White House Talk

Dan Froomkin
White House Briefing Columnist
Wednesday, July 13, 2005; 1:00 PM

What's going on inside the White House? Ask Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House Briefing column for washingtonpost.com. He answers your questions, take your comments and links, and point you to coverage around the Web.

A transcript follows.

Dan is also deputy editor of Niemanwatchdog.org . You can e-mail him at froomkin@washingtonpost.com .


Dan Froomkin: Hi everyone. Today's column is about -- surprise! -- Karl Rove. Sure there are other things going on in Washington, but Rove is Topic A amongst us White House watchers.

Rove's importance to this White House simply can't be underestimated. See, for instance, my

Who's Who in the White House

entry on him.

You could say that the Supreme Court nomination is a bigger deal, in the greater scheme of things. But you could also argue the contrary.

Karl Rove is the architect not just of George Bush's remarkable career, but of a so-far successful strategy aimed at establishing the GOP as the ruling party for decades to come.

If this current conflagration slows him, stops him, or maybe even sees him frog-marched out of the White House, that will indeed make the history books.


Leesburg, Va.: The President has been having press conferences on a reasonably regular schedule for the past several months. Given that the White House press corps seems to have finally gotten over their, um, meekness and is calling McClellan on his evasions and contradictions (especially as related to the Rove/Plame matter), do you think the press will be as direct and persistent with the President himself? Do you think the President will hold another press conference soon per his schedule the last few months, or do you think he will skip them for a while to avoid answering the inevitable Rove questions?

Dan Froomkin: Funny you should mention that. Bush had indeed been giving one press conference a month ever since the election. But his last one was on May 31. He didn't have a single full-bore news conference all June. And so far, none in July.

And while I normally avoid prognostication here, I'd be willing to bet big bucks that he doesn't have another one until special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald wraps things up -- or until his hapless spokesman isn't getting the snot beaten out of him every day -- or until he decides to address the Rove issue head-on. But I think the latter two won't happen until after the first. And for all we know, that could be a while.


Wilmington, Del.: After seeing McClellan get away with worming out of questions for so long, I must admit a guilty pleasure in seeing him get grilled. My question is: How much of the press's persistence in questioning him about Rove is due to its intrinsic newsworthiness, how much is due to the fact that the press smells blood in the water, and how much is due to the fact that these are the people who were lied to and made stooges by McClellan (i. e., is personal on the part of the reporters)?


Dan Froomkin: You have identified three very potent factors, and I believe they are all at work.


Boston, Mass.: Hi Dan. Love your work. It seems that within the past several days, the White House press corps suddenly awoke and decided to make Karl Rove an issue. But what mystifies me is how this same press corps quickly backs down as soon as the White House does what it usually does-- sends out surrogates to say that "angry Democrats" and "liberals" are behind the "unjustified attacks" on Rove. I am a media historian, and based on what I see, this President has been perhaps the most secretive in history and he has easily stifled the press whenever he needed to. Few mainstream reporters have persisted in asking the tough questions, leaving such things to the very partisan world of bloggers. My question is: do you think the White House press corps have finally had enough and will now begin to demand more accountability from the administration, or is this just another two-day story? Thanks.

Dan Froomkin: I see no sign of this abating, at least not quite yet. But if history is any judge, it will do that. Unless of course it explodes.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Hello and thanks for all the great work you do. Getting lost in all the shouting over Joseph Wilson's trip to Africa are his credentials. Reading his bio, it appears he is a long time Africa hand with an excellent background for the assignment. He served during both Democratic and Republican administrations. Is it naive to assume he reported honestly on what he found and set aside partisan leanings?

Dan Froomkin: There is an argument to be made in Wilson's defense -- although he created some credibility problems for himself during his post-facto self-promotion campaign.

And the GOP strategy is to turn this whole thing into a debate over Wilson.

But I'm more interested in Rove.


St. Peters, Pa.: Am I remembering correctly that original Novak column stated that TWO administration officials told him about Plame? Rove may or may not be one of them but either way there is someone else in the White House who leaked the info, right? When the special prosecutor wraps up the investigation, will we find out who this person is? That is, is the prosecutor obliged to reveal his findings?

Dan Froomkin: You remember correctly. And we don't know if Rove was even one of Novak's sources or not.

In addition to Rove, one name that has come up a lot is that of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff.

And for some reason, when the leak was fresh, media scrutiny focused on Rove, Libby, and Elliot Abrams, Bush's deputy national security adviser for the Mideast, who was pardoned by Bush's father after pleading guilty 1991 to withholding information from Congress in the Iran-contra affair.

That was before White House press secretary Scott McClellan famously waved the media away from all three of them back on

Oct. 10, 2003

. In spite of what in retrospect looks like a meticulously parsed, extremely narrow and quite possibly deceptive denial, the wave-off worked, of course.

We'll find out if Fitzgerald indicts someone, that's for sure. But it's not clear whether he can or will write a report based on his findings. Typically, grand jury testimony is secret and stays secret except to the degree that it is used in indictment and trial. But I sure wouldn't mind making an exception. (The Starr Report was one, too.)


New York, N.Y.: If you had to guess, when will Fitzgerald complete the investigation?

Dan Froomkin: When the job is done.

Hey, that's good enough for the president? Why not me?


Baltimore, Md.: Aside from public face saving, why does the White House appear to be digging in for a fight on Karl? Presumably, he doesn't need to be an actual White House staffer to do what he does for the President? It would seem the politically expedient thing to do is have Karl resign the position, return to Texas, and keep on doing what he's doing from there.

Dan Froomkin: To badly paraphrase Woody Allen, this White House is like a shark. If it retreats even a little bit, it dies.


Portland, Ore.: Hi --

Exciting discussion today --

I'm glad you're more interested in Rove than you are in Wilson, but it seems to me that, ultimately, the most interesting subject is Bush. How credible is the notion that Bush's past defense of Rove on this subject was honest? In other words, did Rove lie to Bush or did Bush lie to the public? On what basis and to what extent would it be fair to speculate?

Dan Froomkin: It's hard to imagine that Karl Rove wasn't doing whatever he was doing as part of an intentional and orchestrated effort to protect the White House against Wilson's claim, which had the potential to be hugely damaging. Imagine if, for instance, other skeptics had come forward.

It's also hard to imagine -- although possible -- that Rove has protected his friend and boss from any mention of this incident.

That's why I liked the question from CBS Radio's Mark Knoller so much: "Can I ask you if you have spoken with your Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove about the Valerie Plame matter?"

And I don't see how answering that question would interfere with the criminal investigation.


Meriden, Conn.: Dan, based on your own knowledge, are there any Republican members of Congress who are angry enough with this whole affair to demand Congressional hearings?

Dan Froomkin: Well, I have no knowledge, but I think that's an excellent question. There are some increasingly restive Republicans in Congress, but that would be war.


San Diego, Calif. It is still not clear to me how Bob Novak has escaped being more threatened by prosecutors. Please enlighten.

Dan Froomkin: This is by far the No. 1 most popular question I get, here on in my e-mail.

Most close observers of the Plame case have long ago concluded that Novak


have testified, or else he would have been held in contempt, too.

Novak, maddeningly, won't say.

Now, investigative reporter

Murray Waas

blogs that his sources tell him that Novak has in fact spoken at length to prosecutors. But, Waas says, the prosecutors don't necessarily believe what Novak told them, which is why they want to talk to other reporters about what Novak's sources told them.

Murray's sourcing, however, is neither extensive nor entirely clear. It will be interesting to see if anyone else can nail this down.


Indianapolis, Ind.: Hey man, enjoy your column each day and can't wait until it is posted. I mean that, I really can't wait. Is there any way you can get your lazy butt out of bed earlier so we can read your column with a cup of coffee instead of a beer. If you post this I'll bet I get an amen.

Dan Froomkin: Thank you. I'm tickled that you care.

As it happens, I wake up very early to write this column, and it takes me a long time to do. I wish I could get it done earlier, and I'm considering some options, such as moving to a more overtly bloggy format and posting items as I write them rather than waiting until I've got my beginning, my middle and my end. But I kind of like the way it is now.

E-mail me your thoughts, at




Manington, W.V.: Why is the White House press corps so worked up about Karl Rove? The whole issue seems so trivial to those of us outside the beltway. Is there something that I am missing?

Dan Froomkin: Evidently.


Flower Mound, Tex.: Dan,

Didn't Novak write an article in the early 80's in which Rove was the source and it got Rove kicked out of the Reagan/Bush White House?

Dan Froomkin:

Yes, indeed. In fact,

Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten

mention that in their Rove profile today in the Los Angeles Times: "During George H.W. Bush's second presidential campaign, Rove was fired from the campaign team because of suspicions that he had leaked information to columnist Robert Novak - the same columnist who first reported Plame's CIA role in 2003, citing anonymous administration sources.

"At the time, Bush's campaign was in trouble, and there was concern that the president might not even win his home state of Texas. The Novak column described a Dallas meeting in which the campaign's state manager, Robert Mosbacher, was stripped of his authority because the Texas effort was viewed as a bust.

"Mosbacher complained, expressing his suspicion that Rove was the leaker. Rove denied the charge, but was fired nevertheless."


Arlington, Va.: Give me a break folks. The press is making hay on Rove because they principally blame Rove for the rise of Bush. Since this militates against their own ideology, it was as predictable as rain on the weekends that the press would camp on this. They don't respect Bush at all, so their rationalization all along for his electoral wins was the supposed strategic genius of Rove. So even though both the NY Times and The Post have (belatedly) conceded that no laws were likely broken, the press will continue to highlight the story and provide ongoing infomercial time to their Democratic buddies on the Hill.

Dan Froomkin: All that could be true -- and yet it's still a helluva story.


St. Louis, Mo.: In his recent press briefings, Scott McClellan stated that the investigator asked them not to comment, but he used some fuzzy language, and at times, he and now President Bush resort to more vague arguments that "it's a bad idea" to comment during the investigation. Is it possible that they haven't been prohibited from commenting but are once again parsing words to make it sound like they were?

Dan Froomkin: It's my understanding that Fitzgerald has indeed asked his witnesses not to talk about their testimony in public -- and McClellan and Bush have both been questioned by Fitzgerald.

That said, that does not put them under any legal obligation. And at some point, it's possible that any number of parties will decide this has gone on entirely too long, and will start talking. I think they should.

Furthermore, not talking about their testimony is a far cry from clamming up about every single thing that has anything to do with Karl Rove, or the issue of White House credibility, etc. etc. That is either an absurd overreaction, or a sign that the White House is feeling more under siege than it would otherwise appear.


To Arlington: I'm not sure that The Post is saying no crime was committed. I think most people agree that what we know, which is the content of Cooper's email, does not sound like a crime. However, I get the feeling that the email is not the end of the story and there might be a crime that WE don't know. Also, it might not have been committed by Rove. As a Rove disliker, I'll say that what he has done so far is unethical, but we don't jail folks for just being unethical.

Dan Froomkin: There is a strong argument that no indictable crime was committed in the leaking of Plame's identity. The law makes that a very tough case to make.

That said, there are a lot of indications that Fitzgerald is now pursuing obstruction of justice or perjury charges.

That is some of what makes people who remember previous presidential scandals so attentive. Remember 'It's not the crime, it's the cover-up'? Remember Clinton lying to the grand jury about something that wasn't actually a crime?


Arlington, Va.: Hi - how would you go about explaining the Rove scandal to your grandmother? I think the press needs to explain the situation in terms that your "average Joe" could understand.

Dan Froomkin: You make a good point. And that's part of why the GOP strategy may work. You start talking about yellowcake and Niger and it gets complicated.

But it's not that complicated, right? Readers, help me out? I'll try to stick around for a while.


Tacoma, Wash.: Do you think most Democrats secretly wish that they had a Karl Rove on their side, and that's why they hate him so much?

Dan Froomkin: That certainly could be one reason.


Knoxville, Tenn.: Both liberals and conservatives claim that the press is biased. Do you think either side is right? Or are they both wrong?

Dan Froomkin: They're both missing nuance.

It has less to do with political bias, and more to do with the fact that most of us are insecure iconoclasts.


Columbia, Md.: Hi Dan

The phrase I keep coming back to is "double super secret background". Why do reporters accept this kind of source? Allowing someone high up in an administration to spread information on "double super secret background" allows the administration to control a story without taking any responsibility. It turns the media into the administration's vehicle for propaganda. As much as I despise the idea of an administration giving reporters information to discredit someone and doing so on "double super secret background", I have to say I see the media as taking a huge hit on credibility for allowing it. Why do reporters tolerate being used this way? And given the reaction by the White House press corps, will they continue to tolerate it?

Dan Froomkin: Those are excellent questions.

This is a very unusual case, especially as far as the media is concerned. And we shouldn't extrapolate too much from it, in some ways.

But it does highlight a problem. Why would you give the same degree of protection to a political operative you know is likely to use you to spread damaging information against his opponents -- as you would to someone taking a risk to divulge information that it's in the public interest to know. Because you're right -- we're being used.

We're going to have to wrestle with that one.


To Tacoma: I wish we'd all get over this one side or the other 'hating.'

Reality is that neither 'side' has tolerance for ANYONE's behavior which goes against the common grain of decency and morality.

Good guys and bad guys can be found on either side of the political aisle or social structure.

Dan Froomkin: That's a nice thought.

I would just add that when the ostensible leadership of one "side" is caught actively tolerating behavior that goes against the common grain of decency and morality -- well, then you've got a problem that needs fixing. It has been known to happen.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Do you get a lot of wacky questions that we never get to see?

Dan Froomkin: Tons. But most of them are amazing and I wish I had more time to address them.

There are two kinds of questions that I try to avoid: Conspiracy theory questions (Do you think Karl Rove is doing this on purpose to divert attention from the war?) and questions that I simply can't answer because I don't know enough.


San Francisco, Calif.: Dan,

A lot of media people seem to hold Karl Rove in high regard. If his playbook is basically attack at all times, whether the attack is true or credible, what does this say about what we now find admirable?

Dan Froomkin: Rove playbook may include a lot of attack -- and divide -- but he is also an incredibly astute observer of modern American politics, and I can see the temptation to have him as a source.


Washington, D.C.: "Would just add that when the ostensible leadership of one "side" is caught actively tolerating behavior that goes against the common grain of decency and morality -"

That's an editorial judgment that is, as of yet, unsupported by the facts. You've pre-judged this case based on your own political biases.

Dan Froomkin: I was being speculative. Sorry for not being more clear.


Ft. Myers, Fla.: I would explain it to my grandmother in these terms: "Karl Rove thought Joe Wilson was shooting dirty pool, so he decided he'd do the same. Rove then lied about it and has his friends Bush and McClellan lie about it and tried to claim the moral high ground. I'm not sure if what he did was illegal, but I don't like being lied to and I don't like people trying to weasel their way out of things by double talking through a lawyer. Rove's real problem is that he may have lied to a grand jury asking him about the whole thing."

Dan Froomkin: Here they come!


Wilmington, N.C.: Possible simple explanation: When criticized, the White House fought back, but rather than make a case on the merits, they hit took a cheap shot, and irresponsibly compromised national security in the process. Even the mafia considered families off limits

Dan Froomkin: Another one.


Washington, D.C.: Dan -

Love your columns, hated your answer to a recent question about the bias of the press.

I've seen a lot of accusations leveled by both sides, though far more from the right, that the press is somehow biased against them. Don't you think that by continually refusing this issue, a lot of members of the press are allowing the myth of media bias to grow and flourish, and are in turn helping to discredit themselves in the public's eye?

And would you say that, in turn, by not taking a stand against being 'biased,' a lot of media are allowing ideologues to use them for political gain?

Dan Froomkin: I'd rather assert the value to the populace of a skeptical press than try to fight the charge of bias, personally.


Silver Spring, Md.: Someone noted: "A lot of media people seem to hold Karl Rove in high regard."

Why? As they say in sports: "scoreboard."

Dan Froomkin: Well put.


Washington, D.C. : Dan - the more I think about it - there is a fundamental reason all this is happening. We have allowed a ruthless political operative to become a publicly-funded policy advisor. This is what happens when Machiavelli's office adjoins the Prince's office. I remind your loyal readers we are paying Rove's salary.

Dan Froomkin: Those are fighting words.

But I do agree that politics and policy have become harder to separate in this administration than ever before.

I think it would be healthy to have a public discussion about what that means and whether that's a good thing.


Carlsbad, Calif.: Dan, As I recall, Elliott Abrams was convicted of a felony. I've heard he is at the Defense Department. Does he have security clearances to work there? What level? Is it legal for the Defense Dept to hire felons and give them security clearances.

Dan Froomkin: He was pardoned by Bush's dad.


Trenton, N.J.: Another simple explanation: Rove keeps beating the Democrats in elections, so they're doing their best to find something to take him down with. This is their best chance so far.

Dan Froomkin: That's very simple.


Washington, D.C. : The glee that the White House press corps seems to be having over grilling McClellan is nauseating. I don't recall a similar attitude when they had to confront Mike McCurry and Joe Lockhart over Clinton's transgressions.

Why the double-standard?

Dan Froomkin: I wasn't watching as closely back then. But from what I recall, they were pretty gleeful back then, too.


Tallahassee, Fla.: So tell me, Karl Rove leaked information, maybe not a name, but definitely information that was not public knowledge about an undercover officer; does the 80's law say that he must specifically reveal that persons name, or would it include saying "so and so's wife," (which in turn become said name)?

Dan Froomkin: Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, told Byron York that Rove is not hiding behind the defense that he did not identify Wilson's wife because he did not specifically use her name.

What makes the law tough is proving intent, not that "Wilson's wife" = Valerie Plame.


Colorado Springs, Colo.: From what we've learned from Matt Cooper's e-mail, it sounds like his info was single-sourced. Is there more from what Times Magazine has turned over that we haven't heard about? And, how was the e-mail revealed if this was suppose to be "secret?"

Dan Froomkin: Actually, it's been established that Cooper called Libby the next day, and confirmed it with him.

And the e-mail was released because Norman Pearlstine, the editor of Time, decided not to commit civil disobedience over this one.


Richmond, Va.: They pay to you to do this?!? This seems like it would be fun.

Dan Froomkin: Both are true.


Anonymous: I'll be honest, here. I'm a Republican, and if this were happening under a Democratic administration, under the exact same circumstances, we'd be screaming bloody murder and demanding the aide's firing and prosecution. I spoke to a friend of mine who works for a Republican senator, and he said his boss told him pretty much the exact same thing. But the fact is, this is Bush's White House. Voters had four years to get a sense for how he runs things, and they reelected him anyway. So it'd be really nice if the lefties would sit back and relax and let the prosecutor do his job without telling the President what it has to do.

Dan Froomkin: Interesting points you make there. Thanks.


Chicago, Ill.: I disagree with your introductory characterization of Rove's strategy succeeding so far. In fact, I think Rove's turn to the extreme right to win the election last fall blew any chance the Republicans had of becoming a permanent majority, but I guess we'll see. However, I would like to ask whether you think Rove is THE driving force behind Social Security privatization, and what effect a lame or dead Rove will have on the issue.

Dan Froomkin: Yes, and huge.


Sacramento, Calif.: Off topic question: how many questions do you normally receive for one of these chats? Just curious.

Dan Froomkin: I have just been told my my wonderful producer, Francine Uenuma, that I'm up to 422. I hope that's not proprietary information. And most of them are really, really good.

So I really could go on, and on, and on. But I must be going.

Thank you for all your wonderful questions. I'll try to keep them all in mind as this story progresses. See you again here in two weeks, and every weekday afternoon on the home page.


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