Post Politics Hour

John F. Harris
Washington Post National Political Editor
Thursday, November 3, 2005; 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest buzz in politics? Start each day at wonk central: The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post national political editor John F. Harris was online Thursday, Nov. 3, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows.


Galveston, Tex.: Good morning.

I have three questions. Feel free to comment on any or all.

(1) What is the likelihood that President Bush will pardon any administration officials indicted in "Plame-gate"?

(2) What is the likelihood that Rove will be indicted?

(3) It appears Rove indictment last week due to information suggesting he is too busy to keep track of all that is on his plate. If he is in fact too busy to remember conversations involving classified information, should he have such security clearance? I don't think a defense predicated on being too busy is legitimate.

John F. Harris: Good morning to you, and to all. Just a quick note on these chats. It's been several weeks since we on the politics staff started doing them daily as an experiment, and we are delighted that we seem to building up an audience. Each day there are more questions.

Question 2) below is the question du jour, and possibly du month, for all of Washington.

There had been an expectation, promoted by Rove's backers, that when he was not indicted the same day as Libby that he was probably off the hook. That view never comported with our reporting, which suggested that Fitzgerald is still keenly interested in whether Rove told the truth to him.

So, I'm not in the odds business, but if you saw Jim VandeHei's story this morning there are new details about Fitzgerald's interest in Rove, along with reporting about the consternation this case is causing within the White House for the president's most important political adviser.

Maybe the chat host can link to that now.

_______________________ Rove's Future Role Is Debated , ( Washington Post, Nov. 3, 2005 )


Dale, Tex.: What do you think of Cheney's choices to replace Scooter?

John F. Harris: It's clear that Cheney is not in humble pie mode (nor would that have been consistent with his style since coming to the vice presidency.) By naming two aides who were themselves named in the Libby indictment he made clear he doesn't have much regard for this whole controversy and is not going to defer to the criticism of outsiders. I thought it was a notably defiant gesture.


Houston, Tex.: Could the invoking of rule 21, be construed as a signal to the special counsel? It seems as if a lot of people are wondering why, after two years, all we know is that some White House officials lied. I do not recall an investigation being so vague, after this long. I was also intrigued by E.J. Dionnes articles premise, that the length of time was maybe designed to get past the presidential election. By saying the investigation is still open, the White House can still refuse to answer questions, with the mantra,"cannot comment on an ongoing investigation". I sure hope that it can never be shown that the special counsel was in fact partisan.

John F. Harris: I believe Fitzgerald was quite methodically trying to finish his investigation in a very thorough fashion, not that he was keeping an eye on the election timing.

But you raise an important point. As Fitzgerald has emphasized, he is not an independent counsel of the type that existed under the law (since elapsed) during the Clinton era. Those prosecutors, most famously Ken Starr, published public reports on their findings. The advantage of this was that it allowed for some public accounting of controversies. The disadvantage is that it allowed prosecutors to level criticism and make allegations without formally charging people and letting them dispute this in court. Fitzgerald has made plain that he will either seek to indict and try people, or keep quiet.

So it falls to Congress, if they choose, to enforce public accountability in the leaks case and other controversies. Democrats invoked Rule 21--shutting down the Senate--because they believed that Republicans were slow-walking the process in order to avoid investigation and public accountability of the White House's handling of intelligence in the Plame matter and more broadly in its building of the case for the Iraq war.


Santa Barbara, Calif.: Sorry this isn't a question about politics, but I was hoping you can shed some light on this. What's the job difference between Dan Balz, Chief Political Reporter, and Terry Neal, Chief Political Correspondent?

John F. Harris: Dan Balz is the chief political correspondent for the Washington Post. Terry Neal is a political writer for, which is a separate enterprise from our newsroom (even though we obviously work closely together, as in these chats.) Chris Cillizza is another political writer who works for, with his daily column "The Fix," even though his work sometimes also appears in the daily newspaper.

I welcome the question, because this comes up occasionally and is kind of confusing. It relates to the fact that for business reasons, the Washington Post Co. established the Web site as its own stand-alone entity.


Charleston, S.C.: Assuming that The Post got the CIA secret prisons information from confidential sources, do you think it is appropriate to appoint a special counsel to investigate this leak? Surley, this is much more damaging to national security than leaking the name of Valerie Plame.

John F. Harris: Is this an argumentative question?

Even if so, it's a fair one, I suppose.

The fact is that classified information often does get in into circulation through reporting, for all manner of reasons. An investigation of the sort that the Plame disclosure generated is thankfully quite rare, and happened in this case in part because Democrats made a public case of the matter and in part because some part of the CIA establishment also demanded it.

Referring to Dana Priest's very interesting story the other day--and let's get a link up here--I do not believe national security was compromised. There were some discussions between the administration and the newspaper before it was published, and the paper's editors published reporting that helped illuminate an important issue for readers without compromising national security, in my view.

_______________________ CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons , ( Washington Post, Nov. 2, 2005 )


Boston, Mass.: Hi, the "Survivor" was a great book... Is there any idea right now exactly how Scooter Libby will mount his legal defense? Do his lawyers really plan to rely on the "bad memory" defense, or will they instead aggressively attack the testimony of the witnesses Fitzgerald calls? Also, do you have any knowledge of Fitzgerald's record in these types of cases?

John F. Harris: I can't help but take a question that makes favorable reference to "The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House," which is a history of the Clinton administration. Thanks for reading (and I'll refrain from posting an Amazon link.)

It does appear that Libby will rely partly on a bad memory defense. If they go after witnesses, they'd have to go after several, including journalists Tim Russert and Judith Miller.

To be honest, I'd be pretty surprised if this case goes to trial. My colleagues covering the case expect a plea deal.


McLean, Va.: A correction to the statement you made in response to an earlier question (and it is one that appears elsewhere in The Post also, such as in Howard Kurtz's writings): Judge Starr did not publish a public report about his investigation of President Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky. He wrote a report, as the law required of him, and submitted it under seal to Congress. Congress chose to unseal it, and put it on the Internet. By claiming he published a public report, you contribute to the sense Judge Starr was out to "get" President Clinton, which I think is unfair (given that he exonerated him of many accusations).

John F. Harris: You are right about the sequence of him sending a report to Congress, which was later unsealed (as he and his lawyers fully expected it would be.)

But to correct your correction, in part. There were public reports issued at the close of the Whitewater matter (though by this time Starr was no longer prosecutor) as well as several of the other Clinton-era controversies.


Washington, D.C.: Regarding the poster's question about Dana Priest's story. No classified material was published into the media. There were no names and no methods or sources involved, and the very existence of such prisons makes it a valid discussion topic.

John F. Harris: Yes, I agree with you.


Arlington, Va.: Your explanation leads to more questions. What is the difference between "writer" and "correspondent"? Does one do reporting and the other analysis/opinion?

John F. Harris: No difference. I use the terms interchangeably.


Washington, D.C.: John,

First off, loved your book on Clinton! Secondly, with regard to today's article in The Post about the possibility of a Rove resignation, even if Rove resigned, isn't there still a good chance that he would continue to play a large role behind the scenes? I just can't imagine the White House completely cutting him off.

John F. Harris: Another person who knows the key to getting me to take the questions. I may add the Amazon link after all!

It is hard to envision a White House without Rove. The idea that he is the "brains behind Bush" is a stereotype that I believe is without merit and is unfair to a president who has proven himself a very shrewd politician. That said, Rove is a critical figure in helping this president melds his political and policy goals into a governing strategy. He is one of the most consequential White House aides ever.

If he goes, however, I think his influence does inevitably diminish, even if he remains closely connected. There is simply too much going on in a White House, too many decisions being made on a daily and hourly White House, for someone to stay in the mix from afar.


Pardon City: Why is it that the press has not even asked Bush that he pledge not to pardon anyone involved in the matter? They should be keeping his feet to the fire about it every day.

Scooter and the White House may already have an agreement that Scooter not rat in exchange for a full presidential pardon at the end of Bush's lame duck presidency.

This is especially important given Bush Sr.'s disgraceful pardons that ended any attempt at justice for the Reagan-Bush administrations' shameful episode of arming the terrorist, enemy nation of Iran in violation of law and the Constitution.

John F. Harris: You are White House reporter manque.

I bet someone does ask him such a question...though at the moment, it's worth pointing out, no one has been convicted of anything.


Ithaca, N.Y.: With regard to Charleston's question, I have a right to know if my government is keeping secret torture chambers across the world. I don't have the right to know the classified position of an administration critic. Doesn't that make sense?

John F. Harris: I'm going to post this one in the interests of keeping the conversation going.

Thanks for your writing.


Oxford, Miss.: The Post reports this morning that administration folks are weighing whether or not Rove should resign while under investigation (i.e., even without an indictment). This seems to fly in the face of this White House's M.O. Do you really think there is any chance of Rove preemptively stepping down?

John F. Harris: I guess I'm with you on this. I have a hard time seeing him step down under circumstances other than an indictment. I do think he might well give a public explanation of his previous denials that he was involved in the Plame matter.


Frederick, Md.: What's it like being a reporter right now? Do you ever get nasty calls or e-mails about stories you write?

John F. Harris: I'm now an editor--I help run the Post's politics staff--but I was a reporter until quite recently. Nasty grams are part of the business, and sometimes they raise good points.

A couple of observations on this score. One is that when I first got into this business twenty years ago, the most vitriolic calls and letters almost always came from the right. In recent years--I'd say beginning with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and dramatically escalating ever since--they are just as likely to come from the left. Both ends of the ideological spectrum have deep grievances against the so-called Mainstream Media.

The other point is that people sometimes are surprised to learn that you don't have to raise your voice or spew profanity to get my attention, or that of most of my colleagues. I read all my e-mail--on some busy days I sometimes neglect to answer it all but I always try.

Quite often, when I respond, someone who had been spouting insults backs off and is even apologetic. I think there is a natural tendency to shout and shake your fist if you think someone is indifferent or not even listening to what you say, and to be more polite once an authentic connection is established.

In any event, I like getting e-mails...less so calls just because of the difficulty in managing my schedule.


Chicago, Ill.: Mr. Harris:

Thank you for your time, and if you post the link, I will click it.

My question: What is your projection of how the Alito nomination plays out?

Thanks again.

John F. Harris: Okay, so I'm shameless. Here it is.

The Survivor, By John F. Harris

On Alito, I think we are going to have the full-fledged ideological battle over abortion and other issues that many have been expecting for a decade or more.

I'd say he starts with a natural advantage. Most nominations do get through, after all, and Alito has formidable credentials.

But these battles are always full of surprises. Lots of my colleagues believed that Miers would of course get through in the end (I have to say I was early in being skeptical about this.)

But we just don't know. It seems a given that he has 22 votes against him, since that many Democrats voted no on John Roberts. My questions are not original: What do abortion-rights supporting Republican senators like Snowe and Collins of Maine do, and what do red-state Democrats like Ben Nelson do?

It's going to be an interesting several weeks.


Washington, D.C.: I asked about the 2000 Project for the New American Century report, and found a reference to the earlier report drafted in 1992 by the Defense Department. Cheney was defense secretary, document was drafted by Wolfowitz. The earlier report, when leaked in draft final form, drew so much criticism that it was hastily withdrawn and repudiated by the first President Bush.

These reports sound like a blueprint for the current Bush defense and foreign policy, and are authored by many top current administration officials.

If you can't comment here, please consider another in depth article, reminding your readers of these important links and why Libby and others might take such risks in their recent activities.

John F. Harris: This has been written about several places. For once I won't tout my own book. You ought to look at a book called "Rise of the Vulcans" by former Los Angeles Times reporter James Mann for an explanation of this history. It is true that many of the neoconservative principles that animate this president's foreign policy have been percolating among policy intellectuals for many long years.


Washington, D.C. : So do you edit Dana Milbank's work?

If so, why do you let him persist in his smart-alecky pieces that make light of conservatives like today's snarky story on Judge Alito being "a nerd"?

How can this story do any good for the public discourse?

John F. Harris: I do not edit Dana's copy. That job belongs to my hard-working colleague Maralee Schwartz. Remember that Dana is a news columnist when he writes his "Washington Sketches." He is given license to use colorful language or descriptions...though he and Maralee do sometimes, um, debate just how much license he should have.

He does write with attitude, but not from an ideological point of view.


John F. Harris: Okay, it's noon, and I better get on with the day. Due to my slow typing and the volume of questions, I got to only a fraction of them. There were many, many smart comments and some questions that were good enough that I intentionally ducked them.

Check in again tomorrow, thanks.


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