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

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Bush, colleagues lose trust in Plame game

Ellis Henican

July 17, 2005

The war in Iraq grinds depressingly on, with few signs of progress and no end in sight.

The president's plea to privatize Social Security is obviously going nowhere.

And George W. Bush's chief political guru, the very architect of his successful re-election campaign, is looking increasingly like a felon, a liar or both.

Is it any wonder a growing trust gap has begun to separate America from its suddenly rattled second-term president?

Bush doesn't seem ready to face it head-on.

That's the vivid impression from the White House pool report filed by one correspondent Friday afternoon: "On the tarmac in North Carolina, your pool was able to walk briefly alongside the president and ask if he still had faith in Karl Rove. The question was met with a stare straight ahead, silence and a quick brush-off motion of Bush's left hand, as if the president were swatting away an insect."

Well, buzz-buzz-buzz! It'll take more than a little swat to make this buzzing go away!

Pick a poll, any poll. You'll find another swarm of evidence that more and more people are doubting Bush, especially his honesty and truthfulness.

The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey - no bastion of left-wing negativism for sure - asked if people found Bush "honest and straightforward." Only 41 percent said yes, down 9 points since January. At the same time, those who said they doubt the president's truthfulness climbed to 45 percent from 36 percent.

This is a big red flag for any president, especially this one, whose personal connection to voters has been his secret weapon when his policies have gone awry.

"No, he hasn't caught Osama," countless Americans have grumbled over the past three years and 10 months. "But he seems like a nice, regular guy."

If that nice cushion is disappearing, Bush could be in real trouble soon.

Not so incidentally, this trust gap has begun to grow at the same time as Iraq has become peoples' No. 1 concern. In that NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 40 percent cited the war, higher even than the 34 percent who called jobs their first concern.

Now, add Karl Rove to the list of threats.

The facts are still fluid. But as the week wound to a close, it was looking increasingly certain that the president's political adviser and deputy chief of staff played at least some significant role in revealing the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

And not only that: He'd done it for the lowest and most selfish motive imaginable - to extract political revenge against Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for his public comments questioning the basis for the war in Iraq.

What could be uglier than that? What could be a worse violation of public trust?

Rove's defenses have gotten wobblier by the day. He's gone from he-didn't-do-it to the-media-did-it to he-doesn't-remember-exactly.

And Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, has been no help at all, offering up a whole series of contradictory assertions about what Rove supposedly told the grand jury - sometimes in the very same breath to the very same reporter.

Here's a typical one from the Washington Post: "I don't think that he has a clear recollection. He's told them that he believes he may have heard it from a journalist."

Now isn't that the double-barreled refuge of a cornered politico - blame the media and claim you can't remember?

Just imagine the uproar if this had been an aide in the Clinton White House.

Whether Rove broke the law remains an open question. The 1982 statute prohibiting the outing of U.S. intelligence agents is packed with loopholes and caveats.

But with each passing briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan is looking more and more like Ron Ziegler, Richard Nixon's hapless mouthpiece during Watergate.

You almost have to feel sorry for him, as he keeps being forced to swallow his own words.

Back in September 2003, McClellan said it was "totally ridiculous" to think that Rove played any role in outing Plame. On Sept. 29, 2003, the press secretary said he'd "spoken with Karl Rove," and it was "simply not true" that Rove helped disclose her identity.

He added something else that he probably wishes he hadn't - a vow that any White House aide caught in such a leak would be fired.

Asked on June 10, 2004, if he stood by that vow, President Bush spoke with simple clarity. "Yes," he said.

Ah, trust!
Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc.


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