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Fitzgerald Leaves Questions Unanswered

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 13, 2006; 1:08 PM

Senior White House political adviser Karl Rove's successful avoidance of criminal charges in the CIA leak investigation is a huge win for the White House.

It's also a massive blow to those who had hoped that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation would end Rove's career as a cunning and outlandishly successful Republican strategist.

And finally, it means Fitzgerald probably won't be shedding any more light on Rove's role in the outing of Valerie Plame.

By all rights, that latter job should now fall to the press.

The White House has long maintained -- spuriously, I might add -- that the ongoing criminal investigation precluded them from answering any questions even vaguely related to Rove's conduct.

Now, without charges against Rove in the offing, the media should demand answers to a slew of questions. The overriding issue: Just because Rove wasn't charged with a crime doesn't mean his conduct meets the standards the public expects from its White House.

If Rove was irresponsibly lax with classified information, if he intentionally misled the press, the press secretary and the president, if he conspired with fellow White House aides to punish someone who spoke out against the president -- all of which appears to be the case -- what is he still doing serving as the president's most trusted aide?

(Note: President Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad is playing out even as I approach deadline, so it'll have to wait until tomorrow for a closer look. There's ongoing coverage here and here . Here are some wire photos . Don't miss this one .)

What Luskin Said

Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, released a two paragraph statement this morning:

"On June 12, 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove.

"In deference to the pending case, we will not make any further public statements about the subject matter of the investigation. We believe that the Special Counsel's decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove's conduct."

David Johnston writes for the New York Times: "The prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case on Monday advised Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, that he would not be charged with any wrongdoing, effectively ending the nearly three-year criminal investigation that had at times focused intensely on Mr. Rove.

"The decision by the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, announced in a letter to Mr. Rove's lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, lifted a pall that had hung over Mr. Rove who testified on five occasions to a federal grand jury about his involvement in the disclosure of an intelligence officer's identity. . . .

"In Mr. Rove's case, Mr. Fitzgerald centered his inquiry on why Mr. Rove did not admit early in the investigation that he had a conversation with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper about Ms. Wilson and whether Mr. Rove was forthcoming about the later discovery of an internal e-mail message that confirmed his conversation with Mr. Cooper, to whom Mr. Rove had mentioned the existence of the C.I.A. officer.

"Mr. Rove told the grand jury that he forgot the conversation with Mr. Cooper and volunteered it to Mr. Fitzgerald as soon as he recalled it, when his memory was jogged by the e-mail to Stephen J. Hadley, then deputy national security adviser, in which Mr. Rove referred to his discussion with Mr. Cooper."

Fred Barbash and Jim VandeHei write for The Washington Post: "In a brief phone interview, Luskin said that Rove was 'delighted, obviously. . . . We've always said he [Rove] did everything he could to cooperate' with the investigation being conducted by Fitzgerald. 'At the end of the day, he made a determination on the evidence.' "

What We Know About Rove and Plame

We know that Rove was the second of two sources for syndicated columnist Robert Novak 's column, in which Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA operative. We know Rove confirmed that to investigators, although he testified that all he did was say something like "I heard that, too" after Novak asked him about it.

We also know Rove was one of Time Magazine reporter Matt Cooper's sources, for his story mentioning Plame's CIA status. Rove eventually confirmed that to investigators after insisting that he had previously forgotten about the conversation.

Apparently, none of this rises to the level of a slam-dunk criminal case, according to Fitzgerald.

But consider that Rove, his lawyers and the White House repeatedly denied to the public that Rove was involved in the leak at all.

As ABC News's The Note reported on Sept. 29, 2003, ABC News producer Andrea Owen and a cameraman approached Rove that morning as he walked toward his car.

Owen: "Did you have any knowledge or did you leak the name of the CIA agent to the press?"

Rove: "No."

Then on August 31, 2004, Rove spoke to CNN's John King .

King: "Did someone in the White House leak the name of the CIA operative? What is your assessment of the status of the investigation, and can you tell us that you had nothing to do with. . . . "

Rove: "Well, I'll repeat what I said to ABC News when this whole thing broke some number of months ago. I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name."

Here is press secretary Scott McClellan in a Sept. 16, 2003 briefing:

"Q Now, this is apparently a federal offense, to burn the cover a CIA operative. . . . Did Karl Rove do it?

"MR. McCLELLAN: I said, it's totally ridiculous."

Here's McClellan on Sept. 29, 2003 :

"Q All right. Let me just follow up. You said this morning, 'The President knows' that Karl Rove wasn't involved. How does he know that?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I've made it very clear that it was a ridiculous suggestion in the first place. . . . So, I mean, it's public knowledge. I've said that it's not true. And I have spoken with Karl Rove."

On Sept. 30, 2003 , Bush himself was asked if Rove had a role in the CIA leak.

"Listen, I know of nobody -- I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information," he said. "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action. And this investigation is a good thing."

And here is McClellan in an Oct. 7, 2003 briefing: "If someone in this administration leaked classified information, they will no longer be a part of this administration, because that's not the way this White House operates, that's not the way this President expects people in his administration to conduct their business. . . .

"If someone sought to punish someone for speaking out against the administration, that is wrong, and we would not condone that activity. No one in this White House would condone that activity. . . .

"It's absurd to suggest that the White House would be engaged in that kind of activity. That is not the way this White House operates."

Also consider that Murray Waas wrote in the National Journal on Oct. 7, 2005: "White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove personally assured President Bush in the early fall of 2003 that he had not disclosed to anyone in the press that Valerie Plame, the wife of an administration critic, was a CIA employee, according to legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the accounts that both Rove and Bush independently provided to federal prosecutors. . . .

"In his own interview with prosecutors on June 24, 2004, Bush testified that Rove assured him he had not disclosed Plame as a CIA employee and had said nothing to the press to discredit Wilson, according to sources familiar with the president's interview."

And Thomas M. DeFrank wrote in the New York Daily News on October 19, 2005: "An angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair, sources told the Daily News.

" 'He made his displeasure known to Karl,' a presidential counselor told The News. 'He made his life miserable about this.' "

So did Rove lie to McClellan? Did Rove lie to Bush? What did Rove tell Bush? What does Bush think about that?

Is a criminal indictment the only thing that gets someone in trouble over there?

Here's a question for Bush: You said you'd fire anyone involved in the leak. Rove no longer faces criminal charges, but undeniably was involved. Now that nothing you do or say can in any way influence the criminal investigation, will you tell us what you know and when you knew it? Will you fire him? Will you strip him of his security clearance?

It seems to me that the White House has a variety of options: Admit Rove misled the president and his colleagues; admit the president and his colleagues misled the public on his behalf; admit they intentionally engaged in legalistic hairsplitting; or sweep it all under the rug.

It's up to the press corps to rule out the last of those options.

Some more background reading:

I wrote in July 11, 2005 , outlining the case -- as we knew it -- against Rove.

I wrote in October 26, 2005 , two days before Fitzgerald indicted vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby for perjury and obstruction, that Rove appeared poised to snatch one more victory from the jaws of defeat.

And I wrote in April 27 about Rove's shocking fifth appearance before Fitzgerald's grand jury.

Some Reaction

Public reaction to the Rove news was predictable.

David Wiessler writes for Reuters: "Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean said the fact Rove won't face indictment 'does not excuse his real sin, which is leaking the name of an intelligence operative during a time of war. He doesn't belong in the White House.'

" 'So I think this is probably good news for the White House, but it's not very good news for America,' Dean told NBC's 'Today Show.'

"But Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman told CNN this was just an example of how Democrats 'rush to judgment.'

" 'They owe him an apology,' Mehlman said of Democratic leaders."

The right side of the blogosphere is gloating. See, for instance, Glenn Reynolds on "from Fitzmas to Fizzlemas."

The left is scratching its head, forlornly, but ever hopeful. Writes Christy Hardin Smith : "Bottom line for me: it's not over until Fitzgerald says it is over."

John Solomon writes for the Associated Press with the White House's initial response: "White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush, on a brief and secretive trip to Baghdad to meet with Iraq's new prime minister, was notified that Rove had been cleared.

" 'We are pleased that the special counsel has concluded his deliberations,' Perino said. 'Karl is, as he has been throughout the process, fully focused on the task at hand crafting and building support for the president's agenda.' "

What happened behind Fitzgerald's closed doors? We may never know.

Rove's Speech

Rove didn't let on to the big news last night at a New Hampshire fundraiser.

David A. Fahrenthold writes in The Washington Post: "In a speech to New Hampshire Republican officials here Monday night, the White House deputy chief of staff attacked Democrats who have criticized the U.S. war effort in Iraq, such as Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), who he said advocate 'cutting and running.' "

Farenthold writes that "it was difficult to hear in this speech any signs of a more conciliatory White House.

"Instead, Rove's speech was about sharpening the differences between the GOP and its opponents."

Rove at Work

Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten write in the Los Angeles Times: "A rule designed by the Environmental Protection Agency to keep groundwater clean near oil drilling sites and other construction zones was loosened after White House officials rejected it amid complaints by energy companies that it was too restrictive and after a well-connected Texas oil executive appealed to White House senior advisor Karl Rove.

"The new rule, which took effect Monday, came after years of intense industry pressure, including court battles and behind-the-scenes agency lobbying. But environmentalists vowed Monday that the fight was not over, distributing internal White House documents that they said portrayed the new rule as a political payoff to an industry long aligned with the Republican Party and President Bush."

Scooter Libby Watch

Meanwhile, there was a hearing yesterday on the case that Fitzgerald did indict.

Toni Locy writes for the Associated Press: "The special prosecutor in the CIA leak investigation said Monday he doesn't expect the White House to attempt to block Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide from using classified intelligence material in his defense to perjury charges.

"Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald told U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton that the White House has designated certain documents that it is concerned about being made public during a trial.

"If those documents are among those that I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby wants to prepare his defense, Fitzgerald said, he and Libby's lawyers will work out solutions with the judge in secret under a law designed to deal with defendants' access to classified government information."

Press Conference (Non) Watch

Bush had scheduled a 2:30 p.m. press conference this afternoon in the Rose Garden -- but it turns out to have been just part of the ruse set up to cover for his trip to Baghdad.


Bush made two short public comments about Iraq yesterday in Camp David.

Reporters were briefly allowed into Bush's meeting yesterday, long enough to hear him thank the participants in Iraq, via teleconference. "I thought your assessment of the situation in Iraq was very realistic," he declared.

In an afternoon press availability , he said: "Whatever we do will be based upon the conditions on the ground. And whatever we do will be toward a strategy of victory. And so this is a process of getting to know the -- understand the Iraqi capabilities, particularly the command and control structure, and what we need to do to help them achieve victory."

But Bush's assessment of conditions on the ground has been notoriously non-objective. (See my May 24 column, Out of Touch on Iraq . So what struck me is that when you arbitrarily decide how to describe the conditions on the ground, as Bush has time and time again, then saying "whatever we do will be based upon the conditions on the ground" really means "we'll do whatever we feel like."

See my speculative column yesterday . -- although it looks more and more like PR pyrotechnics, not a course change, are the strategy for now.

As for yesterday's activities, David E. Sanger and Jim Rutenberg wrote in the New York Times: "President Bush gathered top aides at Camp David here on Monday to calibrate the best way forward in Iraq during what the administration described as a critical juncture, following the death last week of the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq and the final formation of a unity government there.

"The meeting was as much a media event as it was a high-level strategy session, devised to send a message that this is 'an important break point for the Iraqi people and for our mission in Iraq from the standpoint of the American people,' in the words of the White House counselor, Dan Bartlett."

Here's the text of Bartlett's gaggle.

Rick Klein writes in the Boston Globe: "The unusual Iraq war summit President Bush is hosting at Camp David this week reflects a new White House attitude that includes a willingness to consider dissenting views and take a more deliberate approach to policy questions, a style change for a president known to keep close counsel, according to political observers and Republican lawmakers."

But, as Klein notes: "It remains to be seen whether the changes will ultimately transform the White House and its policies."

Poll Watch

Conflicting stories today from two major polls.

Bill Nichols writes in USA Today: "In the wake of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death, President Bush is seeing improvement in public confidence that the Iraq war is winnable, a USA Today/Gallup Poll shows.

"The new poll found that 48% believe the United States probably or definitely will win the war, up from 39% in April. It also found that 47% believe things are going well in Iraq, up from 38% in March.

"The survey, taken Friday to Sunday and released Monday, also showed Bush's approval rating going up to 38% from 36% earlier this month and an all-time low of 31% in May."

Here are those poll results .

But CBS News reports: "The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has done little to improve views of how things are going for the U.S. in Iraq or boost President Bush's approval ratings, a CBS News poll finds."

CBS finds Bush's approval rating at 33 percent -- down slightly from 35 percent last month.

Torture Watch

Alan Cooperman writes in The Washington Post: "Twenty-seven religious leaders, including megachurch pastor Rick Warren, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, have signed a statement urging the United States to 'abolish torture now -- without exceptions.' . . .

"By suggesting that recent abuse of prisoners may not be just an aberration but a reflection of U.S. policy, the statement contains an implicit challenge to the Bush administration, according to some signers.

" 'I'm not persuaded that this issue has been put to bed yet by the Bush administration,' said David P. Gushee, a philosophy professor at Union University in Tennessee who wrote an influential article against torture this year in Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine. 'I'm worried that we still don't truly know what is going on in all our detention centers around the world.' "

Twins Watch

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post: "Barbara Bush -- the dark-haired, older-by-minutes one -- has pulled up stakes for Manhattan, sources confirmed yesterday. What the First Daughter has planned for NYC remains unknown; the White House maintains a firm policy of not commenting about the twins' personal lives. But then, it was never clear what exactly she had been up to the past several months in D.C.

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