Waiting for the Sword

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, October 19, 2005; 1:15 PM

The White House is suffering from a bad case of the nerves as the feverish speculation over special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald's intentions increasingly points toward the likelihood that he will indict one or more senior administration officials next week.

Among the latest developments:

* The Associated Press reports that senior adviser and possible target Karl Rove appears to be clearing his schedule of public events as he awaits word.

* The New York Times reports that Fitzgerald is not intending to file a final report on his investigation -- and the paper interprets that as a strong sign that he intends to file charges. (The unlikely alternative being that he and his grand jury just fold up and disappear.)

* The New York Daily News reports that Bush scolded Rove two years ago for his "ham-handed" behavior regarding the leak, but is now firmly backing him.

* The National Journal details the possible case against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff.

* There are scattered reports that Fitzgerald has a cooperating witness from inside the White House.

Fear Stalks the Corridors

Mark Silva writes in the Chicago Tribune: "Inside the White House, one senior administration official said, reports of the prosecutor homing in on Rove and Libby have had an effect 'like Novocain.' The official said: 'Everyone's trying to act like normal, but it's not.' "

Nedra Pickler writes for the Associated Press: "Juggling appearances before a grand jury and conservative admirers didn't seem to make sense, so presidential adviser Karl Rove has canceled three such outings as he waits to hear whether he or anyone else will be indicted in the leak of a CIA officer's identity."

Here's Chris Matthews on his MSNBC show last night: "Franklin Roosevelt said, 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.'

"Tonight in the West Wing of the Bush White House, that's not exactly true.

"The fear -- and it is real -- is that Patrick Fitzgerald and his U.S. Attorneys Office will identify federal felonies in the conduct of the White House staff, laws that were broken in an effort to punish a critic of the WMD case for the Iraq war."

Matthews posed a slew of ferocious questions: "Did the fierce battle of leaks between elements of the Central Intelligence Agency who opposed going to war in Iraq and the hawks in the vice president's office escalate to actual law breaking? Did the vice president in an effort to defend himself from an onslaught of charges by Joseph Wilson urge his staff to silence the former ambassador? Did Cheney, through anger or loss of temper, create a climate for political hardball and worse? Did he stoke his staff in the late spring and early summer of 2003 to such a level of ferocity that some of its members crossed the line into illegality? And will Patrick Fitzgerald determine that in doing so, he crossed that dire line himself?"

Here's a good question he put to correspondent Norah O'Donnell.

"MATTHEWS: Do we know whether the president would take charge if there are indictments, and remove people from office quickly and summarily to gain, to recontrol of the situation at the White House rather than let them leave at their leisure or takes leaves of absences or that sort of thing? Do we have any indication that Andy Card and the president will bring in new people and he will assert his leadership in the White House and clean the air?

"O'DONNELL: I think it's a huge question. . . .

"There has been some reporting that Karl Rove or Scooter Libby would step aside if indicted so that they could fight these charges vigorously. But then Rove's lawyer said yesterday that that's not true that he would do that. So it's not clear.

"But I think if you talk to any lawyer or anybody involved in Washington politics, if some senior White House staffer were indicted, it would be very difficult for them to stay on the staff. I would think that the president would try and remove himself from the immediacy of that decision, or that staffer wouldn't even make the president make that decision."

Matthews also had this to say about press secretary Scott McClellan: "How can he come out day after day like a figure on a Schwarzwarld [cuckoo] clock and just come out and make these chirpings, these announcements that turn out not to be true and then continue to do the job? Don't they just laugh at him down there?"

No Report, Says the Times

David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times: "The special counsel in the C.I.A. leak case has told associates he has no plans to issue a final report about the results of the investigation, heightening the expectation that he intends to bring indictments, lawyers in the case and law enforcement officials said yesterday. . . .

"A final report had long been considered an option for Mr. Fitzgerald if he decided not to accuse anyone of wrongdoing, although Justice Department officials have been dubious about his legal authority to issue such a report. . . .

"Some lawyers in the case had expressed hope that a final report would provide Mr. Fitzgerald with a vehicle to disclose his investigative findings even if he absolved everyone of wrongdoing. Democrats in Congress had also expressed a desire for such a report, apparently hoping it would offer fresh details about the administration's actions."

Johnston and Stevenson conclude: "Without a report, it seems likely that questions about the case may remain unanswered and that a complete account of the administration's activities may never be known, including the details of testimony by the scores of administration officials who were interviewed in the inquiry."

Bush Scolded Rove?

Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News: "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.' . . .

"A second well-placed source said some recently published reports implying Rove had deceived Bush about his involvement in the Wilson counterattack were incorrect and were leaked by White House aides trying to protect the President.

" 'Bush did not feel misled so much by Karl and others as believing that they handled it in a ham-handed and bush-league way,' the source said."

But now, Bush is circling the wagons around Rove, DeFrank writes.

" 'Karl is fighting for his life,' [another] official added, 'but anything he did was done to help George W. Bush. The President knows that and appreciates that.' "

ABC News the Note says DeFrank's story "might be a window into some new White House thinking on how best to position the President in advance of any possible indictments."

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) this morning blogs that this story doesn't wash with Bush's previous statements.

And blogger Josh Marshall has excerpts from this morning's gaggle, in which McClellan tries to quash the story -- while at the same time not commenting on it.

Waas Details the Case Against Libby

On the National Journal Web site, Murray Waas provides a detailed look, via his sources, at the contradictions between Libby's testimony and that of New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

"One crucial contradiction between Miller and Libby, the sources say, involves a July 8, 2003, breakfast meeting during which the two discussed Valerie Plame, the covert CIA operative whose identity was revealed a week later in a newspaper column and whose husband, Joe Wilson, was a critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

"According to attorneys familiar with his testimony, Libby told the grand jury that at the meeting, he told Miller that Plame had something to do with Wilson's being sent on a controversial CIA-sponsored mission to Africa, but that he did not know that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA or anything else about her.

"However, Miller testified and turned over notes from the July 8 conversation to the grand jury that showed that Libby had told her that Plame worked for the CIA's Weapons, Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control office."

Waas also writes that "evidence that Libby might have tried to discourage Miller's testimony has put Libby's testimony in a worse light, according to government officials briefed on the matter."

Liberal blogger Jeralyn Merritt reads Waas and concludes: "Libby appears to be in a heap of trouble. In addition to charges of perjury or making false statements to federal officials, he might be looking at obstruction of justice and witness-tampering. And those are just the possible offenses for conduct occurring after the leak of Valerie Plame's identity. If he's also charged with offenses relating to the leak, which is what started this investigation in the first place, he's in very bad shape."

A Flipper?

Larisa Alexandrovna and Jason Leopold write for Raw Story, an alternative news site: "A senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney is cooperating with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, sources close to the investigation say.

"Individuals familiar with Fitzgerald's case tell Raw Story that John Hannah, a senior national security aide on loan to Vice President Dick Cheney from the offices of then-Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, John Bolton, was named as a target of Fitzgerald's probe. They say he was told in recent weeks that he could face imminent indictment for his role in leaking Plame-Wilson's name to reporters unless he cooperated with the investigation."

NBC's David Shuster reported on MSNBC's "Hardball" last night: "As prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald prepares for upcoming grand jury sessions and decisions on whether to seek indictments, defense lawyers say they now believe there is a White House insider or formal official who has been helping the investigation for months.

"This view is based, the lawyers say, on information grand jury witnesses heard about the actions of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. Well before reporters Matt Cooper and Judy Miller testified, White House officials leaked information about an administration critic."

Blogger Laura Rozen quotes from the authoritative Nelson Report, in which Chris Nelson writes that "today's hot gossip is that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald may have sent a 'target letter' . . . an official warning of a likely indictment . . . to Vice President Cheney's deputy chief of staff, John Hannah. According to sources which have been right from time to time, Hannah has told associates he has been forced to cut a deal, and that they think this includes testifying against his immediate boss, Lewis 'Scooter' Libby."

Appearing with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC last night, however, Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank pooh-poohed the Hannah rumor.

"The John Hannah rumor has been around for months," he said. "It's been circulating among blogs for months. It popped up again today. It may be true, but nobody has any confirmation that it's true. Obviously they're getting some cooperation from some people within the administration to have come this far in the investigation, but we just don't know."

Resignation Rumor

Paul Bedard of U.S. News set off an explosion of bloglust yesterday by posting a completely unsubstantiated rumor about Cheney on a mainstream Web site.

"Sparked by today's Washington Post story that suggests Vice President Cheney's office is involved in the Plame-CIA spy link investigation, government officials and advisers passed around rumors that the vice president might step aside and that President Bush would elevate Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice," Bedard wrote.

WHIG Watch

Rove, Libby and several other White House officials called before the grand jury were members of the super-stealthy White House Iraq Group.

James Gordon Meek and Kenneth R. Bazinet write in the New York Daily News: "It was called the White House Iraq Group and its job was to make the case that Saddam Hussein had nuclear and biochemical weapons.

"So determined was the ring of top officials to win its argument that it morphed into a virtual hit squad that took aim at critics who questioned its claims, sources told the Daily News. . . .

"WHIG also was doing more than just public relations, said a second former intel officer.

" 'They were funneling information to [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller. Judy was a charter member,' the source said."

The Gloating of the Liberals

Daily Kos blogger georgia10 epitomizes the giddiness among liberal bloggers about the upcoming potential onslaught.

"[D]id you know that we're just hours (all right, maybe a couple days) away from FITZMAS????" georgia 10 asks. "Doesn't it feel like the hap-happiest time of the year??"

The Backlash

The liberal Think Progress blog tracks a new talking point: "Conservative defenders of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby have settled on their No. 1 talking point: the grand jury investigation into the CIA leak scandal represents the 'criminalization of politics.' "

"In other words, they say, the outing of a covert CIA agent in a time of war to punish a whistleblower is just everyday 'politics' -- nothing out of the ordinary, certainly nothing criminal. In fact, according to conservatives (as articulated by the National Review ), the 'criminalizing of politics' is actually 'the most dangerous fire of this ordeal.' "

Another View

Some of the possible downsides of the investigation -- other than for the White House, of course -- were also laid out today by The Washington Post editorial board and Slate editor Jacob Weisberg.

The Post wrote that "so far, in the accounts given by reporters about their conversations with administration officials . . . [w]hat has been depicted is an administration effort to refute the allegations of a critic (some of which did in fact prove to be untrue) and to undermine his credibility, including by suggesting that nepotism rather than qualifications led to his selection. If such conversations are deemed a crime, journalism and the public will be the losers."

Weisberg writes: "Anyone who cares about civil liberties, freedom of information, or even just fair play should have been skeptical about Fitzgerald's investigation from the start."

But the lessons to be learned from this investigation will, of course, depend on what Fitzgerald comes up with.

If, for instance, Fitzgerald has any White House officials cold on perjury or obstruction of justice, that would be hard for most people to defend.

And if Fitzgerald has collected strong evidence of a White House conspiracy to lie to the public and smear critics through misinformation campaigns relayed by willing journalists, well, some will certainly argue that it was not worth the collateral damage. But they may have a hard time convincing an outraged public that it would have been better not to know the truth.

Miers Vetting

Is it possible Bush and his chief of staff did an end run around Cheney and Rove when it came to the Miers nomination?

Joan Biskupic and Toni Locy write in USA Today: "Documents released Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee reveal that the Bush administration's vetting of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers was controlled by a few insiders, a stark contrast to what Chief Justice John Roberts experienced as a contender for a court seat two months earlier. . . .

"Miers, 60, said that during the two weeks before Bush nominated her Oct. 3, she spoke with her deputy William Kelley, White House chief of staff Andy Card and the president and learned 'my name was under consideration.' She said she met with Bush four times -- on Sept. 21, 28 and 29, and Oct. 2 -- to discuss the possibility of her being nominated. Miers said Card arranged a dinner on the night of Oct. 2 for her, the president and first lady Laura Bush.

"Miers indicated she was not interviewed by several others who are usually involved in vetting Supreme Court candidates, including officials at the Justice Department, Vice President Cheney and deputy chief of staff Karl Rove."

Biskupic and Locy conclude that "the revelations about Miers' relatively easy path to nomination might revive questions of cronyism that surfaced shortly after Bush announced her selection."

Here is the full text of Miers's questionnaire.

In Other News: Immigration Watch

Darryl Fears and Michael A. Fletcher write in The Washington Post: "President Bush, seeking to deal with what critics inside and outside of Washington say is out-of-control illegal immigration, yesterday promised tough action to secure the country's borders as administration officials outlined a plan to allow illegal immigrants living here and foreign workers to work in the United States for as long as six years before returning home permanently."

Stephen Dinan and Bill Sammon write in the Washington Times: "It was a far cry from the president's usual rhetoric on illegal immigration, which focuses on the need to reunite families and provide labor for companies. . . .

"The sudden hard line comes as Mr. Bush is trying to assuage his conservative political base, much of which is upset over his nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Here is the text of Bush's speech.

Hadley Watch

Agence France Presse reports: "A senior aide to US President George W. Bush linked the global campaign against terrorism to a war 'for the soul of Islam' in which moderate Muslims must help stamp out extremism.

" 'In this battle of ideas we must encourage Islamic moderates to dispute the distorted vision of Islam advanced by the terrorists,' White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said."

Here is the prepared text of Hadley's speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

And here's a surprising passage that would seem to put at least some of the blame for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia:

"Muhammed Atta and the other 9/11 hijackers were predominantly middle class and well-educated. They and many Islamic terrorists like them are clearly alienated from their societies. Unable to visualize a meaningful future within their political systems, they are susceptible to radical alternatives to it. When people have been denied their fundamental rights, they have little stake in the existing order.

"The terrorists capitalize on this discontent and stoke it with a narrative of Arab and Muslim grievance and victimization at the hands of the infidel West and the Zionists."

A Bush Museum

Steve Chawkins writes for the Los Angeles Times: "For about three months in 1949, an oil-field equipment salesman named George Bush lived on a quiet street in east Bakersfield with his pregnant wife, Barbara, and their 3-year-old son, also named George. Last month, Kern County officials approved the transformation of the family's modest rental -- a two-bedroom white-frame house in a neighborhood now heavily Latino -- into a museum.

" 'We thought it was important that the house do some good,' said its owner, Republican political consultant Mark Abernathy, who plans to build a reading center for neighborhood children in the museum's back yard. 'It's almost like a duty.' "

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