'Bush's Brain' Besieged
Battered by sagging
poll numbers, new doubts in the aftermath of the London bombings
about the effectiveness of its war on terrorism, and no letup in
the bad news out of Iraq, the White House has found itself this
week embroiled in yet another controversy, one that threatens the
credibility, if not the tenure, of the man widely known as President
George W. Bush's "brain."
Thanks to the disclosure of e-mail messages from a Time
magazine reporter to his editor, it is now known that, contrary
to categorical assurances by the White House two years ago, Karl
Rove, Bush's top political adviser, leaked the identity of a covert
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, the subject of a criminal
investigation by a federal grand jury.
At the time, Bush himself had assured reporters that he would fire
anyone in his administration found to be responsible for the "outing"
of Valerie Plame, the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a retired
diplomat who had published an article in the New York Times
debunking Bush's assertions in the run-up to the Iraq war that Baghdad
had tried to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger, presumably as part
of a nuclear weapons program.
But now, with Rove "outed" as one of the sources of the
leak, the White House is refusing to comment about the implications,
insisting, in contrast to its assurances about Rove's innocence
as recently as 14 months ago, that it would be wrong to say anything
about the case while the grand jury investigation continues.
Bush himself stoically ignored questions about Rove's fate that
were shouted at him by reporters during a very brief photo-opportunity
with a visiting foreign dignitary Tuesday. At the end of a cabinet
meeting in which Rove was discreetly seated in a rear row Wednesday,
he announced, "This is a serious investigation."
Top Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, are now trying to extract maximum
political advantage, demanding that Rove step down for breaching
national security and placing the lives of Plame, her associates,
and their agents in jeopardy.
While Rove is considered most unlikely to leave, at least in the
near term, the stakes are high. Rove, whom Bush has referred to
as "the architect" of his electoral successes and, more
affectionately, as "boy genius," is widely considered
the president's single most influential adviser, and not just on
Neoconservatives howled, for example, when Rove, who has guided
Bush's political career from its outset, reportedly told top cabinet
officials in the fall of 2003 that there was to be "no war
in 2004," in order to ensure the president's reelection.
"[T]his president does not want to lose Karl Rove," David
Gergen, a top political adviser to former presidents Ronald Reagan
and Bill Clinton, told the Los Angeles Times. "Rove
is his right arm."
The controversy began almost exactly two years ago almost
three months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq when Wilson
published a column in the New York Times July 6, 2003, recounting
his 2002 trip to Niger as a CIA consultant precisely to investigate
intelligence reports that Iraq had tried to buy a large quantity
of yellowcake from the country.
After a week talking to sources in the country, Wilson, who had
served a good part of his diplomatic career in Francophone Africa,
including Niger, concluded that the reports were untrue and reported
his conclusions back to the CIA and the State Department.
Despite his findings, the allegation that "Saddam Hussein
recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,"
made its way into Bush's State of the Union Address in January 2003,
less than two months before the invasion.
Noting the apparent anomaly, Wilson, who wrote that he was confident
his findings had been communicated to the relevant policymakers,
particularly Vice President Dick Cheney's office, which, he was
told, had expressed particular interest in the Niger reports, argued
the information was ignored because it did
not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument
can be made that we went to war under false pretenses."
The article, which was published at the moment when it first became
clear that U.S. forces in Iraq faced a serious and growing insurgency,
received considerable attention, and, within days, the White House
conceded that the inclusion in Bush's speech of the uranium claim
was a mistake.
On July 14, 2003, however, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert
Novak published a column in which he reported that Wilson had traveled
to Niger at the suggestion of his wife, whom Novak not only identified
by name, but also described as "an agency operative on weapons
of mass destruction." He cited "two senior administration
officials" as his sources.
Several other Washington reporters came forward shortly afterward
saying that they, too, had been called by senior officials regarding
Plame's identity, apparently in an effort to discredit Wilson's
reporting by suggesting that nepotism played a role in his selection.
None of the reporters, however, identified their sources by name.
Under a 1982 law, it is a crime to knowingly disclose the identity
of U.S. citizens working undercover for the CIA. Democrats, the
media, and indeed some intelligence veterans soon began clamoring
for a criminal investigation of the leak, particularly amid evidence
that the leak may have resulted in the agency's closure of a major
international counter-proliferation operation that been running
for a number of years.
The Justice Department initiated an investigation and, under growing
public pressure, reluctantly appointed a special counsel, U.S. Attorney
Patrick Fitzgerald, to handle the case. Fitzgerald promptly impaneled
a grand jury and began taking testimony from administration officials,
including Rove. All grand jury proceedings are secret, and remarkably
little has leaked out to date.
Reporters, many of whom initially resisted testifying on the grounds
that conversations with sources were confidential, were also subpoenaed
to testify by Fitzgerald, who has won a series of court decisions
holding that reporters do not have an absolute right to withhold
the identity of their sources when a crime has been committed. It
was in that context that Time magazine turned over the records
of conversations held between its reporter, Matthew Cooper, and
White House officials, including Rove.
According to one e-mail message obtained last week by Newsweek,
Cooper informed his editor that Rove had told him four days before
the Novak column was published that Wilson's wife whom he
did not identify by name "apparently works" for
the CIA and had a role in selecting him for the Niger mission.
Rove's lawyer has since confirmed that such a conversation had
taken place but insisted that his client had not done anything illegal,
both because Rove did not provide Plame's name, nor was he aware
that she was a covert officer.
In addition, the attorney has also declared that Rove has specifically
waived the confidentiality of his conversation with Cooper, thus
permitting the Time correspondent, who had been prepared
to go to jail rather than to disclose his source, to testify before
the grand jury in the coming weeks.
While Rove's waiver saved Cooper from going to jail, another reporter,
Judith Miller of the New York Times, has been behind bars
since last Wednesday for refusing to cooperate with Fitzgerald's
While her decision has been hailed by many in the media as an act
of integrity and courage, others have noted that, in the run-up
to the Iraq, Miller, who is considered close to neoconservative
hawks in and out of the administration, was the most consistent
purveyor in the elite media of stories about Iraq's alleged weapons
of mass destruction (WMD) based on the accounts of sources provided
by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and the Pentagon.
Given her close association with the war hawks, her WMD expertise,
and the fact that she never wrote about Wilson or his wife, some
writers, notably William Jackson, Jr. of the trade publication,
Editor & Publisher, have raised the question whether
she may have been a source for, as well as a witness to, disclosure
of Plame's identity.
prominent neoconservative, Clifford May of the Foundation for the
Defense of Democracies, boasted two years ago that he was told by
two "former government officials" of Plame's identity
before Novak published his column. May worked as a reporter for
the Times for 10 years before becoming communications director
for the Republican National Committee, a post where he knew Rove
Lobe [send him mail] is Inter Press
Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service