It’s hard to find heroes in ongoing Rove saga
By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
WHEN IT FIRST happened 10 days ago, I just glanced over the story and shrugged at a classic example of how political parties distort policymaking to the point that no one in Washington seems capable of simply doing the right and reasonable thing for the good of the country.
But when I went back a few days later and read more about it, I just got more disgusted. Here are some of the headlines:
— Newsday: “Partisan battle on Rove; Democrats’ effort to strip Bush adviser’s security clearance fails as GOP retaliates with slap at top Dem.”
— The Boston Globe: “… Democrats Foiled On Documents.”
— The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Democrats take aim at Rove….”
What’s wrong with this picture? The issue was whether Karl Rove, President Bush’s political Svengali, should be stripped of his security clearance because he had some as-yet-undefined involvement in the leak of the name of a CIA officer.
That’s a serious matter, deserving of serious consideration — not a partisan slapfest. My own gut reaction is that of course he shouldn’t have any sort of high-level clearance. He’s a political hack who just happens to hold the title of “deputy chief of staff.” (In the spy world, I believe that’s referred to as having “official cover.”)
Mr. Rove, good buddy of the appalling Grover Norquist, may currently be at the top of the heap of political hacks, but that just puts him at the bottom of the list of people I would trust with sensitive information. I just don’t trust anyone of that breed, whether we’re talking Mr. Rove, James Carville or Lee Atwater.
In a rational universe — or a rational republic, which I would settle for — this man would not have had a security clearance to begin with. And by “rational republic,” I mean one in which policy trumped politics, and the national interest did not have to compete with the constant jockeying for partisan advantage.
But that’s not the way things work. On July 14, apparently frustrated that their campaign to get Mr. Rove fired wasn’t getting enough traction, Democrats presented legislation to deny access to classified information to any federal employee who discloses a covert CIA operative’s identity.
This stems, of course, from the never-ending battle over whether Mr. Rove did or did not blow the cover of one Valerie Plame as retaliation for a report filed by her husband, ex-diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, that supposedly undermined the Bush administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein had been trying to obtain material for nuclear weapons from Niger. Since an ongoing investigation has apparently pointed at Mr. Rove as having mentioned Ms. Plame (although not by name) to a reporter, Democrats want the president to fire Mr. Rove.
They pin this demand not on Mr. Rove having committed a crime (it seems highly unlikely at this point that he would become the second person in history ever to be prosecuted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982), but on Mr. Bush’s having said he would fire anyone in his employ who was involved in such a leak.
On one level, that seems a reasonable expectation. I wish I thought that was all that was involved here. Unfortunately, I know Democrats want to make hay from demanding that the president do something they believe he’ll never do.
This matter is of enormous importance to the president because he sticks by his friends even when he shouldn’t (see Don Rumsfeld), and of equally great importance to the Democrats because they want to embarrass and weaken the president as much as possible, whether Mr. Rove goes or not.
Mr. Rove doesn’t have to have a title or even a desk in the White House to keep doing all the things that his opposition despises him for. This isn’t about substance, though. It’s about gaining partisan advantage.
But if the unsuccessful Democratic initiative in the U.S. Senate on the 14th was tainted by partisan interest, it still didn’t smell as bad as the Republican response.
Majority Leader Bill Frist put forth an amendment to strip Minority Leader Harry M. Reid and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of their security clearances. There was no serious attempt to pretend that this was anything but naked retaliation. It was so bad that 20 of his fellow Republicans joined Democratic senators in rejecting it, 64 to 33. (The vote on the “get Rove” proposal was along par
ty lines, 53-44.)
The disgusting thing is that those 20 grownups who bucked their own leader’s idiocy are the only individuals involved in this that a serious, disinterested person can applaud. I certainly can’t cheer for the self-righteous Mr. Wilson, who declared on NBC’s “Today” show that “What this thing has been for the past two years has been a cover-up, a cover-up of the web of lies that underpin the justification for going to war in Iraq.”
He neglects to mention that a bipartisan (oh, there’s a refreshing word) Senate intelligence committee report found that he has a problem with the truth himself. I quote from The Washington Post of July 10, 2004:
“The panel found that Wilson’s report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson’s assertions and even the government’s previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address.”
Bottom line: No one should pay too much attention to what Mr. Wilson says. But some people will, as long as what he says is to their partisan advantage. And the president shouldn’t listen to what Mr. Rove says. But he does, and he will continue to do so, no matter how this little drama ends.
It’s hard to find heroes in ongoing Rove saga