It really sucks that the New York Times has put its columnists behind a firewall, but for those of you with access to their “select” service, I hope you read today’s column by Frank Rich: “It’s Bush-Cheney, Not Rove-Libby.” As the headline implies, Rich once again gets to the heart of the Plamegate scandal, that this is much more than just the story of a strategic leak intended to payback a whistle blower… this is about an administration that lied the nation into a disastrous war.
Now, as always, what matters most in this case is not whether Mr. Rove and Lewis Libby engaged in a petty conspiracy to seek revenge on a whistle-blower, Joseph Wilson, by unmasking his wife, Valerie, a covert C.I.A. officer. What makes Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation compelling, whatever its outcome, is its illumination of a conspiracy that was not at all petty: the one that took us on false premises into a reckless and wasteful war in Iraq. That conspiracy was instigated by Mr. Rove’s boss, George W. Bush, and Mr. Libby’s boss, Dick Cheney.
Rich delves into the little known White House Iraq Group (WHIG), set up by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card in August of 2002, and whose members include Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, Condoleeza Rice, Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin. Their mission: market a war in Iraq to the American people. Of course, WMDs were always the focus of the sales pitch, which explains the attempt to discredit Wilson and his debunking of the yellow cake uranium story.
And as usual, it’s the coverup that’s causing WHIG all it’s troubles.
It’s long been my hunch that the WHIG-ites were at their most brazen (and, in legal terms, reckless) during the many months that preceded the appointment of Mr. Fitzgerald as special counsel. When Mr. Rove was asked on camera by ABC News in September 2003 if he had any knowledge of the Valerie Wilson leak and said no, it was only hours before the Justice Department would open its first leak investigation. When Scott McClellan later declared that he had been personally assured by Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby that they were “not involved” with the leak, the case was still in the safe hands of the attorney general then, John Ashcroft, himself a three-time Rove client in past political campaigns. Though Mr. Rove may be known as “Bush’s brain,” he wasn’t smart enough to anticipate that Justice Department career employees would eventually pressure Mr. Ashcroft to recuse himself because of this conflict of interest, clearing the way for an outside prosecutor as independent as Mr. Fitzgerald.
“Bush’s Brain” is the title of James Moore and Wayne Slater’s definitive account of Mr. Rove’s political career. But Mr. Rove is less his boss’s brain than another alliterative organ (or organs), that which provides testosterone. As we learn in “Bush’s Brain,” bad things (usually character assassination) often happen to Bush foes, whether Ann Richards or John McCain. On such occasions, Mr. Bush stays compassionately above the fray while the ruthless Mr. Rove operates below the radar, always separated by “a layer of operatives” from any ill behavior that might implicate him. “There is no crime, just a victim,” Mr. Moore and Mr. Slater write of this repeated pattern.
THIS modus operandi was foolproof, shielding the president as well as Mr. Rove from culpability, as long as it was about winning an election. The attack on Mr. Wilson, by contrast, has left them and the Cheney-Libby tag team vulnerable because it’s about something far bigger: protecting the lies that took the country into what the Reagan administration National Security Agency director, Lt. Gen. William Odom, recently called “the greatest strategic disaster in United States history.”
Whether or not Mr. Fitzgerald uncovers an indictable crime, there is once again a victim, but that victim is not Mr. or Mrs. Wilson; it’s the nation. It is surely a joke of history that even as the White House sells this weekend’s constitutional referendum as yet another “victory” for democracy in Iraq, we still don’t know the whole story of how our own democracy was hijacked on the way to war.
The consensus in the other Washington is that there soon will be indictments in the Plamegate investigation, but either way, it will be nothing compared to the scandal that prompted the leak: President Bush led the nation into war, based on a lie. No coverup can hide that ugly truth.
Reader Kevin points out that Truthout has posted the full text of Rich’s column here. Don’t know if it’s legal or not, so read it while you can.