Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Rove If You Want To..

I don't know if Karl Rove knowingly broke the law governing the intentional outing of an undercover U.S. agent.

The truth is no one else definitively knows either -- excepting perhaps the man himself.

Thus, I don't know if Rove is in legal trouble.

After having spent most of the Perils of Pauline Presidency of Bill Clinton in Washington, DC working for the Republican Congress, I can say though that the "gotcha!" glee of Democrats and liberals is premature at best. Eight years of driving conservatives up the wall and despite becoming the first elected president ever to be impeached, Clinton was still standing at the end of the day.

Byron York sketches out what seems to be the initial Rove push-back. The key point here is that, according to Rove's lawyer, Time reporter Matt Cooper called Rove first -- not the other way around. That is important because it seems to undercut what has been called on the left side of the blogosphere, as part of the "Rove System," by which is meant a vicious partisan undercutting designed to question anyone or any "objective" evidence that is contrary to the official "party line."

The question of who called whom and when is thus quite important because it counters the idea that Rove was actively working to undermine Joseph Wilson by "outing" his wife as an undercover CIA agent. York's story, quoting Rove's lawyer, seriously calls into question that particular motive for Rove. Is it completely exonerating? Of course not. After all, this is Rove's lawyer speaking. However, it certainly suggests that there is a long way to go in this story.

If the Clinton years told us anything, it is that, in a highly charged partisan atmosphere, it is especially difficult to "prove" criminal culpability. It is usually the case that either politically powerless (Susan MacDougal) or relatively peripheral characters (ex-Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker?) end up being caught in the web that was originally cast for a much bigger fish.

However, the biggest problem for Rove and the White House at large is not legal (unless prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald brings an indictment on him -- which it is too early to assume). It is political.

The two big problems are: 1) Rove's seeming blanket statement that he didn't leak Plame's name -- or even know her occupation in connection with her husband. That doesn't appear to be the case from what has been revealed thus far.

2)Two years ago, the White House repeatedly dismissed the notion that Rove had a role in the leaking of Valerie Plame's name and role in the story and strongly suggested that anyone caught leaking would be dismissed. Now, it may turn out that whomever imprisoned New York Times writer Judith Miller is covering actually had a greater role in leaking Plame. If so, it may be enough to save Rove. Regardless, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman has been left out to twist in the wind and the White House's credibilty is in danger. No one should have to go through what he did this week. He recognized that he was completely and totally stuck on what he said back in 2003 concerning Rove and what the WH would do if it turned out that somebody leaked. Since McClellan couldn't use a phrase fraught with historical significance like, "Those statements are no longer operative," the only thing he could do was repeatedly utter his refusal to address anything during an "ongoing criminal investigation" (or variations thereof).

Hardly a reassuring statement. McClellan, sadly, looks out of the loop and embarrassed in front of the press corps. That could have long-term ramifications.

This issue may ultimately come down to who is perceived as more credible in the public eye -- Karl Rove or Joseph Wilson. Partisans have already made up their mind about both men. What will John Q. Public think? Too soon to say.

All of the screaming on both sides could be rendered moot by whatever prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald does. If he ends up bringing indictments, that moves the story into a very different area. If he ends up saying that no crime was committed, this becomes just another silly summer story.

In short, neither the White House's attackers nor outside defenders should feel fully comfortable about where this story is heading.

UPDATE: The always smart John (not Juan) Cole has a series of logical steps trying to build consensus on the basic facts of this case. It's a good read (scroll down to "Another Try" and then work your back up.

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