Former Clinton political adviser Dick Morris has come to the aid of Bush adviser Karl Rove in the Valerie Plame affair, arguing that President Bush "should not fire Rove" because Rove did not violate a law prohibiting disclosure of the names of CIA operatives.

"Washington is a mean town where human sacrifice has been raised to an art form," Morris, whose political genius rivals even Rove's, observed so correctly in an op-ed piece in the Hill newspaper yesterday. "A White House insider is accused of something," and eventually, the "staffer resigns so as not to become a 'distraction' from the president's agenda."

Morris, Loop Fans may recall, was canned by President Bill Clinton without even a hint of any criminal activity. Letting his escort service companion listen in on Clinton's telephone calls was not a crime. And alleged toe-sucking is hardly worthy of a grand jury.

But Morris was judged by a traditional, though now discarded, standard where even simple impropriety or bad judgment could be a firing offense. During Watergate, President Richard M. Nixon fired top aides H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman and John W. Dean III, even though there had not yet been a legal determination that they had done anything wrong. And President Ronald Reagan fired several aides in the Iran-contra affair long before any indictments were issued.

Clinton finally raised the bar later in his term. Shameless or improper actions were no longer enough to require a resignation from the White House. Clinton hunkered down and waited, and only impeachment and conviction were going to get him out.

A couple of years ago, Bush seemed to have gone back to the traditional standard for the Plame investigation. "I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information," he told reporters. "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it. And we'll take the appropriate action," and "get to the bottom of this and move on."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the leaker "would no longer work in this administration."

But now Bush seems to be edging toward the more modern Clinton formulation of letting the investigation play itself out -- no matter how long it takes -- before acting. "This is a serious investigation," Bush told reporters Wednesday. "It is very important for people not to prejudge the investigation based on media reports."

So maybe Rove had a little chat with Time reporter Matthew Cooper, and maybe he is becoming something of a "distraction." But don't look for him to be going anywhere anytime soon. After all, the decade-old, $21 million, independent counsel investigation of former secretary of housing and urban development Henry G. Cisneros -- who admitted lying to the FBI about how much he paid a former mistress -- continues to this day. Clinton pardoned Cisneros in January 2001.

Sen. Harry's Just Trying to Help

Speaking of distractions, Bush already has several on the home front, what with a critical Supreme Court pick confronting him. And perhaps he is not the only one a bit distracted by the court situation.

Senate Democratic leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) also appears to be having trouble with the high court vacancy question. "And all the names I mentioned in the past," he told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday, "one person I haven't mentioned, and I'm going to call [White House Counsel] Harriet Miers today and give this name to her. And that's Greg Judd. I've thought about that a lot. I think he would be a fine Supreme Court justice." Who? a reporter asked, perhaps thinking Reid meant country music star Naomi Judd.

"Greg Judd. Judd Gregg, Judd Gregg. I always get those. . . . " Reid started explaining how he muffed the name of his New Hampshire GOP Senate colleague for 12 years -- and for four years before that in the House -- as reporters laughed.

"He's either got two first last names or two last first names," Reid said. Maybe, but it's unlikely one of them will be Judge.

Runge -- Taking a Belt to DHS

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Jeffrey W. Runge, is moving to the Department of Homeland Security to be the new chief medical officer.

During Runge's four years as head of NHTSA, the country had the lowest highway fatality rate and the highest safety belt usage rate ever, the Transportation Department said. Runge will coordinate the Department of Homeland Security's responses to biological and other catastrophic attacks.

Also at DHS, Washington lawyer Stewart A. Baker, formerly general counsel for the National Security Agency and for the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, has been tapped to be assistant secretary for policy. Baker, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

At U.N., One to Go Before U.S. Hits Zero

On injured reserve: U.S. Ambassador Sichan Siv, a former Cambodian refugee who braved Pol Pot's killing fields to become ambassador to the United Nations for economic and social matters, has been taken out of action by a horseback riding accident. The envoy, who was hospitalized with broken ribs, we are told, is expected back on duty soon.

That leaves the U.S. mission to the United Nations -- which typically has five ambassadors -- with only one, Anne Patterson, who is the acting chief pending resolution of the long-pending nomination of John R. Bolton.