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

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Supreme Court Pick Shifts Attention From Rove, Agent Disclosure

By Kristin Jensen and Richard Keil

July 20 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush's nomination of a new Supreme Court justice may give White House adviser Karl Rove a temporary reprieve from public scrutiny of his role in the disclosure of an intelligence operative's identity.

About six in 10 Americans who are paying close attention to reports about who leaked information that helped unmask a covert intelligence agent say Rove should resign, according to a poll conducted last week by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The Supreme Court announcement may freeze things, ``and that's probably a good thing for the White House,'' said Carroll Doherty, an editor at the Washington-based Pew Center.

Bush accelerated his search for a Supreme Court nominee in part because of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's name, according to Republicans familiar with administration strategy.

Bush originally had planned to announce a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on July 26 or 27, just before his planned July 28 departure for a month-long vacation at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, said two administration officials, who spoke on the condition they not be named.

The officials said those plans changed because Rove has become a focus of Fitzgerald's interest and of news accounts about the matter.

Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said the only reason Bush announced his selection of appeals court Judge John G. Roberts Jr. last night was to allow the nominee to pay courtesy calls on members of the Senate before Congress begins its scheduled summer recess on July 29.


Bush has been questioned about Rove and his role in the matter during appearances with foreign leaders. His spokesman has deflected daily queries from reporters since Time magazine turned over notes and e-mails to a special prosecutor that revealed Rove was one of the sources for a 2003 report identifying Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame, who is married to a critic of Bush's Iraq policy.

Time reporter Matthew Cooper wrote in this week's issue of the magazine that Rove didn't give him Plame's name. Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said last week his client has done ``nothing to expose him to any legal liability.''

The nomination debate will distract public attention while Fitzgerald finishes his investigation, said Ed Rollins, a Republican political consultant who served as an adviser to President Ronald Reagan.

`Battle Through'

``Rove is not going out the door unless the U.S. attorney comes forward and says, `He did it and I am going to indict him,''' Rollins said. ``Anything less than that and they are going to just battle through it.''

Bush this week said any member of his administration who committed a crime would be fired. Previously, he suggested that revealing the identity of a CIA agent would be enough to warrant termination. Rove, 54, is a longtime Bush adviser and the man the president called ``the architect'' of his election victories.

Bush and spokesman Scott McClellan have refused to answer questions about Rove's status, citing the investigation. Some Democrats, including Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who ran against Bush in 2004, have called on the president to fire Rove. Others say he should lose his security clearance.

Thirty-nine percent of the public, including those who aren't following the case closely, say Rove should step down, the Pew poll found. At this point, Americans' interest in the Rove story is comparable to past Washington scandals, such as the ethics questions that dogged former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, according to Doherty.

Following the Story

Forty-eight percent said they are paying either ``very close'' or ``fairly close'' attention to the story, the poll found. By comparison, only 29 percent of Americans said they were paying close attention to reports earlier this year that current House Majority Leader Tom DeLay had violated ethics rules by accepting travel from a lobbyist.

``The public isn't fully engaged on this yet,'' Doherty said. ``Eventually, the issue will play out. The grand jury will finish its business.'' Pew interviewed 1,502 adults July 13-17 for the poll.

Purposely and knowingly unmasking a covert operative is a crime under a 1982 federal law. Eleven former intelligence officers wrote a letter to congressional leaders on July 18 saying the ``tone and substance'' of the debate over the leak is harmful to U.S. undercover operatives.

`Unambiguous Message'

``We believe it is appropriate for the president to move proactively to dismiss from office or administratively punish any official who participated in any way in revealing Valerie Plame's status,'' they wrote. ``Such an act by the president would send an unambiguous message that leaks of this nature will not be tolerated.''

Fitzpatrick's investigation was prompted by a request from the CIA after a July 14, 2003, article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak first reported that Plame recommended her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for a 2002 mission to check into reports Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger.

A week before, Wilson wrote an opinion article published in the New York Times questioning whether the Bush administration ``twisted'' some of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons to justify the war.

Novak discussed Wilson and his wife with Rove on July 8, 2003, according to the New York Times. The Times quoted an attorney familiar with Fitzgerald's probe of the identity leak as saying that when Novak mentioned that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, Rove said, ``Yeah, I've heard that too.''

Cooper, in the July 25 edition of Time, wrote that Rove told him on July 11, 2003, that Wilson's wife works at the ``agency,'' which he took to mean the CIA.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Kristin Jensen in Washington at
Last Updated: July 20, 2005 00:04 EDT


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