White House Talk

Dan Froomkin
White House Briefing Columnist
Wednesday, October 26, 2005; 1:00 PM

What's going on inside the White House? Ask Dan Froomkin , who writes the White House Briefing column for washingtonpost.com. He answered your questions, take your comments and links, and point you to coverage around the Web on Wednesday, Oct. 26, at 1 p.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

Dan is also deputy editor of Niemanwatchdog.org . You can e-mail him at froomkin@washingtonpost.com .

____________________

Dan Froomkin: Hi everyone and welcome.

My column is unfortunately delayed today, due to a (new! never before seen!) technical problem. Which is too bad, because it would have been good grist for this conversation.

I speculate today that it's still conceivable that Karl Rove -- architect of President Bush's improbable political career -- may snatch one last victory from the jaws of defeat. (Or at least avoid getting indicted.)

My nut graf: "There is every reason to think that Rove is throwing every move he's got at Fitzgerald in a desperate 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."

But it's not like we won't have enough to talk about without it. In the two years I've been writing this column, I've never seen anything remotely like the fix this White House is in right now.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: Thanks for the chats, articles, and answering my question, Dan.

Is Scott McClellan performing his job any better or worse than his predecessors? It seems that since the Bush administration has come under fire for the Hurricane fiasco, the Iraq war, and the indictments, he's become unusually testy with the press. I imagine his job isn't much fun these days, but I remember other press secretaries that seemed to handle the pressure better.

Dan Froomkin: My beef with McClellan is not so much that he's getting testy. Which he is. It's that I don't think he even makes an attempt anymore to actually *answer* the questions he is asked. He just accesses the vaguely relevant sound byte and repeats, repeats, repeats.

That's understandable as a last resort, I guess, and it's certainly been known to happen in the past. But for McClellan, it's looking more and more like a first resort.

Regarding the Plame case in particular, I think it's safe to say that this White House has used the "we can't comment on account of the investigation excuse" more broadly than any in history. But I doubt that's McClellan's call, if you know what I mean.

_______________________

Fairfax, Va.: In yesterday's column you noted that Shailagh Murray attributed the media's "overshadowing" of Wilkerson's explosive foreign policy "cabal" allegations to The Post's taking its lead from TV news which favored reporting on hurricanes. But isn't a more likely explanation of The Post's failure to put Wilkerson on page one that accusations with words like "cabals", "fixing the facts", "stealing elections" or "failing to prevent 9-11" are just too distasteful for a pro-administration newspaper like The Post with a solid track record of keeping even conjecture to that effect off of page one?

Dan Froomkin: Distasteful? No. "Pro-administration newspaper"? I don't think that's fair.

But I do think words like "cabal" and the others you mention do tend to raise red flags among editors wary of giving too much credence to what they consider views from the fringe.

What happens if and when it becomes mainstream to use these terms, I just don't know.

_______________________

Alexandria, Va.: Dan:

I'm not sure I understand why the Republicans are in distress over the Harriet Miers nomination as it relates to whether she is an intellectual heavyweight. It seems they had no issues supporting Bush who was generally regarded as not being the sharpest knife in the drawer. What's really going on here?

Dan Froomkin: What an interesting way to look at it.

Granting you your outrageous premise just for argument's sake, I would say that they were confident that Bush would behave.

_______________________

New York, N.Y.: Dan,

I saw the item in one of your recent columns making mention of the law professor who said that one way out for the administration, in the case of indictments in the Plame Matter being handed down against Rove, Libby or others, would be for Bush to use his pardon power to shut down any further legal proceedings that might create a venue for examining the circumstances leading up to the Iraq War.

How likely do you think this scenario is, particularly in light of recent Republican efforts to characterize a perjury or obstruction of justice indictment as a technical or a "minor" offense?

What kind of fall-out do you think would result if Bush pardoned an indicted member (or members) of his administration?

Keep up the great work!

Dan Froomkin: I'm not sure how a pardon would play with the public, at least in the short term. That might depend on whether the indictments are small bore or wide bore.

But I think it's safe to say that any pardon would go over very badly with the press, and would likely inspire much more aggressive and skeptical coverage than we've seen thus far. There's something about the concept of pardons that bring out the "accountabilitist" in the meekest among us.

_______________________

Austin, Tex.: Hypothetically, what would Rove have to give up in order to get off the hook?

Dan Froomkin: That's an interesting question. In my column today, I quote TalkLeft blogger Jeralyn Merritt , who writes: "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."

_______________________

Astoria, N.Y.: Even if there are no indictments, do you think the White House owes the American public a lot of explanations? For example, Scott McClellan's assertions that Rove/Libby had nothing to do with the leak; Vice President Cheney's assertions on Meet the Press that he didn't know Wilson, despite getting info about him from the CIA; President Bush's apparent ignorance of what was going on despite reports he knew that Rove leaked early on? Also, was their a concerted effort to dismiss critics prior to the war? I hope the press aggressively follows up on these questions whatever the outcome of the investigation.

Dan Froomkin: Yes, undoubtedly the White House owes the public a lot of explanations, even if there aren't indictments.

It can imagine a scenario, however, in which there are no indictments, and the White House will feel so invulnerable -- and the press will feel so deflated -- that the explanations will not be forthcoming.

_______________________

Boise, Idaho: Hi Dan!

I, like many, am addicted to your column. If it weren't for my daily Froomkin Fix, I'd lose my sanity.

I've got a basic question. From today's article...

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.

Who are these people "familiar with the case" that we hear so much about? Are they lawyers, reporters, witnesses...could you give a few educated guesses for us uneducated folk? Thanks!

Dan Froomkin: Thank you for the kind words. Sorry about your problem. ;-)

I don't have any inside information, but my reading suggests that the vast majority of these people are lawyers for people who have been hauled in front of the grand jury. They are now leaking like crazy to position their clients in the best possible light.

_______________________

Richmond, Va.: Would you please post the transcript of the earnest, lengthy, detailed and impassioned presentation of the ten House impeachment managers on the perjury claim prior to the House vote on the articles of impeachment, and change "Clinton" to "Bush"?

Dan Froomkin: No. But I would encourage you to revisit washingtonpost.com's Clinton Accused special report, just for old time's sake.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: If indictments come down, do you see the White House embracing either of the two main GOP talking points that have popped up, that the leak was just business as usual, and this is the criminalization of politics and/or that if someone isn't charged with the actual leak itself, it would be wrong to charge them with perjury or obstruction?

Dan Froomkin: Some of Bush's White House foot soldiers may well do that, but I can't imagine Bush himself saying such a thing. Apparently, he has a statement ready to go. I would imagine he will not say what he thinks, just that he's going to keep working.

In my column today, I quote Suzanne Malveaux, telling

Lou Dobbs

on CNN last night: "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."

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.'"

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: Love your column and read it every day. Love the chats too. There enough of that.

It never ceases to amaze me when I see, in this chat and others, people complaining of bias (like Fairfax's question, or at least how I interpreted it). Liberals claim there's a conservative bias, conservatives claim a liberal one, and they're both looking at the exact same thing. How is this possible?

Dan Froomkin: It's not only possible, it's inevitable. Bush is an incredibly polarizing president, and the mainstream media tries to play it down the middle. But as far as Bush is concerned, there is no middle anymore. So everybody's unhappy.

_______________________

Dale City, Va.: Dan,

You do great work.

Why would any possible indictments be sealed? How long would they stay sealed?

Thanks.

Dan Froomkin: Thank you.

There is a rumor that he will get his indictments today but seal them until tomorrow. As I write in my column today (still stuck in technology hell, I'm afraid) :

"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."

_______________________

What a downer: Dan,

Your intro was a real downer on this, "Indictment Eve." Why can't you let me sit back and believe that Rove's karma is catching up to him? Why can't I tell myself he is good at getting out of things, but he is used to wimpy democrats, not the likes of Fitz?

Dan Froomkin: Sorry if I sounded like a Grinch.

It is indeed possible that Rove may finally have met his match.

_______________________

Dan Froomkin: I have just received a long and rambling question/comment from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which modesty prevents me posting in full. But I do want to share with you the readers's highly amusing description of what I do:

"In White House Briefing you are a Franken-Froomkin - a scavenging aggregator - who goes about in broad daylight picking up bits and pieces from the web and putting them together into something that is much more than the sum of its parts."

_______________________

Baltimore, Md.: Re "cabals" and the "fringe." Cabal was Mr. Wilkersen exact word. And given that he, among other things, used to run the Marine War College, he seems pretty much in the center of things, not shouting from the fringe.

Dan Froomkin: Well, that's a very good point.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Dan, Kay Bailey Hutchinson is obviously hypocritical to argue that perjury/obstruction are mere "technicalities," given her comments during Whitewater and the impeachment. But isn't the important distinction, leaving hypocrisy aside, that Fitzgerald has kept the investigation tightly focused on the leak, whereas Starr was all over the map, looking to nail Clinton for something? Lying about how you learned Plame's identity is more germane to, and therefore likely to obstruct, the investigation into the leak than lying about having sex with an intern is germane to, or likely to obstruct, an investigation into a real estate deal.

Dan Froomkin: That's certainly one way of looking at it. You might enjoy reading Howard Kurtz 's blog this morning, headlined "Scandal Scorecard" in which he tallies Bush vs. Clinton.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: Do you think this nation and the world can survive what Fitzgerald may be about to unleash?

Don't get me wrong: I'm a Democrat who can't stand the Bush administration. And yes, seeing history's rebuke come early to the likes of Libby, Rove, and (above all) Cheney would be righteous indeed.

But how close would that bring this administration to paralysis, collapse, or worse? Politics aside, are we in danger of a federal crisis with no historical parallel except the weeks preceding Nixon's resignation--when we weren't at war?

Dan Froomkin: That's an interesting question.

My sense is that if paralysis ensued, Bush might first try pardoning people -- but if that didn't work, would be forced to bring in a whole new team to run his White House, and that would sort of jump-start things.

_______________________

Leesburg, Va.: Dan,

Do you believe that the White House's "contingency plans" include a scenario where the Vice President is either indicted or so entangled in the indictments that he resigns?

I know the likelihood of Cheney's resignation is low, but I'm curious whether you believe the White House is war gaming such a scenario or if it is simply off-limits even for discussion in the inner circles.

Dan Froomkin: I think the White House knows a lot more about what contingencies to be prepared for than we do. My understanding is that all the people who may face indictment have now received target letters. I'm sure they are war gaming all those scenarios and, unlike us, not wasting their time speculating wildly.

_______________________

Rockville, Md.: I know I'm not getting anything done as I await with bated breath the outcome of Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation and the issuance of the purported indictments against one or many senior White House advisors.

How is the very present situation also effecting the administration?

Dan Froomkin: I am quite sure that it is very hard for them to concentrate as well.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Hi. Love your columns. Quick question: what is a "frog-march"?

Dan Froomkin: Dictionary.com says: "frogmarch

"v 1: march a person against his will by any method 2: carry someone against his will upside down such that each limb is held by one person"

I don't think Joe Wilson, when he talked about Karl Rove being frogmarched out of the White House, meant no. 2. He meant being taken away in handcuffs.

That said, I am quite sure that anybody indicted by Fitzgerald will be offered the chance to surrender themselves at their convenience.

_______________________

Sunnyvale, Calif.: Do prosecutors in this type of investigation typically send target letters to those who may/will be indicted? I assume that's what a target letter does. What's the benefit to the prosecution of target letters?

Dan Froomkin: Yes, target letters are pro forma in the federal system. They offer the targets a chance to come and explain themselves to the grand jury one last time if they so wish. And they give prosecutors cover from the accusation that they didn't give the defendant a chance to explain.

_______________________

Bethesda, Md.: Dan, These questions about whether the administration can "survive" or comments that these indictments would be some unprecedented, earth shaking bombshells strike me as silly.

In the end, Rove and Scooter are White House staffers, who may or may not be indicted (note, different from convicted) on fairly minor charges.

In the past we've had Spiro Agnew, Iran Contra, Clinton's little problem, just to name a few. This stuff is business as usual.

The folks who really dislike the President seem to be projecting their greatest hopes and dreams, rather than thinking about this rationally.

Dan Froomkin: Your definition of business as usual and my definition of business as usual are very different.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: Like everyone else, love the columns, the chats etc etc

Even if Karl Rove is indicted and resigns from his White House position, how much real difference will it make to the While House policy and strategy? Could he not just set up a discreet office somewhere in D.C. and pull strings from afar?

Dan Froomkin: I don't think that would work the same. Right now, he physically and spiritually permeates the place. You can't do that long-distance. Plus, he'd presumably be working on his defense.

_______________________

Grand Rapids, Mich.: Legally, can you pardon someone before there's a conviction?

Dan Froomkin: Me? No. The president? Yes.

_______________________

Boston, Mass.: Dan:

Love your work! What do you think about the job Fitzgerald has done to date? Some suggests that he has gone after reporters in a "bad" way. I think he has done a fabulous job to date although, admittedly, the jury is still out.

Dan Froomkin: Everything we are thinking today, I suspect, will look very quaint tomorrow -- or whenever.

There is so much we don't know right now, and will presumably find out soon enough.

_______________________

Atlanta, Ga.: Dan,

Regarding your answer to the question of McClellan, do you think there is any chance of him changing his approach? He seems to be quite comfortable not answering question, what would it take, in your opinion, for him to provide in a little insight?

Dan Froomkin: His bosses would have to tell him to.

And that would mean new bosses.

_______________________

Dan Froomkin: OK, I have to stop. Thank you for all your wonderful questions and comments. My apologies that I couldn't get to more of them. I'll see you again here in two weeks, and every afternoon on the home page. (Sometimes earlier, sometimes later.)

_______________________

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company