We seem to be heading toward another round of that favorite parlor game, Bush versus Clinton.
The subtext to the coming debate will boil down to this: Which is worse, lying about sex in the Oval Office or lying about weapons of mass destruction?
Will those who thought Clinton's dissembling was just awful now become apologists for the Bush White House in the Plame case? Conversely, will those who defended Clinton now be demanding the scalps of Libby and Rove?
Perhaps a handy-dandy scorecard is needed:
1) Personal involvement. Clinton was the man who assured the country he did not have sexual relations with that woman. Bush, as far as we know, had no direct involvement in Plamegate.
2) The stakes. Clinton's slippery testimony was to cover up an extramarital affair with an intern, a huge personal embarrassment. The Bush administration's outing of Valerie Plame was to get back at her husband over the WMD issue, a huge national embarrassment when the original rationale for war crumbled.
3) Top aides on the spot. Other than Sid Blumenthal testifying before a grand jury, Clinton's dalliance largely did not involve other senior administration officials, although some were drawn into the cover-up investigation. Karl and Scooter, by contrast, are the most important advisers to the president and vice president.
4) Special prosecutor. Ken Starr was a moralist who was denounced by critics for hopping from Whitewater to Monica and publishing an X-rated report. Pat Fitzgerald is a well-regarded U.S. attorney who has been criticized for using strong-arm tactics against reporters.
5) Catch phrases. Clinton: The Big Creep. Distinguishing characteristics. It depends on what the definition of is is. Bush: not so much, except for Joe Wilson saying Rove should be "frog-marched out of the White House."
6) White House defender. Clinton: Mike McCurry. Bush: Scott McClellan.
7) Outside defender. Clinton: James Carville. Bush: Ken Mehlman.
8) Defense lawyer. Clinton: Bob Bennett. Bush: Don Luskin (Rove), Joe Tate (Libby).
9) Most controversial character. Clinton: Linda Tripp. Bush: Judy Miller.
10) Vanity Fair spread. Monica posed while a prosecution witness. Valerie posed while a covert CIA operative.
Meanwhile, the investigative spotlight -- or at least the day's leaks -- has swung back toward Rove:
"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," says the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-102505leak_lat,0,7947383.story?coll=la-home-headlines .
"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."
The New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/10/26/national/26leak.html?hp&ex=1130299200&en=1342bca302a876a3&ei=5094&partner=homepage has a similar piece: "With the clock running out on his investigation, the special counsel in the leak case continued to seek information on Tuesday about Karl Rove's discussions with reporters in the days before a C.I.A. officer's identity was made public, lawyers and others involved in the investigation said.
"Three days before the grand jury in the case expires and with the White House in a state of high anxiety, the special counsel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, appeared still to be trying to determine whether Mr. Rove had been fully forthcoming about his contacts with Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist, in July 2003, they said."
Steve Clemons at the Washington Note | http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/ quotes an "uber-insider source" as saying: One to five sealed indictments today, targets already notified, press conference tomorrow.
Nick Kristof, the NYT columnist who first reported Joe Wilson's allegations without naming him, now joins Jake Weisberg in warning liberals not to root for Bush aides going to jail:
"Mr. Fitzgerald is rumored to be considering mushier kinds of indictments, for perjury, obstruction of justice or revealing classified information. Sure, flat-out perjury must be punished. But if the evidence is more equivocal, then indictments would mark just the kind of overzealous breach of prosecutorial discretion that was a disgrace when Democrats were targeted.
"And it would be just as disgraceful if Republicans are the targets.
"There is, of course, plenty of evidence that White House officials behaved abominably in this affair. I'm offended by the idea of a government official secretly using the news media -- under the guise of a 'former Hill staffer' -- to attack former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. That's sleazy and outrageous. But a crime?"
Footnote: That's the stealth Judy Miller reference.
"To me, the whisper campaign against Mr. Wilson amounts to back-stabbing politics, but not to obvious criminality . . . So I find myself repulsed by the glee that some Democrats show at the possibility of Karl Rove and Mr. Libby being dragged off in handcuffs. It was wrong for prosecutors to cook up borderline and technical indictments during the Clinton administration, and it would be just as wrong today."
Matthew Yglesias | http://yglesias.tpmcafe.com/ objects to the Kristof argument:
"I find this set of talking points baffling. Yes, say the Fitzgerald-bashers, if the perjury is 'clear-cut' or 'flat-out' it must be prosecuted. But if it isn't, then Fitzgerald should let the thing drop. Back in the real world, of course Fitzgerald shouldn't offer up a charge of 'ambiguous perjury' or whatever it is these two are worried about. We use a 'reasonable doubt' standard of proof in the American criminal justice system, so people charged in cases where the evidence is equivocal will be acquitted.
"Maybe Fitzgerald's an idiot who for some reason doesn't realize this and plans on bringing all sorts of weak charges to the table so he can suffer an embarrassing court defeat. But by all accounts he isn't an idiot and nobody likes an embarrassing court defeat. He won't bring charges unless he thinks he'll win -- that seems simple enough."
Of course, someone can lose his job, reputation and a small fortune in legal fees simply by being indicted, regardless of whether he ultimately beats the rap.
Daily Kos | http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/10/24/21367/291: "I'm finding it increasingly hilarious how Rove and Libby kept falsely claiming it was reporters who gave them the Plame info. I mean, the news media carries the administration's water for four years, and this is how they get repaid -- getting blamed for the outing."
This just in from the polling world: The voters hate everyone.
"Americans are increasingly critical of President Bush and broadly dissatisfied with the Republicans who have controlled Congress for a decade, according to a USA TODAY | http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-10-25-poll_x.htm/CNN/Gallup Poll.
But congressional Democrats -- while preferred when it comes to the economy, the war in Iraq and even taxes -- have problems, too. They get an overall rating only somewhat less negative than the GOP . . .
"By 54%-39%, those polled say they are more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who opposes the president than one who supports him.
"The opposition to Bush is more intense than voters' opposition to a beleaguered President Clinton in 1994. . . . By 50%-49%, those surveyed say Bush doesn't have the personality and leadership qualities that a president should have -- the first time in his tenure that a majority hasn't rated him in a positive way.
"His job-approval rating is 42%, up a bit from a historic low of 39% one week earlier."
Harriet Miers: "By 43%-42%, those surveyed say the Senate shouldn't confirm her. That's the first time a plurality has opposed the confirmation of a nominee over the past two decades -- including Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed, and Robert Bork, who wasn't."
Plamegate: "Nearly four in 10 say they believe Bush aides broke the law in the leak of a CIA agent's name to reporters; another four in 10 say they were unethical."
No silver lining there for the White House.
The psychoanalysis of the president begins with this Tom DeFrank | http://www.nydailynews.com/front/story/358714p-305660c.html piece in the Daily News:
"Facing the darkest days of his presidency, President Bush is frustrated, sometimes angry and even bitter, his associates say . . .
" 'He's like the lion in winter,' observed a political friend of Bush. 'He's frustrated. He remains quite confident in the decisions he has made. But this is a guy who wanted to do big things in a second term. Given his nature, there's no way he'd be happy about the way things have gone.'
"Bush usually reserves his celebrated temper for senior aides because he knows they can take it. Lately, however, some junior staffers have also faced the boss's wrath."
Which causes Kevin Drum | http://www.washingtonmonthly.com to wonder: "Who the hell are DeFrank's sources for this stuff? And why are they leaking it?"
No one looks terribly good in this mess -- and, says Rich Lowry | http://nationalreview.com/lowry/lowry200510250825.asp, that includes the media:
"The special-prosecutor investigation into the leak of the identity of CIA employee Valerie Plame -- wife of President Bush critic Joe Wilson -- might yet be the undoing of high Bush officials. But it should already have been the undoing of the media's high self-regard. A cause that had been hyped relentlessly as synonymous with freedom and good journalism -- Miller and Time reporter Matt Cooper protecting their sources -- has collapsed into farce . . .
"In jail, Miller had a conversion. The First Amendment, or at least her courageous role in preserving it, wasn't so important after all. With the possibility of spending real time in jail looming if she continued to refuse to testify, Miller decided to contact Libby. Ten weeks in jail to protect all that we hold dear as a country was one thing, but 10 months or more was something else . . .
"It is understandable that reporters don't want to be behind bars. But please spare us all the sanctimony about the hallowedness of confidential sources. After their grand-jury testimony, Miller and Cooper went on to write 3,000- and 2,000-word articles, respectively, detailing their confidential conversations that they supposedly testified about only under duress. Did Patrick Fitzgerald make them write these pieces as well?
"Now Miller is being savaged by Times editors and writers not only for her shoddy past work, but for the fact that the source she was protecting was an aide to that icky Vice President Cheney. Times editor Bill Keller said, 'I wish it had been a clear-cut whistle-blower case.' Translation: If only our reporter's source had been somebody attacking the Bush administration, instead of somebody defending it. Those dozen or more editorials defending her as a heroine? Never mind."
Judy Miller has a new fan club -- at the New York Post. Columnist John Podhoretz | http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/30026.htm complains that Bill Keller "has even intimated that she and Libby had an inappropriate personal relationship. In a memo he sent out last week -- a memo that he surely knew would be leaked -- Keller twice pointedly used the word 'entanglement' to describe Miller's relationship with Libby.
"That's an extraordinarily charged word to use about a female reporter and a male government official, as Keller -- a fine and careful writer -- surely knew. It was even more charged because both Miller and Libby are married. And it was especially sleazy because Miller has been the subject of gossipy articles over the years about her love life. (Pre-Keller, the gossip at least all dealt with Miller's life before her marriage, 12 years ago.) Libby, meanwhile, has young children with his wife.
"If Keller knows that there was something illicit about the contact between Miller and Libby, then he should fire Miller immediately and make the matter public, since that might help explain some of the baffling inconsistencies in Miller's own explanation of what happened here.
"If Keller doesn't know that the relationship between Miller and Libby was an 'entanglement,' then what he did in that memo to two separate families is inexcusable -- professionally, collegially and morally."
I don't agree with this at all. Aren't there ideological entanglements? Don't some reporters get in bed with sources in ways that have nothing to do with sex?
"Of course," Podhoretz says, "none of this Miller character assassination has anything to do with the Valerie Plame story. Rather, it has to do with the war in Iraq, weapons of mass destruction -- and the peculiar solipsism of both the staff of The New York Times and the paper's liberal readership . . . She has become part of the lunatic case against the war -- dragged into the never-ending BUSH LIED meme."
American Prospect's Michael Tomasky | http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=10493 notes that former State Department official Lawrence Wilkerson has blasted the Cheney-Rummy "cabal" and Brent Scowcroft (in this New Yorker | http://www.newyorker.com/online/content/articles/051031on_onlineonly01 piece) has ripped the Iraq war. Now, he says, "it occurs to me that there are still others who need to speak out -- which takes us back to October 19. The same day that Wilkerson was blasting away at the administration in Washington, far away in upstate New York, the man whose staff Wilkerson chiefed, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, was delivering a speech on the current world situation to a gathering at the University of Buffalo. Surveying the landscape from Europe to China to the rest of Asia, Powell concluded: 'We're not doing bad at all.'
"Has anyone in this town embarrassed himself in the last five years more than Powell? At least George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld believe this toxic gimcrackery they've been peddling to us. Powell never believed it, and he still peddled it. There's a word for that, and it isn't 'honor.' Powell needs to follow Wilkerson and Brent Scowcroft and come clean."
Time now for another edition of Who Do You Believe?
"The drumbeat of doubt from Republican senators over the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers grew louder Tuesday as several lawmakers, including a pivotal conservative on the Judiciary Committee, joined those expressing concerns about her selection."--New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/10/26/politics/26confirm.html?hp&ex=1130385600&en=e8f58c59edff4c48&ei=5094&partner=homepage.
"Senate Republicans yesterday dismissed conservative leaders' adamant opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers."--Washington Times | http://washingtontimes.com/national/20051026-125749-1565r.htm.
Bush Blasts the Media: Only it's Jeb in hurricane land, from the Palm Beach Post | http://www.palmbeachpost.com/storm/content/news/feeds/1024bush.html (via Public Eye):
"Bush said he was 'annoyed' by television reporters broadcasting during the storm, accusing them of setting a 'bad example' for others. A Coral Springs man was purportedly killed by a falling tree, but that death has not been confirmed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. 'My wife and I woke up at five this morning just like everybody else does to watch the storm. And we see these characters on television reporting the news and putting themselves in harm's way. That doesn't do much good either, creates a bad example for others. It isn't fun. It's very dangerous,' he said."
CC: Al Roker.
Finally, for Jeff Jarvis | http://www.buzzmachine.com, it's come to this:
"The other day, I was talking with my son about some things some companies are working on online -- because I wanted his perspective -- and I suddenly realized that I had to give him the blogger's caveat: 'You can't blog this.' How many fathers and sons share that warning?"