Knight-Ridder Tribune Information Services, July 18, 2005
The Bush Administration has ploughed through so many scandals that it is easy to cynically dismiss the current controversy over White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove as just another inside-the-beltway, partisan tussle that will soon be as forgotten as all those Bush Administration officials with ties to Enron. Or the Harken Energy Corporation and Halliburton scandals (to which the President and Vice President were personally linked). The 9/11 intelligence failures, the missing weapons of mass destruction, Abu Ghraib -- nothing sticks to these guys. So why should this scandal be any different?
Most importantly, this one has a federal special prosecutor (Patrick Fitzgerald) working on it. And Fitzgerald seems serious -- he probably wouldn't have sent a New York Times reporter to jail for refusing to testify, if he were about to announce that nobody broke the law.
The investigation stems from a leak to the press that Valerie Wilson, the wife of former National Security Council Senior Director for African Affairs Joseph Wilson, was a C.I.A. operative. Wilson angered the Bush Administration two years ago by telling the press and then the public that -- on the basis of his fact-finding mission to Niger -- the Administration's claim that Saddam Hussein "recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" was false.
We now know that the White House's emphatic public denials over the last two years that Karl Rove had anything to do with the leak were false. Time magazine's reporter Matt Cooper has stated that it was from Mr. Rove that he first learned that Valerie Wilson worked for the C.I.A. Cooper has also stated that I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, confirmed Ms. Plame's identity. And Rove also confirmed her identity to columnist Robert Novak, who was the first to write about her in July 2003, identifying her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame.
At the time, a senior White House official told the Washington Post that the leaks were "meant purely and simply for revenge" and that they were "wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson's credibility."
Rove may not have broken a specific 1982 law prohibiting disclosure of the identity of a covert C.I.A. operative. But there are other laws against U.S. officials leaking classified information. And although lying to the public is legal, lying under oath to a grand jury is a crime. If there was a White House effort to discredit and/or punish Joseph Wilson -- as the White House official and other sources cited by the Washington Post have claimed -- then there's a good chance that efforts to cover this up ran afoul of the law: with perjury, obstruction of justice, or other violations.
Based on what we already know, the logical next question is: what did President Bush and Vice President Cheney know and when did they know it?
Of course, the much bigger issue is the one from which Rove's troubles were born: a president and his advisors led us into a war based on false information. There was no attempted Iraqi purchase of uranium from Africa, nor could Iraq "launch a biological or chemical attack 45 minutes after the order is given," as the Bush Administration claimed. Nor was Saddam Hussein in league with Al Qaeda, as the majority of Americans were led to believe. In a war that now appears to have been completely unnecessary, more than 1,760 U.S. soldiers have been killed and many thousands more have been disabled; tens of thousands of Iraqis have also perished.
In May 2005, a memo summarizing a British Prime Minister's meeting of July 2002 was leaked, with the head of British intelligence reporting from meetings in Washington that the Bush Administration had already decided to invade Iraq, and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." More than 140 Members of Congress have written to President Bush demanding an explanation of the "Downing Street Memo."
Karl Rove's actions against Valerie and Joseph Wilson were just one small part of the Bush Administration's effort to deceive the public and make the case for war. But for now, this is the only part that is subject to legal scrutiny. And it's not going away anytime soon.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.