Thursday, November 3, 2005

Swimming with Sharks

From the Washington Post:

Top White House aides are privately discussing the future of Karl Rove, with some expressing doubt that President Bush can move beyond the damaging CIA leak case as long as his closest political strategist remains in the administration.

If Rove stays, which colleagues say remains his intention, he may at a minimum have to issue a formal apology for misleading colleagues and the public about his role in conversations that led to the unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame, according to senior Republican sources familiar with White House deliberations.

While Rove faces doubts about his White House status, there are new indications that he remains in legal jeopardy from Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s criminal investigation of the Plame leak. The prosecutor spoke this week with an attorney for Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper about his client’s conversations with Rove before and after Plame’s identity became publicly known because of anonymous disclosures by White House officials, according to two sources familiar with the conversation.

Fitzgerald is considering charging Rove with making false statements in the course of the 22-month probe, and sources close to Rove — who holds the titles of senior adviser and White House deputy chief of staff — said they expect to know within weeks whether the most powerful aide in the White House will be accused of a crime.

[…]

Rove has long been regarded as the most influential and feared Bush aide and has enjoyed the fervent backing of the president and influential conservatives. Republicans with firsthand knowledge of the private talks about Rove’s political problems said there have been informal discussions involving people inside and outside the White House, and that they reflected the views of a large number of administration officials who are concerned about Bush’s efforts to start anew in 2006 with as little interference from the scandal as possible.

[…]

Sources close to Rove said they do not believe the strategist is in the clear, but are confident the prosecutor will determine Rove did nothing illegal.

White House critics said Rove’s continued presence would expose Bush as a hypocrite. They cite his campaign promise in 2000 to run an ethical government that asks “not only what is legal but what is right” and his 2004 pledge, later softened, to fire anyone involved in the CIA leak.

Political pressure is rising from the outside. A few conservatives have suggested it is time for Rove to go. William A. Niskanen, chairman of the libertarian Cato Institute, told Reuters on Tuesday that Bush has to “sacrifice” some top aides starting with Rove, who he said has given good campaign advice but poor guidance on getting legislation passed.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said on MSNBC’s “Hardball” the same day, “The question is, should he be the deputy chief of staff for policy under the current circumstances?”

Two things occur to me after reading this article. Either the White House has suddenly spawned a whole bunch of people who are willing to leak this sort of news and it’s a sign of erosion in the West Wing, or it’s a strategy developed by the White House.

For the last five years the Bush administration has prided itself in being the most tight-lipped and leakproof White House in memory. Nothing escapes there; not even Laura Bush’s recipe for fried chicken and okra with rice. Now, however, we’re getting these anonymous sources within the White House and the GOP that are letting it be known that Karl Rove’s future employment there — or at the very least his status — is in jeopardy. He might even be preparing the world for an apology. Is this an attempt, with or without Mr. Rove’s approval, to float some trial balloons and remove him from the picture, thus minimizing the damage he might cause as the Fitzgerald investigation continues? He may not be indicted…he may be. Either way, he’s still a reminder of the whole mess, and they’d like to get this behind them. The mid-term elections are coming up and the longer Mr. Rove is on board and in a high place in the White House, the more he’ll be the punching bag for the Democrats.

The other possibility is that the leaks are coming from people in the White House and the GOP who would like to see Karl Rove frogmarched out in shackles. Not for what he did to Amb. Wilson and his wife but for their own payback. Mr. Rove, in spite of his dweebish appearance and perpetual goofy grin as seen on TV, is a political pit bull and he doesn’t take prisoners. There are probably quite a few people in his own circle and party who wouldn’t mind getting a little of their own revenge on him now that he’s vulnerable.

Either way, it’s not the kind of situation any White House would like to be in. There is blood in the water, and it looks like Mr. Rove is going to need a bigger boat.