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 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
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
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
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
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.