Rove: Not Entirely Forgotten

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 21, 2005; 12:15 PM

Wondering if -- with all the excitement over President Bush's brilliantly scripted Supreme Court nomination -- the press was going to forget about Karl Rove and the White House's role in the leak of a CIA agent's identity?

No worries.

Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei roar into the lead spot of The Washington Post's front page this morning with this development: "A classified State Department memorandum central to a federal leak investigation contained information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked '(S)' for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified, according to current and former government officials. . . .

"Prosecutors attempting to determine whether senior government officials knowingly leaked Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative to the media are investigating whether White House officials gained access to information about her from the memo, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.

"The memo may be important to answering three central questions in the Plame case: Who in the Bush administration knew about Plame's CIA role? Did they know the agency was trying to protect her identity? And, who leaked it to the media?

"The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the memo made it clear that information about Wilson's wife was sensitive and should not be shared. Yesterday, sources provided greater detail on the memo to The Post."

The Meaning of the Play

The Post's placement of this story was not lost on media observers.

Tim Grieve writes in Salon that "maybe the Post's editors really think this morning's Plame piece is worthy of front-page attention. But maybe this is what the White House can expect from some journalists who have finally grown tired of getting jerked around."

Greg Mitchell writes in Editor and Publisher: "It was almost as if the Washington Post was saying, 'So there.' "

Liberal Daily Kos blogger Markos Moulitsas writes: "Well, Roberts bought Rove all of what, 24 hours? I hope he got some sleep in, because he's got no reprieve."

The Story That Wouldn't Go Away

Washington Post White House correspondent Michael Fletcher was asked in a Live Online chat yesterday if the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. would push the leak story aside: "I think the nomination will push Rove out of the news only for short period of time," Fletcher replied.

"The Rove story is too important to stay out off the front page for long. Not only does it reveal how the White House sometimes operates, but it shows how sensitive the administration was to any arguments that undercut its rationale for war. The court obviously is important, perhaps almost as important as a presidential election. But developments in the Rove case will surely be back in the news."

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann blogged yesterday: "Who knows if President Bush really did rush his nomination of Judge John G. Roberts to the Supreme Court in order to knock the Karl Rove story off the front page. But if he did -- he did a poor job of it.

"Unfortunately for the conspiracy theory and/or the conspiracy, the first 18 hours of Democratic reaction to the Roberts candidacy seems to be almost benign.

"No hair-on-fire, 'Save America!' response means no controversy.

"No controversy means no headlines.

"No headlines means -- we rejoin the Karl Rove story already in progress. . . .

"Karl Rove is the Natalee Holloway of non-tabloid journalism. His story will stick around, whether or not politicians or reporters want it to, because people will watch."

Keeping the Story Alive

The Associated Press reports: "Eleven former intelligence officers are speaking up on behalf of CIA officer Valerie Plame, saying leaking her identity may have damaged national security and threatens the ability of U.S. intelligence gathering."

Here's their letter

Mark Preston (subscription required) writes in Roll Call: "In a set of talking points issued Wednesday morning, the Senate Democratic leadership urged rank-and-file Senators to continue spotlighting Rove's involvement in the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

" 'A Supreme Court nominee will not distract the country from the growing credibility problem at the White House,' Democrats were told to echo, according to a copy of the leadership memo obtained by Roll Call. 'If Bush wants to know what Karl Rove and Scooter Libby did or did not do, he should call them into his office and ask them. It's time for President Bush to show some leadership.' "

And Democrats are planning a joint House-Senate faux hearing Friday morning, "to examine the national security implications of disclosing the identity of a covert intelligence officer."

Brief Respite

At yesterday's press briefing , spokesman Scott McClellan only faced two questions about the leak:

"Q In Chicago in December of '03, the President said, 'I want to know who the leakers are.' Separate from the legal issue, is the President convinced now that Karl Rove was one of the leakers?

"MR. McCLELLAN: I've answered these questions, and I don't have anything to say beyond what I've already said. Go ahead.

"Q What's the answer to that one, then, Scott?

"MR. McCLELLAN: I've answered these questions over the course of the last week. Go ahead."

The second one was not entirely serious:

"Q Is it true Karl Rove was the first person to leak John Roberts' name to the media last night? (Laughter.)

"MR. McCLELLAN: Next question."

But I suspect the pace will pick up again today.

Rove's Odds

A press release announces: " Sportsbook.com has entered the fray in the latest political storm to rock the White House by offering odds on the future of its Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove. The opening line is that Rove will not be dismissed or resign in the wake of an ongoing criminal investigation, with odds at 1-6."

Conversely, the odds that he will be dismissed are 4 to 1.

The Supreme Show

Peter Baker and Charles Babington write in The Washington Post: "After meeting President Bush for coffee at the White House in the morning, Roberts headed to Capitol Hill for the ritual of convivial courtesy calls not seen in 11 years, while Republican operatives began television advertising to push the Senate to approve the appellate judge. Bush called for a 'fair and civil process' that would put Roberts on the bench by the time the court reconvenes Oct. 3. . . .

"Yet as the day progressed, Democrats seemed increasingly resigned to the notion that they cannot stop his appointment."

You can follow all the latest on washingtonpost.com's Supreme Court blog .

What Bush Asked (Another Candidate)

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "When President Bush sat down in the White House residence last Thursday to interview a potential Supreme Court nominee, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, he asked him about the hardest decision he had ever made - and also how much he exercised.

" 'Well, I told him I ran three and a half miles a day,' Judge Wilkinson recalled in a telephone interview on Wednesday. 'And I said my doctor recommends a lot of cross-training, but I said I didn't want to do the elliptical and the bike and the treadmill.' The president, Judge Wilkinson said, 'took umbrage at that,' and told his potential nominee that he should do the cross-training his doctor suggested.

" 'He thought I was well on my way to busting my knees,' said Judge Wilkinson, 60. 'He warned me of impending doom.' . . .

"Judge Wilkinson said he was not asked about his views on issues like abortion or even a particular legal case in his interview with Mr. Bush as well as in interviews with others on the White House staff; he would not say if he had talked to Vice President Dick Cheney. 'I wasn't crowded in any way,' Judge Wilkinson said. 'There was no litmus test applied.' "

McClellan was asked at yesterday's briefing if Bush had asked Roberts about his views on any hot-button social issues. McClellan vaguely denied it, but after the briefing sent a more forceful denial by e-mail: "He did not. The President does not ask potential nominees their personal views on so-called 'hot-button issues.' He does not believe in litmus tests."

But neither during nor after the briefing did McClellan directly respond to this question:

"Q [D]id Karl Rove or Dick Cheney or anybody else in the administration ask those hot-button questions?"

McClellan's response: "This was a decision made by the President. Obviously, there are a number of key advisors that have a role in the nomination process, but these were issues that the President addresses."

So is that a yes or a no?

Rove at Work

Bumiller reports: "By 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, as Mr. Bush was informing important members of the Senate before his 9 p.m. televised announcement, Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, was calling key conservatives to tell them that Judge Roberts was the pick."

The Other Candidates?

Bumiller writes: "Republicans close to the administration said they thought the interviews were with three other federal appellate judges: Edith Brown Clement, Edith H. Jones and J. Michael Luttig. White House officials would not disclose the names of the also-rans, but Mr. Bartlett told reporters that Mr. Bush's interviews had included women."

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "The White House declined to reveal the names of the others. But The Associated Press learned from several sources at the state level that they included Edith Brown Clement, a judge on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, and Samuel Alito, a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia."

Following the Script

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times that the nomination "was carefully planned by a White House eager to introduce its nominee to the nation and the Senate on its own terms.

"The rollout plan, overseen by Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, was intended to take full advantage of the power of the presidency to seize the national spotlight, beginning with Mr. Bush's televised prime-time speech from the White House on Tuesday night introducing Judge Roberts as the nation's first Supreme Court nominee in 11 years.

"The resulting images - complete with the nominee's two young children playing nearby while the president spoke - helped, in the view of administration officials, to deliver an initial impression of a modest, accomplished family man who could not be caricatured by Democrats as a fire-breathing ideologue."

Caroline Daniel writes in the Financial Times: "There was a jaunty, even coquettish, quality about President George W. Bush this week, as if he were harbouring a pleasurable secret."

Then, at Tuesday's announcement: "The stagecraft of the event - complete with footage of the 50-year-old Mr Roberts ushering in his cute young children, Jack and Josie, in Sunday pastels, and a friendly bonding session with the presidential pets - underlined Mr Bush's expertise in communications and his ability to exploit the glitz of the presidency."

From Whence the Clement Rumor?

Bumiller writes that McClellan said "later on Wednesday that the administration had never sent out signals that Judge Clement was the pick."

That sounds like something reporters could easily confirm -- or refute.

Howard Kurtz writes on washingtonpost.com this morning: "Did the Bush team put out misinformation on that crazy Tuesday to steer reporters away from John Roberts?

"We can't answer the question definitively because the journalists involved have a Matt Cooper problem -- they promised their sources anonymity, regardless of motive. But I can tell you that some of them are ticked and feeling misled."

Washington Monthly's liberal blogger Kevin Drum writes: "There are two options here: either (1) the source was honestly misled by the White House or else (2) the source was a knowing part of the misinformation plan. This means that every reporter who heard from this source should call back and give the source two choices: if it's (1), give up the White House informant. If it's (2), forfeit their anonymity.

"Sources who risk their jobs to provide information to the press deserve every protection a reporter can give them. Even a source who spins deserves protection. But a source who lies ought to be unmasked by any honest reporter. Who will be the first to do it?"

Conflict of Interest?

John Riley writes in Newsday: "Last Friday, on the day he met with President George W. Bush at the White House to seek elevation to the Supreme Court, Judge John Roberts also lent Bush some support from the bench his vote in a key war-on-terror decision.

"Roberts signed on to a 3-0 U.S. Court of Appeals decision issued that same day approving Bush's plan to use military commissions to try some prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The ruling overturned a district court and was lauded by the Justice Department.

"Judges are supposed to recuse themselves in situations where their impartiality can reasonably be called into question. Was Roberts' role just an interesting coincidence or a conflict?"

Previous Court Announcements

Apparently there are several of us interested in knowing when was the last time that a president announced his Supreme Court nominee on prime-time television. My answer is that the closest parallel I could find was when President Nixon nominated William Rehnquist as an associate justice, at 7:30 p.m., on national television.

In most of the cases since then, it was a much more casual affair -- and even included questions from reporters.

For the record, here's what I found:

Here's Nixon's Oval Office speech nominating Rehnquist on Oct. 21, 1971.

I can't find anything linkable about President Gerald Ford's nomination of John Paul Stevens, but I found an old Spencer Rich story in The Washington Post archives that says it took place at 4:25 p.m. on Nov. 28, 1975.

Here is President Ronald Reagan's announcement of Sandra Day O'Connor on July 7, 1981. He spoke at 10:46 a.m. to reporters assembled in the White House briefing room.

Here is Reagan's announcement about Antonin Scalia on June 17, 1986. He simultaneously announced he was nominating Rehnquist to be chief justice. That took place at 2 p.m. in the briefing room.

Here's Reagan announcing the ill-fated nomination of Robert Bork on July 1, 1987, in the briefing room at 2:30 p.m.

Here is Reagan announcing the ill-fated nomination of Douglas Ginsburg on Oct. 29, 1987, at 2 p.m. in the East Room.

Here is Reagan introducing Anthony Kennedy on Nov. 11, 1987, at 11:30 a.m. in the briefing room.

Here is President George H.W. Bush announcing David H. Souter 's nomination on July 23, 1990, at 5 p.m.

Here is the former President Bush nominating Clarence Thomas on July 1, 1991, at a 2 p.m. news conference in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Here is President Bill Clinton nominating Ruth Bader Ginsburg on June 14, 1993, at a 2 p.m. Rose Garden appearance.

And here is President Bill Clinton nominating Stephen Breyer on May 16, 1994, at 1 p.m. in the Rose Garden.

Poll Watch, Supreme Court Edition

Bill Nichols and Kathy Kiely write in USA Today: "An early sampling of public opinion found support for Roberts, but also a desire for more information about his views. A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll of 625 adults Wednesday found:

"51% called the choice excellent or good; 34% called it fair or poor; the rest had no opinion.

"76% said they needed more information before they could decide whether his views were 'mainstream.'

"74% felt it would be appropriate to ask Roberts about abortion at the hearings."

Poll Watch, Iraq Edition

The Wall Street Journal online (subscription required) reports: "American support for President Bush's Iraq policies continues to decline and is at its lowest level since March 2003, when Harris Interactive first measured public sentiment on this issue.

"The latest Harris poll shows 64% of adults believe Mr. Bush is doing a 'poor' or 'only fair' job of handling Iraq, while 34% say he is doing an 'excellent' or 'pretty good' job. In May, Harris found Mr. Bush had a 61% disapproval rating, while 37% approved."

Here's a graphic showing ratings on that issue over time.

Visit to Baltimore

Michael A. Fletcher writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush visited this city's busy port Wednesday and renewed his call for Congress to extend the expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which gives government wide latitude in investigating suspected terrorists."

Here is the text of his speech.

Michael Dresser and Julie Hirschfeld Davis write in the Baltimore Sun that "in a photo opportunity before the speech, Bush passed up a chance to inspect a powerful symbol of that progress -- a state-of-the-art container-screening technology across Colgate Creek at the Seagirt Marine Terminal -- and instead watched a demonstration of an older-model machine at Dundalk. . . .

"State of the art or not, the device appeared to impress Bush.

" 'It's sophisticated,' he told a crowd that included many members of the Ehrlich administration. 'You can look inside the truck. You don't even have to get in it. That's called technology. And it's working.' "

The Sun's Davis added this in her pool report that Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. introduced Bush, "cracking a joke at POTUS' expense -- 'How's that mountain-biking thing going?' -- before thanking and welcoming him."

Tax Panel Watch

David E. Rosenbaum writes in the New York Times: "President Bush's tax advisory commission will recommend abolishing the alternative minimum tax for individuals, the commission chairman said on Wednesday.

"But the chairman, Connie Mack, a Republican senator from Florida from 1989 to 2001, said there was no agreement on how to offset the $1.2 trillion in revenue over 10 years that would be lost if that tax were repealed."

Grenade Update

The Associated Press reports: "A man arrested after a fatal shootout with police has admitted to throwing a grenade during a May rally where President Bush gave a speech, a Georgian official said Thursday."

No word on his motive.


Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "Bush has held eight meetings with House members, three with senators, and appeared at five dedicated CAFTA events, the latest scheduled for today at the Organization of American States. . . .

"According to administration and House aides, the White House has authorized Republican leaders to secure votes with whatever is at hand, from amendments to the highway and energy bills to the still incomplete annual appropriations bills."

Being John Roberts

CBS News White House correspondent John Roberts writes about what the nomination means to him.

"After my four and a half years covering the Bush White House, I couldn't imagine the name 'John Roberts' and the phrase 'widely admired for his intellect, his sound judgment and his personal decency' being used in the same time zone, let alone the same sentence. More likely would have been 'John Roberts' and 'should join Judith Miller in jail'; or 'frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs'; or, 'Oh yeah, we've got a dossier on him'."

As for the Clement rumors: "I'm certain that there was no end of glee at the White House as officials watched us chase our tails all day. And I'll bet they chuckled to themselves as they let their telephones ring and ring as their caller IDs flashed up the numbers of White House reporters.

"As a correspondent, it was one of the most frustrating days of my life."

Blogger Humor

Liberal bloggers are having great fun pointing out this just-released Associated Press photo taken in June 2003. It shows Rove and Robert Novak at a party marking the 40th anniversary of Novak's newspaper column. Rove, like many other people at the event, is wearing a button reading, 'I'm a source, not a target.'

New White House Star

Wondering why Bush sported a particularly odd grin during parts of his speech Tuesday night?

Ladies and gentleman, the dance stylings of Jack Roberts, age 4.

© 2005 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive