I doubt this was Karl Rove's intention, but with his new book, he demonstrates how the Bush White House got away with lying.
Here's the back story. In September 2003, a furor erupted when the news emerged that the Justice Department had begun an investigation of the leak that outed undercover CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Several months earlier -- while her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was slamming the Bush administration for having misled the nation into the Iraq war with a phony WMD argument -- two administration sources had told conservative columnist Robert Novak that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Novak published this information, and her cover was blown. (Valerie Wilson had managed a CIA unit that had been searching for evidence of WMDs in Iraq.) Under federal law, it is a felony for a government official to knowingly reveal information about a clandestine CIA officer. Consequently, the Justice Department investigation was a serious threat to Novak's sources and the White House.
With that firestorm underway, the Bush White House looked to douse some of the flames. At a dramatic press conference, White House press secretary Scott McClellan declared that Karl Rove, Bush's top strategist, was "not involved" in the Plame leak: "I've spoken with Karl about this matter. . . .There's no truth to the suggestion that he was." McClellan remarked, "If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration." The next day, Bush echoed McClellan's comments about Rove: "I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information." Bush added, "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action."
But Rove had indeed leaked the information about Valerie Plame Wilson, and her employment at the CIA had been classified. He had shared the information with Novak and Matt Cooper, then of Time magazine. (Novak's other source was Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state.) So the White House had peddled false information. As McClellan noted in his memoir, that was because Rove had lied to him. And Rove stood by silently when McClellan subsequently told the world that Rove hadn't played any part in this caper.
But what happened when Bush found out about all this lying? Not much, according to Rove's book, which is due out on Tuesday. In the book, Rove recounts that at some point he told the president he had been one of Novak's sources for the Plame leak. How did Bush react? According to Rove
, "Bush sounded a little annoyed." And that was it.
The president was not angry that Rove had lied to McClellan, that McClellan had passed that lie to the public, or that he (Bush) had publicly confirmed the lie. Moreover, Bush did not take any action against Rove, as he had promised to do with whoever had been behind the CIA leak. Nor did he do anything to correct the false information McClellan had placed on the public record. Bush allowed Rove's lie to stand. It was only because of the work of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Rove's role as a leaker eventually became known. And Fitzgerald nearly indicted Rove, but Rove managed to escape (unlike Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who was convicted of lying to FBI agents and a grand jury).
What's the moral of this tale? A top White House official can lie about a national security investigation with impunity and then go on to make money writing a book showing that the president didn't care about this lie. Don't share this lesson with your children.
Meanwhile, one of the key points in Rove's book is that Bush did not
"lie us" into the Iraq war by making false assertions about Iraq's WMD capabilities. Yet as I detailed at MotherJones.com
, in the run-up to that war, Bush, Cheney and Co. repeatedly overstated the iffy intelligence, declaring that there was no doubt when the available intelligence was loaded with uncertainty. In several instances, they went further and just made up stuff. All told, they held a reckless disregard for accuracy and waged a willful campaign of misrepresentation. These lies were far more consequential than anything the White House said about the CIA leak case. But it's not a coincidence that in both instances Bush and Rove didn't tell the truth. The widely accepted view of the Iraq war, as Rove now acknowledges, is that Bush greased the way with lies and mischaracterizations. But no book written by Rove, who has already proven he's willing to lie to protect himself, will change that.
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Tagged: George W. Bush
, Iraq war
, Joseph Wilson
, Karl Rove
, Valerie Plame