departure for the Federal Reserve also raises questions about a lack of strong and influential economists across the administration.

"Of the new people who have now been finally confirmed at the Treasury, none are trained as economists. There is no one in the White House now, with the exception of the two young CEA nominees who are not yet confirmed, who has a good understanding of economics," their source said.

Avoiding the President?

Michael D. Shear and Robert Barnes write in The Washington Post: "Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore has decided not to attend President Bush's appearance in Norfolk on Friday, saying it is not a campaign-related event and that he has other plans 11 days before the election . . . .

"The decision highlights some concerns among Virginia Republicans, who have watched nervously in recent weeks as Bush's popularity has waned and as scandals involving presidential aides and congressional leaders have dominated news coverage. Although it is unclear how the national political environment affects voters choosing who should lead their state, even small shifts are important in races that are as close as the Virginia contest."

About Those Foiled Plots

John Diamond and Toni Locy write in USA Today: "President Bush's claim on Oct. 6 that U.S. and allied intelligence operatives had foiled 10 al-Qaeda terrorist plots included plans on the group's wish list rather than fully formed attack plots, according to U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials."

Here's the fact sheet the White House was pressured to put out after Bush's speech .

Diamond and Locy write: "In at least six of the cases, U.S. or allied forces arrested alleged conspirators who divulged details of operations they had been planning. Those plots involved preliminary ideas about potential attacks, not terrorist operations that were about to be carried out, said a U.S. counterterrorism official and an official familiar with the counterterrorism efforts. They spoke on condition of anonymity because information about the list issued by the White House is classified."

Latest from the Stakeouts

This AP photo from this morning gives Rove a "Prince of Darkness" look. This AP photo of Libby makes him look more like a prime minister.

Here's an AP photo showing Rove, ever the jokester, saluting outside the White House this morning. Here's an AP photo of Libby hobbling to a meeting.

Here's an AFP photo of Fitzgerald arriving at court this morning.

Fashion Statement

Bush appeared briefly yesterday in the Oval Office with Massoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

Barzani (see this AP photo ) was wearing a traditional Kurdish outfit, including a khaki jacket, a knotted sash at his waist and a red-and-white headdress.

Here's the transcript of the photo op.

"He wore this outfit because it wasn't all that long ago if he had worn this outfit and was captured by Saddam Hussein's thugs, he would have been killed for wearing it," Bush said. "He feels comfortable wearing it here because we're a free land, and he feels comfortable wearing it in his home country because Iraq is free."

Reporters were not allowed to ask questions. CBS News's Bill Plante shouted one out anyway: "What did the vice president know, and when did he know it?" He got no reply.


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