Thursday, July 21, 2005

We'll go no more aRoving

The White House is worried about the Karl Rove story. The one-sentence version is: Karl Rove hurt national security for partisan political reasons when he blew a CIA agent's cover. The ensuing criminal investigation has the administration worried — they're especially worried about the flood of news coverage.

The Bushites tried to change the subject by rushing the President's nomination of John Roberts for the Supreme Court. It worked. For two days. The lead story in today's Washington Post is about Rove, again.

(This post is mostly summary, plus snark. Major sources include recent news, Defective Yeti's Roving Reporter: A primer for the Karl Rove / Valerie Plame scandal and Wikipedia's Valerie Plame entry.)

What Wilson did

Joe Wilson did two things. He told the truth to the Bush administration, and he told the truth to the American people.

The government's chief justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction. The clincher was that Iraq was seeking uranium ore from Niger for nuclear weapons. A natural person to investigate was Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former career diplomat with experience in both countries. Wilson's 2002 investigation found that the Nigerien government was not exporting yellowcake uranium ore to Iraq and could not plausibly sneak it past the foreign consortium that operated the mines.

Wilson told the State Department, which enthusiastically ignored his report. In fact, Bush repeated the bogus claim in his January 2003 State of the Union speech. The US invaded Iraq March 20, 2003. On July 6, 2003, Wilson published an op-ed in the New York Times demolishing the administration's main reason for war.

What Rove did

After Wilson had the temerity to speak out, Rove quickly retaliated. Rove told several reporters that Wilson's trip was a junket arranged by his wife, Valerie, a CIA operative (She uses her married name, Valerie Wilson, in both professional and private life, but most coverage refers to her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame, because the first story did.) This was somehow supposed to discredit Joseph Wilson, because any sane person would leap at the opportunity to navigate bureaucracy in the world's fifth-poorest country.

This leak had two real purposes:
• punish Joe Wilson by attacking his family
• intimidate other potential dissenters.
Only the blindest partisan hacks attempt to justify it (see "Republican spin", below).

Why it's wrong

Going after a whistleblower by attacking his family is just cowardly and low, which is standard for Rove. But this is far worse. Karl Rove burned a covert CIA operative for short-term, partisan advantage. Besides uncovering Valerie Wilson, Rove exposed and potentially harmed her front company, every American she worked with, and every foreigner she ever came in contact with. This could harm her field, the unimportant area of nuclear proliferation. Burning Valerie Wilson will do immense harm to future American intelligence gathering, as well. Fewer foreign informants will dare talk to American agents when the Americans (and their networks) are at risk of being outed by a bilious apparatchik.

You know it's wrong to blow a spy's cover. And so does everybody who can count to 007.

Republican spin

Republicans have tried to justify Rove's actions. Everything they say is either false or irrelevant, and, as Josh Marshall pointed out, it all sounds like the excuses of a child caught stealing. Here are some of their talking points:

• Valerie Wilson wasn't covert.
• She was covert, but Rove didn't know it.
• Rove knew, but found out her covert status from an unclassified source, either
* a reporter, or
* Johnny the shoeshine boy.
• Rove didn't tell any reporters, but merely confirmed what they asked him.
• Rove didn't refer to Valerie Wilson by name, but only in a very sneaky and indirect manner, as
* Valerie Plame, or
* Joe Wilson's wife, or
* alerie-Vay ilson-Way.
• Rove's leak was justified because Joe Wilson is a big meany.
• Rove didn't do it. Somebody else is the source of the leak. Maybe the One-Armed Man?

It's a regular cascade of bullshit, isn't it?

Back to reality

When Republican spin-meisters are faced with the facts of the Rove case, their spinning slows way down. Time's Matt Cooper testified that
• Rive first mentioned and identified Valerie Wilson (as Joe Wilson's wife, but not by name);
• Rove said she was CIA, working on WMD;
• Rove said he was revealing classified information.
Maybe Rove was exaggerating, or maybe the secret was something else? An article in today's Washington Post points out that the CIA considered her identity secret, and it was marked as such in a classified State Department memo.

The facts don't look good for Rove, but the law looks even worse. The "Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement" Rove signed, and relevant laws on identities and espionage, mean that
• Rove can't reveal classified information;
• no matter what the source;
• Rove can't confirm classified info;
• it's Rove's duty to know whether something is classified or not;
• his motives don't matter.
Also, it looks like Rove lied to the FBI. Prosecutors hate being lied to, and convictions for perjury and obstruction of justice are easier to get than ones for technical-sounding intelligence crimes.

More questions

What will President Bush do? He previously promised to fire anyone who leaked classified information. But when Rove's name surfaced, Bush flip-flopped. The new standard is that he will fire anyone who "committed a crime". I suspect that means he'll fire Rove only if Rove
• committed a crime;
• is convicted;
• loses all his appeals;
• fails to get a presidential pardon.

Who else broke Valerie Wilson's cover? Robert Novak attributed his information to "two senior administration officials" (my bold). So Rove has at least one co-conspirator.

The big question in Plamegate goes way past "Did Karl Rove burn a CIA agent?" The big question is a classic: "What did the President know and when did he know it?"

And finally, what will the American people do? In the Washington Post, Dan Froomkin wrote,

More than four in 10 Americans, according to a recent Zogby poll, say that if President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment.

Zogby notes

The latest poll shows more support for impeaching Bush now, than there was for impeaching Clinton when Congress did so in 1998.


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