News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Australian: Rove scandal chipping at Bush agenda [July 25, 2005]

Ian Bremmer

THE main reason the growing scandal around Karl Rove matters - aside from the fact that a senior White House official may have committed a felony - is that it damages George W. Bush's declining political capital.

From social security reform to Iranian nuclear proliferation, from Supreme Court nominations to US-China confrontation, a president needs domestic political capital to achieve his policy goals. Bush's chip stack is clearly shrinking.
Most second-term presidents have 18months to govern before lame-duck status sets in. Bush is already wrestling with Congress on foreign and domestic priorities. The battle over Rove's possible involvement in a felony dangerously distracts the White House and is likely to undermine support for the President's agenda.

Rove, the man credited with Bush's winning campaign strategies in 2000 and last year, has been dogged by charges he leaked the name of an undercover CIA agent to at least three journalists. One, Robert Novak, published the agent's name in his syndicated column. A second, The New York Times correspondent Judith Miller, is in jail for refusing to reveal who gave her the agent's name. The third, Time magazine's Matthew Cooper, avoided jail when Rove, his source, released him from a confidentiality deal, allowing him to testify before a grand jury. Time also handed over Cooper's notes and emails relating to the leak.

Novak says he wrote the column that outed the agent, Valerie Plame, to discredit ambassador Joseph Wilson's criticism of the Bush administration.

Wilson, Plame's husband, says he was sent to Africa by the White House to investigate claims then Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium from Niger. Wilson says he found no evidence such an attempt was ever made. But Bush made the claim in 2003 anyway as part of his effort to secure domestic support for the invasion of Iraq.

Wilson then wrote an opinion piece challenging the White House's truthfulness. Novak says he outed Plame to show the White House had not authorised Wilson's trip to Niger. But Wilson says the White House leaked his wife's name, and Novak printed it, simply to get revenge on someone who had criticised Bush.

With the opening of Cooper's notes, the media has moved into 24-hour Rove-watch. But there is reason to doubt the Bush confidant was the source of the leak.

The disclosure of the agent's name was too sloppy and unprofessional for someone of Rove's calibre. A recklessly large number of journalists were first approached about writing the story.

And although Novak is clearly an ideological conservative, he has criticised the administration often enough that he can hardly be considered its mouthpiece.

It was no sure thing Novak would play his assigned role. The lack of a coherent media strategy, the unnecessary urgency about placement of the story and the eagerness to use Novak all point to a leaker in the White House less media-savvy than Rove.

But if Rove didn't leak the agent's name, who did? It's sheer speculation, but smart money in Washington appears to be on Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, giving Plame's name to The New York Times reporter Miller - possibly with the direct involvement, or at least knowledge, of Cheney himself.

That would explain why the administration gave Cooper the go-ahead to reveal his conversations with Rove: the White House was confident Rove had broken no laws. If Miller were to reveal her sources, on the other hand, that would be another political problem entirely. Miller is accordingly likely to be the journalist who received the initial leak.

The person who gave her Plame's name may well be indictable. In other words, if Miller had revealed her source, a senior Bush official could have landed in jail - setting off a media circus of Monica Lewinsky proportions. That scandal would have potentially paralysed the administration at a time it is wrestling with high-stakes policy problems.

It's likely the scandal around Rove will grow. Because Bush values personal loyalty, and because his adviser has probably not broken the law, Rove is expected to remain in the administration. Bush knows the media would read Rove's departure as an admission of guilt and report the story as a body blow to the administration's credibility.

Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, and senior fellow at the World Policy Institute.


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