Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Awaiting the new White House definition of "involved"

If White House promises are intended to be taken at face value -- and if, indeed, sentences spoken in plain English are intended to be taken literally -- then empirical evidence suggests that master strategist Karl Rove should no longer be employed by the Bush administration.

In a piece published today, conservative columnist Robert Novak finally cleared up some of the mysteries surrounding his central role in the outing of undercover CIA employe Valerie Plame. He specifically named Rove as one of the sources who confirmed Plame's employment. Her employment status was supposed to remain classified; last autumn, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald specifically said so.

Novak, for those of you not tracking all the twists and turns, wrote a column on July 14, 2003 that sought to undercut retired ambassador Joe Wilson, who had publicly (and accurately) questioned the veracity of a key Bush claim about WMD activity in Iraq. As we now know, from the Fitzgerald probe, the Bush team retaliated by firing a shot across Wilson's bow, suggesting that Wilson had been sent abroad by the CIA to investigate the Bush claim only because his CIA-employed wife -- Valerie Plame -- had arranged a junket. That's the context for Plame being outed.

Anyway, by naming Rove as one of the outers, Novak is confirming that the president's closest political guru played a key role in a national security leak -- a revelation mentioned last autumn in the indictment of top Cheney aide Scooter Libby, and acknowledged by Rove's own lawyer. Moreover, Rove leaked Plame information to Newsweek reporter Matt Cooper, who kept the crucial email and ultimately gave it to Fitzgerald.

We are tempted to ask why President Bush inveighs against The New York Times for publishing leaks, but said nothing today about Robert Novak publishing leaks. Perhaps the double standard can be attributed to the fact that Novak and Rove have worked together behind the scenes, going back at least 15 years. Or the fact that the Plame leak might have deemed a "good" leak, since it was designed to aid the administration in its defense of the case for war.

But back to Rove, and my remarks at the outset about promises and plain English. After the Plame flap erupted, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan promised this, on Sept. 29, 2003: "If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration." A month later, on Oct. 30, Bush himself said this: "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it. And we'll take the appropriate action."

Well, Novak is now the latest source to say that, yes, Rove was "involved." Yet he remains in the administration, and Bush has declined to say anything publicly about the matter. An argument can be made that Bush is clearly in the wrong on this one -- but loyalists in the administration would dispute that, because they apparently believe that Bush is never wrong.

I am not exaggerating.

In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Steven Bradbury, a top Bush lawyer, was quizzed about the Supreme Court ruling that slapped down Bush's unilateral decision to limit the rights of Guantanamo detainees. Bush has insisted in recent days that the court upheld his basic policy, so naturally Bradbury was asked how Bush could be so in the wrong about what the court actually said.

Bradbury's response: "The president is always right."