Look Over There!

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, July 19, 2005; 1:00 PM

The stonewall's not working so well. Neither is the legalistic parsing. The furor over who leaked a CIA operative's name shows no sign of abating.

Two options present themselves to the White House: Go public with all the facts -- or try to change the subject.

Signs are pointing toward the latter.

Today's news includes:

A new poll showing that the public is increasingly skeptical that the White House is cooperating with the federal investigation into who leaked Valerie Plame's identity, and wants Karl Rove fired if it turns out to be him.

A shifting stance by President Bush over what he considers a firing offense -- one that clashes with his vow to bring back high ethical standards to the White House.

A new report that the classified State Department memo that may have played a role in the leak made clear that information identifying Plame was sensitive and shouldn't be shared.

Word that President Bush is expediting his announcement of a Supreme Court nominee to deflect attention from the leak story.

Poll Watch

A new ABC News poll finds: "Just a quarter of Americans think the White House is fully cooperating in the federal investigation of the leak of a CIA operative's identity, a number that's declined sharply since the investigation began. And three-quarters say that if presidential adviser Karl Rove was responsible for leaking classified information, it should cost him his job.

"Skepticism about the administration's cooperation has jumped. As the initial investigation began in September 2003, nearly half the public, 47 percent, believed the White House was fully cooperating. That fell to 39 percent a few weeks later, and it's lower still, 25 percent, in this new ABC News poll."

Democrats and independents are a lot more skeptical than Republicans about whether the White House is cooperating, but sizable majorities of Republicans, independents and Democrats alike -- 71, 74 and 83 percent, respectively -- believe Rove should be fired if he leaked classified information.

Here are the complete results.

Among the other findings: 53 percent of those polled said they are following this issue closely; and 76 percent called it a serious matter.

Moving the Goalposts

Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "After originally saying anyone involved in leaking the name of the covert CIA operative would be fired, Bush told reporters: 'If somebody committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.'

"This is a small, but potentially very significant, distinction, because details that have emerged from the leak investigation over the past week show that Karl Rove, Bush's top political aide, and I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, discussed Plame with reporters before her name was revealed to the public. It is unclear whether either man committed a crime, according to lawyers familiar with the case."

David E. Sanger and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times: "The president's answer to a question at a news conference on Monday, however brief, articulated a standard for keeping or dismissing members of his staff that appeared to differ from some past statements made both by him and by the White House spokesman."

Furthermore, Sanger and Stevenson write: "Mr. Bush's insistence on Monday that he would wait for a final legal verdict on his staff members seemed to set a standard of accountability for Mr. Rove that is different from the standards applied elsewhere in the government, some experts say."

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Bush saying his comments reflect a new standard that isn't consistent with obligations under an executive order to protect national security secrets.

Thomas M. DeFrank and Kenneth R. Bazinet write in the New York Daily News: "The Clintonesque parsing of words apparently raised the presidential bar in order to protect aides, including his political mastermind Karl Rove - a central figure who helped at least one reporter discover that Valerie Plame was a CIA employee."

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said: "The president's statement was really a gift to Karl Rove because he said the only way Rove could lose his job is if it's proved that he committed a crime. And that's months, years off, and probably will never happen."

Los Angeles Times reporter Ron Brownstein said on CNN that "what the president did today, where we seemed to move the goalposts -- you know, David Bowie had a song, 'putting out fires with gasoline,' and, in a way, the president today has probably given this story a few more days of lift by saying that he would fire someone if they were involved in a crime."

The 'Honor and Dignity' Problem

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "The phrasing was unusual for the president, who campaigned for office in 2000 on a pledge 'to restore honor and dignity' to a White House he implied had been sullied by scandals of the Clinton administration."

Mark Silva writes in the Chicago Tribune: "For Bush, who campaigned as a straight shooter with promises to 'uphold the honor and dignity of the White House,' this shifting stance on who may be held accountable for a controversy that has consumed the capital reveals how politically sensitive a special prosecutor's investigation of the CIA leak is becoming. . . .

"For an administration that takes pride in high standards of personal conduct and for a president who came to office amid public frustration over the personal conduct of his predecessor, the newest twists of a federal investigation into who leaked the agent's identity could be taking a political toll."

For the Record

Here is the text of Bush's remarks at the swearing-in ceremony for senior members of the White House staff on Jan. 22, 2001.

An excerpt: "We have all taken an oath, and from this moment on it is our jobs to honor it. . . .

"[W]e must remember the high standards that come with high office. This begins with careful adherence to the rules. I expect every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct. This means avoiding even the appearance of problems. This means checking and, if need be, doublechecking that the rules have been obeyed. This means never compromising those rules."

Memo News

Anne Marie Squeo and John D. McKinnon (subscription required) write in the Wall Street Journal: "A classified State Department memo that may be pivotal to the CIA leak case made clear that information identifying an agent and her role in her husband's intelligence-gathering mission was sensitive and shouldn't be shared, according to a person familiar with the document. . . .

"Investigators are trying to determine if the memo, dated June 10, 2003, was how White House officials learned that Valerie Wilson was an agent for the Central Intelligence Agency. . . .

"The memo's details are significant because they will make it harder for officials who saw the document to claim that they didn't realize the identity of the CIA officer was a sensitive matter."

Supreme Court Watch

The Supreme Court blog on washingtonpost.com has all the latest on what looks like an accelerated schedule for Bush to name his nominee.

Jeanne Cummings and Jess Bravin (subscription required) write in the Wall Street Journal: "Some White House advisers are urging the president to expedite his announcement to deflect attention from a growing scandal over the role of senior administration officials -- including political adviser Karl Rove -- in leaking a Central Intelligence Agency agent's identity to the news media in an effort to discredit critics of the White House's prewar Iraq intelligence.

" 'The Rove situation has accelerated it,' said a Republican lawyer who consults the White House on judicial issues. 'They would like to get something that will knock it off the front page.' "

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush said yesterday that he plans to interview finalists for the Supreme Court to 'get this process moving' so that the Senate can confirm the next justice by the beginning of the new term in October, but gave little clue about whom he is considering. . . .

" 'I will sit down with some and talk to them face to face, those who I have not known already,' he said. 'You know, we've got some people that [are] perhaps in contention that I've already spent time with, that I know. . . . And so I don't need to interview those.' "

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "Republicans close to the White House said that a leading candidate to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was Judge Edith Brown Clement of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans."

Jan Crawford Greenburg writes in the Chicago Tribune: "Although some Supreme Court analysts think that President Bush will turn to a woman or minority to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the White House also is weighing a different kind of history-making pick: nominating a strong conservative who would change the direction and future of the court."

Libby Watch

A lot of people know who Karl Rove is. Scooter Libby, though? That's another story.

Brian Todd on CNN provides some background on Libby: "A man close to Vice President Cheney, very influential, who observers say is anonymous by choice."

Todd spoke to some former associates. "They say Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby think very much alike, with the same worldview, favoring a tough-minded assertive foreign policy, aimed at preempting threats to U.S. national security. . . .

"Now, these same observers are conflicted on whether Dick Cheney's office could have been involved in the CIA leaks. One says with their emphasis on security and discretion, it's unlikely anyone from Cheney's inner circle would divulge that kind of information to reporters, but another observer said, if these people believe someone to be -- is attacking them, quote, 'these fellows are extremely rough.' "

The Daily Grilling

Kristin Jensen notes in a Bloomberg story that Scott McClellan was asked about the CIA leak no less than 27 times during his briefing yesterday.

Here's the text. It was another scorcher.

Here's Helen Thomas, not one to mince words: "What is his problem? Two years, and he can't call Rove in and find out what the hell is going on? I mean, why is it so difficult to find out the facts? It costs thousands, millions of dollars, two years, it tied up how many lawyers? All he's got to do is call him in."

CNN's Bob Franken valiantly tried to find out just how much cover Bush was giving his staff. Franken: "Given the new formulation 'if somebody committed a crime,' would that be a crime as determined by an indictment, or a crime as determined by a conviction?"

McClellan: "Again, Bob, I'm not going to add to what the President said. You heard his remarks, and I think I've been through these issues over the course of the last week. I don't know that there's really much more to add at this point."

McClellan is briefing again today, at 1:15 p.m. ET

Rove Keeps His Cool

Here's an Associated Press photo of Rove trying to keep cool yesterday.

Rove and the FBI

Edwin Chen and Richard B. Schmitt pick up on something I missed in yesterday's Newsweek cover story.

"On Monday, a person familiar with the investigation confirmed a report in the latest issue of Newsweek magazine that, when first interviewed by the FBI about the leak, Rove did not mention a conversation he had about Plame with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in the days before Plame's name surfaced in the news media.

"The source said Rove later mentioned the conversation to investigators, who did not appear to be aware of it when Rove made the revelation.

"It is not known whether Rove initially mentioned a conversation he had with [Robert] Novak days before Novak published his column unmasking Plame.

"Failing to disclose material facts to investigators can, under some circumstances, be a violation of federal law."

Stalking Rove

Rove is the headliner at a fundraising dinner tonight in Washington for Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), writes Nancy Petersen of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Moveon.org will be there.

The Iraqi Election Manipulation Story

Astonishingly, there were no questions at yesterday's briefing about Seymour Hersh's New Yorker story alleging that that despite congressional objections, the White House went ahead with a plan to covertly manipulate Iraq's Jan. 30 elections.

But the Associated Press apparently got McClellan to respond later. "'We did have concerns that outsiders might try to influence the election, including Iran,' press secretary Scott McClellan said. 'That raised concerns about whether there might be a need to level the playing field for the elections, and it presented us with some difficult issues about what action to take, if any, in response to those concerns.'

" 'And in the final analysis, the president made the decision that our policy would be not to try to influence the outcome of the election by covertly helping individual candidates for office.' "

Big India News

Dana Milbank and Dafna Linzer write in The Washington Post: "President Bush agreed yesterday to share civilian nuclear technology with India, reversing decades of U.S. policies designed to discourage countries from developing nuclear weapons. . . .

"Participants in the discussions said there had been debate within the administration about whether the deal with India -- which built its atomic arsenal in secret -- would undercut U.S. efforts to confront Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs. There were also concerns about how the agreement would be accepted in Pakistan, India's regional rival and an ally in the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda."

Steven R. Weisman writes in the New York Times: "For the Bush administration, the agreement was a major step forward in what has been a campaign since 2001 to improve ties with India, in part as a counterweight to China. That effort was disrupted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and by the American decision to provide military aid to Pakistan, India's longtime rival."

Weisman writes that several nuclear weapons experts said the agreement might be a negative influence on the many states that -- unlike India -- have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. "The fear is that these countries, seeing the deal offered India, might be tempted to get nuclear arms, especially if the crises over North Korea and Iran spin out of control."

Much of yesterday's agreement is foreshadowed in this report from Ashley J. Tellis, a specialist on U.S.-India relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The Big Din

Roxanne Roberts writes in The Washington Post: "The pink and green elephant centerpieces signaled this was no ordinary evening at the White House. The tables in the State Dining Room were covered in saffron-colored silk with green mums and hot pink roses shaped into pachyderms -- a nod to India, not the loyal Republicans in the room.

"Although earlier in the day President Bush had called it a 'little family dinner,' last night's black-tie affair for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the first big White House social event in nearly two years to honor a head of government, and it included all the traditional frills of a state occasion."

There were 134 people on the public guest list. Karl Rove was not on it. But Libby was. Reuters snapped a picture.

Roberts also notes: "After dinner, the party moved to the East Room to be joined by 126 more guests invited to sit in for the after-dinner entertainment by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. This portion of the evening was, for the first time at an official dinner, closed to any news coverage, and the names of the after-dinner crowd were not released."

Full details of the menu and settings on the Indian NewKerala Web site.

Flip-Flop Flap

Jodi S. Cohen and Maegan Carberry wrote in the Chicago Tribune last week about Kate Darmody, who joined teammates from the national championship Northwestern University women's lacrosse team at a White House ceremony.

Here's the official photo.

Note the footwear.

As Darmody's brother put it in his e-mail to her: "YOU WORE FLIP-FLOPS TO THE WHITE HOUSE????!!!!"

Today's Washington Post Names and Faces column reports: "On NBC's 'Today' show yesterday, Darmody and teammate Shelby Chlopak said they would auction off the flip-flops, with the proceeds going to a fund for a 10-year-old girl with a brain tumor."

Blogger Humor

Arianna Huffington writes on Huffingtonpost.com about Bush's new vow to ban criminals from the White House: "Of course, it would be hard for this 'someone' to continue to work in Bush's administration, since this someone would be in prison. But I guess the 'restoring integrity to the White House' President is assuring us that, were it even possible to work out an arrangement whereby the offender could continue to fulfill his White House duties from a federal penitentiary, this president just cares too much about integrity to allow that kind of thing."

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