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My thoughts on Rove

All right, I have a confession to make.

The other day I drafted a lengthy post in which I argued that President Bush should fire Karl Rove. Now before I get excoriated by my friends on the right, allow me to explain my reasons for doing so.

  • I never much liked the guy. I'm still pissed off by his treatment of John McCain in the 2000 primaries, and I blame him in large part for the Faustian deal the GOP has cut with the religious right.
  • Rightly or wrongly, he has become a political liability and a huge distraction for the administration. (Witness the hapless Scott McLellan's train wreck of a press conference.)
  • Although Rove's actions appear well short of criminal, that doesn't necessarily mean he should keep his job. Even if he were fully unaware of Plame's status, he's still responsible for his words and deeds. Politics at this level is a tough business and some mistakes demand a high price.
  • The argument that Rove did not explicitly use Plame's name in his discussion with Cooper is Clintonian and meaningless hair-splitting, as even Rove's attorney admits.
  • After repeated White House denials of Rove's involvement, and promises of retribution against any administration "leakers," it sets the administration up for charges of hypocrisy if nothing is done.
  • I was probably drunk.

So why didn't I post it? I thought it deserved some more thought. For one thing, my Democratic, Bush-hating wife confided in me that she didn't really see the "big deal" in what we know of Rove's role in this whole soap opera. In attempting to play Devil's advocate, I came to realize the Devil's case is fairly weak. The following are some of the reasons why I'm not quite ready to roll out the tar and feathers.

  • It's all but impossible to read Matt Cooper's account of his discussion with Rove and conclude that Rove was "attacking" Plame, as Joe Wilson alleged. Rather, he was providing background ("double super secret" background no less) to the Time reporter, cautioning him that the circumstances of Joe Wilson's fact-finding mission and the conclusions of said mission were not as Wilson was leading people to believe. It seems unlikely that Rove intended the bit about Wilson's wife to be published.
  • According to Bob Novak, the CIA itself freely confirmed Plame's status as an analyst, but merely asked that Novak not use her name in his column. This means Rove gave up no more information than could be obtained from a simple phone call to Langley.
  • If Plame worked at CIA headquarters in Langley, how "covert" could she have been, honestly? Even Andrea Mitchell (reluctantly) admitted that Plame's status as a CIA employee was common knowledge, which is likely how Rove knew it in the first place. If true, that does make a huge difference.
  • Almost everything in this story is still just about as clear as mud, and many questions remain unanswered. For example, if Rove is the source, who is Judy Miller protecting by going to jail? According to Robert Luskin, Rove signed a blanket waiver, which would apply to Miller as well as Cooper. And who was Novak's source? He was, after all, the journalist who "blew" Plame's cover, yet we have no indication that he ever spoke to Rove on the subject.

Honestly, based on what we know now, the whole brouhaha seems like a third-rate political food fight, nothing more. I continue to believe that Bush could reap some political benefit by sacking Rove, letting his opponents score a point, and putting the whole sorry mess to bed. That's not really the president's style, however, so I don't really expect it to happen.

What I do expect to happen is that the Democrats, smelling blood in the water, will grossly overplay their hand, as is their wont. Already, we have senior Democratic politicians demanding Rove's head on a platter and left-leaning bloggers and pundits calling for Rove to be "frog-marched" into federal prison, even before the investigation has concluded and before a single indictment has been handed down.

There's an excellent chance this will backfire. The more the liberals keep the focus on Plamegate, the more people will begin to realize that their breathless hysteria doesn't really match the severity of Rove's supposed transgression. More importantly, more people will begin to learn what some of us have known for a year now -- that Joe Wilson is a mendacious partisan hack. He falsely implied that he was sent to Niger at the behest of the Vice President's office, he falsely denied his wife had any involvement is his being chosen and, most importantly, he lied about his own findings, claiming to have "debunked" the Niger/uranium claim, although his report to the CIA, if anything, actually bolstered the claim.

Unlike us political junkies, the average man on the street could probably tell you very little about either Karl Rove or Joe Wilson. Democrats should probably think long and hard about whether they really want to change that.


I'm willing to be a more patient. It seems that the Prosecutor is on the case and there are still some loose ends that might bring more clarity to what happened. While I believe there are some important principles at stake, I think the Democrats could make a mistake if they play too much for the Air America crowd. (And I love you, John, but you really has got to stop emailing me about who needs to resign next from the Bush administration.)

Barry - your points are well reasoned. I do agree that Rove may not be technically guilty here.
But the thing is that this has taken on the scope it has largely because of the administrations's actions.
If Rove did nothing wrong I do not understand why they didn't just come clean with it.
I also don't understand why Bush was so vehement about finding the leak either.
Finally if outing Valerie Plame is not really such a crime and if it's true that a call to Langley from anyone would get you the same information (which I don't think is exactly the case - more likely Bob Novak called with the name to confirm it and they did so because he had contacts)then I don't understand why a special prosecutor would even take the case.

I do agree however that Bush will never willingly get rid of Rove - it isn't his style. He's about as flexible as a cast iron plate.

Good posts all, guys, as usual.

I have to mention something I thought of today while mowing my lawn: the dog didn't bark.

That old detective mystery cliche came to mind because there has been one voice strangely quiet in this matter: Joe Wilson's.

Yeah, he has said a thing or two but compare and contrast when he was riding high before the air was taken out of his balloon.

Has Today had him on?

Good Morning America?

If not, why not? Could it be that they got their feathers singed by his less than truthful bloviations?

Bush did cave once to Dem furor - on Trent Lott and has earned the Mississippi senator's enmity for doing so, especially in face of what Chris Dodd said several weeks later that nobody covered or blustered in outrage over.

The Dems hate Rove whom they feel has been Bush's brain for two elections now which they felt they should have won. It is understandable that they would love to embarrass both him and Bush.

However, when Bill Press, a liberal I have always liked, says that Rove is a traitor as he did on H-C last night, and others start comparing this to Watergate, well...it tells me the Dems are desperate for something, anything to go their way.

The fact is that less than 10% (in my view) of Americans could tell who the hell Rove is and less than that could tell you what he does.

This is a Beltway foodfight, nothing more.

BTW, why was the Times so hellbent for Novak to reveal his source to the SP and yet they will not yield on Miller?

THAT strikes me as very strange.

First someone has to demonstrate that either Plame was (or had been within the previous five years) a clandestine officer or that she was working under cover and the agency was taking affirmative steps to maintain her cover for it to have been a crime to identify her as a "CIA operative." Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think anyone has demonstrated this to be the case yet. Joe Wilson calling his wife "Jane Bond" doesn't qualify as evidence in my book.

Second, the issue was never whether Karl Rove uttered Plame's name or otherwise identified her to a member of the press. The issue was always: Who told Robert Novak, because he was the one who published the information.

Rove's assertion that he never mentioned the actual name is only an issue if he used that as a dodge to deceive the grand jury or special prosecutor Fitzgerald. It appears that Rove denied explicitly naming Plame only in the context of responding to the accusation that he was Novak's source. We actually don't know what he told Fitzgerald and the grand jury. This may or may not be hair-splitting depending on context.

Finally, in answer to the question: Why is there an investigation if a secret agent's cover weren't blown? Because whether or not Plame was compromised, there is still a question of whether or not classified information was compromised. Why would the investigation take so long if there was no crime to investigate? Because Fitzgerald knows that no matter what he finds his conclusion will be picked apart in microscopic detail and he intends to leave no stone unturned if only to be able to say that he looked everywhere.

Excellent analysis, Barry!

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