Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Common Sense on the Karl Rove Non-Event

The summer squall is hard upon us

By Wesley Pruden
Published July 19, 2005


Summer squalls are nice, a cooling afternoon diversion, particularly on a beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Since my visiting grandchildren, aged 8 and 12, and their guest, 13, live in Southern California where thunderstorms are rare, they're eager for the late-afternoon display of thunder and lightning, and the beauty part is that half an hour later the sun is back, the sand is hot underfoot again, and everybody's back in the water.

Empty sound and fury though it may be, a Carolina thunderstorm is considerably more consequential than the usual summer media storm in Washington, which arrives right on schedule. Bored reporters owe their debt this year to an eclectic collection of the boys (and a girl) of summer -- Karl Rove, Robert Novak, Matthew Cooper and particularly Judith Miller. And of course two ambitious bit players in this year's drama, Thomas Hogan as the federal judge and Patrick Fitzgerald as the federal district attorney brought up from the bushes for a major-league tryout.

As Nelson Rockefeller used to say, "Thanks a thousand, guys."

You might think it's too hot in Washington to argue about anything, but you shouldn't. The story line is simple: A sometime U.S. ambassador to obscure hotbeds of tranquility writes an op-ed essay in the New York Times, arguing that George W. Bush lied to the world that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy weapons-grade uranium (the wonderfully named "yellowcake") from Niger. Columnist Bob Novak writes that the distinguished diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson IV, had been dispatched to Niger through the intercession of his wife, a CIA "operative," to check it out. He identifies her as Valerie Plame, which was old news to a lot of people in Washington. The Wilsons (or the Plames) devote a lot of their time to advertising themselves as, if not exactly Beautiful People, at least as desperately aspiring Not Bad-Looking People. But she and her husband say she was deliberately "outed" by shadowy White House aides to exact revenge for the op-ed. Matt Cooper of Time magazine and Judy Miller of the New York Times get on the case, learn what a lot of people knew, and the White House, succumbing to media pressure, appoints the special D.A. to find out what who knew, why and how. When the D.A. can't find the ham sandwich to indict, he, with the connivance of the judge, lands on the reporters, insisting that they give up their sources. Judy Miller doesn't, and goes to jail. Mr. Cooper wilts. The second act ends as his colleagues scoff that he's not exactly a stand-up guy.

The third act opens as Democrats stumble, and knives come out for Miss Miller. David Broder of The Washington Post, the self-appointed "nanny of the Washington press corps," writes that not even Judy Miller is "wholly praiseworthy," because in the run-up to the war in Iraq, she wrote that Saddam Hussein was a very bad guy, relying on sources she shouldn't have, and Karl Rove remains in his job because George W. Bush won't do his duty. "The only lesson I can draw," he writes, setting up a plug for Mortuary Bob Woodward's new book, "is that reporters ought to be [*%$!] careful about accepting unattributed information. For every 'Deep Throat,' there are multiple ... [Karl] Roves."

Bored reporters are trying now to rehabilitate Matt Cooper, a nerd only yesterday, because he fingered Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, as a secondary source. But Scooter was no more forthcoming than Karl, saying in answer to questions only that he, too, had heard the rumors about Valerie Plame. Now it turns out that the law prohibiting identification of covert agents doesn't even apply to Mrs. Plame; her important tasks at the CIA, though not yet disclosed, may involve nothing more deadly than scissors and a paste pot. She isn't Mata Hari or Antonia Ford at all, but may be merely the pastemaster general.

Ambassador Wilson, who was once an ambassador to Gabon, where he was an intimate of President Bongo (Dave Barry couldn't make up this stuff), and later to Sao Tome and Principe (all one mighty republic), continues his interesting career. Fortunately, a wife is available to look out for him.

So it's not much of a scandal, but the summer is young. Meanwhile, a nice dark-blue thundercloud hovers over our beach. Thunder and lightning should arrive soon. The kids can't wait.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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Anonymous said...

HA! I don't like Arianna Huffington, but she hit the nail on the head with this posting:

"Of course, it would be hard for this 'someone' to continue to work in Bush's administration, since this someone would be in prison. But I guess the 'restoring integrity to the White House' President is assuring us that, were it even possible to work out an arrangement whereby the offender could continue to fulfill his White House duties from a federal penitentiary, this president just cares too much about integrity to allow that kind of thing."

James Shott said...

You apparently believe that the Bush administration is lacking integrity.

First, is there objective evidence of that, or just innuendo such as Huffington's?

Second, is your expression of that believe on an objective or a subjective basis?

Anonymous said...


The president said he would fire anyone convicted of of the crime of leaking a classified agent's name. That would be a serious federal offense. I think it's safe to say that person would lose their job regardless of what the president says. It's the biggest "No Duh" statement.

So Bush saying he will fire anyone convicted of that crime is like a store owner saying "if that person who cleaned out my store turns out to be one of my employees, I'm gonna fire him".

His most recent threshold doesn't show a lack of integrity, but it also doesn't show the presence of it.

Personally, I thought when he said he would fire anyone _involved_ showed integrity. He was saying "Hey, legalese aside, if you were a part of this, you're finished". Now we have the argument that technically a crime may not have been committed. But the person who leaked the information must have had a high security clearance- if they did, they should have had the common sense to check who they were about to out. They would have found she was undercover CIA (maybe not presently, but now she can never be again- wasted taxpayer dollars on training). So this leaking, while maybe not technically a crime, shows a lack of integrity by the leaker. This doesn't bother the president.

Please note- I am NOT talking about Rove. I'm talking about the leaker, whether it's Rove, Fleischer, or Scooby-Doo. You again raised the good point to not name names until the prosecutor reveals what he has found.

PS- Regarding your response to my posting on the other Rove/Plame blog:
Plame and Wilson being Social Butterflys and people in DC social circles knowing it is a lot different from a nationally syndicated columnist printing her name in the newspaper.
Related, I don't see why Novak had to name her- simply saying Wilson's wife was a CIA agent would have made the point (although still would have outed her to anyone with access to Google). The appearance of the name was payback, pure and simple.

James Shott said...

Given his initial statement that he would take care of anyone involved in outing a covert agent, how do these two statements represent any movement in either direction. He will 1) take care of outers, 2) fire lawbreakers. I don’t see this as a relevant issue.

You are still assuming a leak from the White House, and that hasn’t been proven. It further has not been proven that Plame was in a position to have been outed. If she wasn’t covered by the legal definition of “covert,” all of this is an exercise in foolishness, which is what I’ve been saying. It seems to me to be of prime importance to determine if Plame was indeed legally “covert.” If so, continue to investigate. If not, let’s move on.

You wrote that “people in DC social circles knowing it is a lot different from a nationally syndicated columnist printing her name in the newspaper.” How so? Does it matter if her neighbors and party friends know she works at the CIA? Yes, it blows her cover. Is it any worse if everyone in the country also knows she works at the CIA? No.

When Robert Novak first came under fire, I wondered what on Earth would have prompted him – a smart and experienced Washington journalist – to publish the name of a CIA covert agent. Later, I came to realize one of two things: First, the “agent” was likely not covert under the official definition, and, second that he did know that she worked at the CIA, but did not know she was covert. Here’s what Novak said, (from CNN): "They asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative and not in charge of undercover operators," Novak said.

It All of this hubbub has resulted because the Democrats want to try to stir up an issue where none exists.

If you haven’t read my new piece today, read it.