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Washington Poohbahs Pooh-Pooh Rove Scandal
By David Corn
Here comes the Washington Establishment, eager to say, Waitaminute, maybe poor ol' Karl Rove didn't do much wrong. So let's cut him some slack. Last night on CNN, I spotted two Washington poohbahs being interviewed on the Rove scandal and both offered let's-take-this-slow advice and suggested that Rove may have merely committed a tiny and insignificant mistake.
On Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs chatted with David Gergen, who carries the lofty title of "former presidential adviser." Dobbs asked Gergen what he thought of the story, and Gergen replied, "I think this is a complex case, and we shouldn't get caught up in our underwear so far." Not get caught up in our underwear? Is that how the wise men of the capital talk? And is that what those White House reporters were doing yesterday when they were grilling White House press secretary Scott McClellan and demanding he come clean. (See my eyewitness account below.) Gergen explained that Rove might not be in "legal trouble"--which is true. But for Dobbs, that was not the question. He said, "I am not particularly interested in the legal aspect of this so much right now, as I am in both the politics, and, frankly, the forthright, honest character of the people who make statements such as, it's 'ridiculous' to suggest that Karl Rove was behind this."
Still, Gergen remained calm and untroubled about the matter:
Well, Lou, I don't think it's all that remarkable. Listen, a lot of White Houses, you know, put stories out, and the question is whether Karl Rove did anything wrong. That's the basic question we're trying to ask. And in terms of telling somebody, hey, a guy's wife at the CIA might have been behind it, on its face, that's not wrong. If he put her name out and he knew she was a covert agent, that would be wrong.
Gergen was echoing the Rove spin. But if Rove was going to finger "a guy's wife" for working at the CIA--in order to discredit a White House critic--shouldn't he have checked on what the wife did at the CIA? Shouldn't he have wondered whether he was passing along classified information, which, if disclosed, might expose her and/or undermine national security? Leaking this national security information--without knowing what the consequences might be--was a reckless act. And how did Rove come to have such information? Did he obtain it while participating in an anything-goes White House campaign against former Ambassador Joseph Wilson? Gergen ignored all this, as he downplayed the leak. He added, "If there's something here that Karl Rove did wrong in the initial instance, I don't see it yet." David, get thee to an opthamologist.
Three hours later, the king of reporters, Bob Woodward, was on Larry King Live. Twice he referred to Rove's leak to Cooper as a possible "accident." True, Rove might not have known that Valerie Wilson was working at the CIA under cover. That has yet to be determined. But telling Time's Matt Cooper that "Wilson's wife" was at the CIA was no accident. Rove was using this information to try to convince Cooper that Joseph Wilson was not credible by claiming that Wilson had been dispatched on his now-controversial trip to Niger by his wife (as if that would make a difference). Woodward also claimed that "in this case, there's no harm to national security." But there's been no public accounting of the impact of the Plame/CIA leak. Woodward was just supposin'. He didn't even say, "My sources tell me...." It is known that the CIA requested that the Justice Department investigate the leak. That might indicate that some damage was done. Certainly, Valerie Wilson had her career harmed and perhaps her operations (past and present) were compromised. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has maintained that this leak was a serious matter, and his claim has been supported by decisions written by federal judges who have overseen the case. They could be wrong. But Woodward pooh-poohed the significance of the leak without offering any evidence.
With the Rove fire burning within the media, Gergen and Woodward came out with water hoses and tried to douse the flames. Will others join the It's-No-Big-Deal Brigade? (Yes, it was just a third-rate leak. Nothing to fret over.) Or will Washington's reporters and commentators press against the stonewall the White House has constructed? Inquiring--and nervous--minds at the White House want to know.
By the way, the gang at Media Matters makes a good point. They note that Rove's I-didn't-say-her-name defense is a rather thin slice of baloney. If Cooper, after being told by Rove that Wilson's wife was a CIA official, had done a Google search, he would have immediately found a reference to Wilson's wife, "the former Valerie Plame." The name was not the key thing; the CIA affiliation was.
Note of appreciation: Let me extend my thanks to the folks at Buzzflash.com for (a) often posting my work on their fine site and (b) for paying close attention to the Plame/CIA leak story since it began--that is, after I posted on July 16, 2003, the first article that suggested a scandal was afoot. Buzzflash, of course, promoted that piece.