By Bob Ray Sanders
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Having a fox in the henhouse is one thing, but knowing one is loose in the White House has troubled me for some time.
The entire nation ought to be upset now that the president's right-hand man, Karl Rove, has admitted talking to a reporter about an employee of the CIA, even if he never uttered the name of Valerie Plame.
The sly, conniving Rove, known for his dirty tricks, behind-the-scenes maneuverings and below-the-belt political punches, has finally been caught in one of his own snares.
This time he has outfoxed himself. Based only on what we know now, Rove should be fired immediately -- no ifs, ands, buts or plausible deniabilities.
A special prosecutor has been investigating the leaking of Plame's name, and a reporter for The New York Times is in jail for not releasing the name of a source to a federal grand jury, even though the reporter never wrote a story identifying Plame as an undercover CIA agent.
Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, said he suspected all along that Rove was responsible for revealing his wife's identity partly as retaliation for Wilson's criticism of the administration's claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy weapons material from Niger.
For the past two years the White House has denied any involvement by Rove, and the president promised that he would fire anyone in his administration who leaked classified information.
Rove, who has testified before a grand jury looking into the matter, is now trying to play dumb and honorable at the same time.
Having been a confidential source to at least one reporter for Time magazine, Bush's deputy chief of staff released the reporter from his confidentiality agreement, allowing him to give Rove's name as a source.
Rove is saying now that he didn't mention Plame's name and that he did not know that she was an undercover agent.
Anyone, especially anyone as cunning as Rove, knows that you can easily identify people without using their names.
Based on an e-mail that the Time reporter sent in July 2003 and which was recently obtained by Newsweek, Rove told the journalist that Wilson's wife worked in the CIA and dealt with matters involving weapons of mass destruction.
The question of whether a crime was committed centers on whether Rove knowingly identified an undercover CIA agent.
Another question is whether Rove's grand-jury testimony contradicts facts as we now know them. If so, that would be another major problem for Rove.
This affair is becoming an enormous distraction for an administration that doesn't need any more distractions. The contentious exchanges this week between the White House press corps and press secretary Scott McClellan are an indication that this issue is not going away anytime soon.
That's why the president should not hesitate to ask for Rove's resignation.
The White House can't keep stonewalling by hiding behind the old dodge-the-question technique of not commenting on "an ongoing investigation."
Frankly, many people think Bush could have gotten to the bottom of this long ago by calling in his chief aides and demanding to know who leaked the information.
If there is one lesson any president should learn from Watergate, it is that you shouldn't provide cover for members of the administration who misuse their power. If you do, soon the question will be, how much did the president know, and when did he know it?
Some Democrats are calling for congressional hearings that would force Rove to testify.
Had this misdeed occurred under a Democratic administration, there would have been hearings on Capitol Hill two years ago.
Bush, who is lauded for his loyalty to friends, has long depended on Rove's political savvy. So he is not likely to ask the architect of his political career to step down anytime soon.
But if the president doesn't get this fox out of the White House, he may find a few wolves at his own door.
NOTE: In Friday's column, I'll reveal one of my old Tarrant County Courthouse sources who is now dead.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. (817) 390-7775 firstname.lastname@example.org