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

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

White House Follows Scandal Script For Rove

Assurances Of Innocence Change To Lack Of Comment
Helen Thomas, Hearst White House columnist ( via KCRA)

POSTED: 12:45 pm PDT July 13, 2005

Scott McClellan, the president's chief spokesman, has found that public statements defending the White House can sometimes return to haunt him.

McClellan told reporters in the fall of 2003 that deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, the President George W. Bush's chief political adviser, had nothing to do with the public outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA officer.

However, Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, now says that Rove did in fact discuss Plame's CIA role with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper, but did not tell Cooper her name.

Luskin also said he had been assured by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Rove is not a target of a grand jury investigating the leak.

Under the law, publicly identifying a covert CIA officer is a criminal offense if the disclosure is deliberate and the person knew that the CIA officer was a covert officer and that his or her identity was being kept secret.

Plame is the wife of former diplomat Joseph Wilson, who was sent to Niger by the CIA to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium from the African nation. Wilson concluded that the allegations were false and made that point in an op-ed essay published in the New York Times.

Several days afterward, according to Newsweek magazine, Rove told Cooper that Wilson's wife had been instrumental in sending her husband to Niger. This was an apparent effort by Rove to knock some of the official trappings off Wilson's trip to Niger, and his later report that clashed with White House claims that Saddam was trying to build nuclear weapons.

Cooper didn't identify Wilson's wife in Time magazine. That was done by columnist Robert Novak several days later -- on July 14, 2003 -- when he publicly disclosed Plame's identity in a column that exonerated then-CIA Director George Tenet from any responsibility for Wilson's mission.

The explosive revelations about Rove put a shaken McClellan on the spot. After almost two years of denying that Rove had played any role in the Plame affair, McClellan switched tactics and said that he couldn't talk about the matter because it was under investigation.

Of course, it has been under investigation for almost two years, during which McClellan commented frequently, always to tell questioners that Rove had nothing to do with the Plame outing.

Reporters piled on, reminding McClellan of his past statements and Bush's promise on June 10, 2004, to fire anyone involved in the leak about the CIA operative.

McClellan refused to budge, repeating that he could not discuss an on-going investigation, but assuring reporters, "No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States."

In addition to Rove, McClellan said he had quizzed Elliot Abrams, a National Security staffer and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and was assured by them that they were not involved in the leak.

Somehow, I feel we have been here before with White House scandals. Every time an official investigation gets underway involving the White House, a president always promises "full cooperation" with the inquiry -- and then circles the wagons.

And his spokesman always assures the press that the president is determined to get to the bottom of the problem. To complete the script-thus-far, McClellan said Rove continues to have the confidence of the president, though it was put in the context of "everyone working at the white House has the confidence of the president."

Bush on Wednesday joined the zipped-lips club at the White House and ducked questions by declaring: "This is a serious investigation. I will be more than happy to comment on this matter once this investigation is complete."

History shows that happy-talk rhetoric at the White House can be misleading.

Take, for example, the Watergate scandal, in which top aides were eventually fired and Richard Nixon was forced to resign from the presidency.

There also was the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Ronald Reagan promised full cooperation in the inquiry on the sale of arms to Iran and the diversion of the funds to Nicaraguan rebels.

President Bill Clinton also ordered his staff to cooperate with the investigation involving his liaison with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Of course, Bush can always resort to Reagan's conclusions abut the Iraq-Contra mess -- "Mistakes were made" -- glossing over the key question: Who made them?

(Helen Thomas can be reached at the e-mail address


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