Man Without Qualities

Thursday, July 14, 2005

American Political Suicide Bombers

This link is to a GOP site (link from DRUDGE). But its demolition of Joe Wilson (and, correspondingly, the vindication of Karl Rove) seems remarkably thorough.

Focus on the claimed impropriety of Mr. Rove's "leak" by the media (especially the New York Times) and by some Democrats in the Senate seems to be an attempt to avoid the increasingly obvious conclusion that the facts underlying the "leak" overwhelmingly favor the White House because Mr. Wilson and his now-discredited story are dangerous, politically toxic frauds. The media and Democrats therefore seek to focus not on the underlying facts, but on the "leak's" disclosure of Ms. Plame's doubtful covert status. But the strategy behind that narrow focus is probably a lead pipe political loser, as suggested by an earlier genuine scandal: Republican focus on Bill Clinton's perjury instead of the underlying facts of his involvement with Monica Lewinski. Democrats successfully maintained that those underlying facts were "all about sex" (which, they argued, was essentially nothing).

The larger facts and total circumstances underlying claimed perjury or improper "leaking" obviously do matter, especially politically. Pretending otherwise, as Republicans did in the Lewinski case and Democrats and much of the media are doing now in the Plame case, is very dangerous. In the short run, Republicans came out the worse in the Lewinski mess, and almost lost the Congress (although perhaps Al Gore and the Democrats suffered in the longer run, on "values" issues).

One might have thought that the Democrats would have learned from their earlier short-term success (and short term is what Washington mostly cares about in strategy and skirmishes). But the Democrats and their media water carriers seem to remember nothing about the Lewinski dynamics, and still less do they understand that the differences between the prior and current claimed "scandals" seem to all be against the Democrats: Mr. Rove's comments to TIME reporter Cooper appear to have been no more a crime than Mr. Clinton's salacious behavior with his intern. [UPDATE: It now seems that the Wilson's were both in the US for too long to even be covered by the federal statute prohibiting the disclosure of covert agents - at least according to Wilson's book. Link from Taranto ] Even the Times is reduced to running big, silly front-pagers on Rove that bury this jewel:
Based on the e-mail message, Mr. Rove's disclosures are not criminal, said Bruce S. Sanford, a Washington lawyer who helped write the law and submitted a brief on behalf of several news organizations concerning it to the appeals court hearing the case of Mr. Cooper and Judith Miller, an investigative reporter for The New York Times. "It is clear that Karl Rove's conversation with Matt Cooper does not fall into that category" of criminal conduct, Mr. Sanford said. "That's not 'knowing.' It doesn't even come close." There has been some dispute, moreover, about just how secret a secret agent Ms. Wilson was. "She had a desk job in Langley," said Ms. Toensing, who also signed the supporting brief in the appeals court, referring to the C.I.A.'s headquarters. "When you want someone in deep cover, they don't go back and forth to Langley."
On the other hand, President Clinton's perjury was itself a crime. But there's another big difference: A superior's sexual act with a subordinate can be a serious and politically disastrous civil wrong. Ms. Lewinski remained loyal to Bill Clinton, but he had exposed himself (apologies for the pun) to the possibility that if she had ever turned on him and asserted that he pressured her, she could have devastatingly sued him for sexual abuse. The specter of the president reduced to claiming some kind of legal privilege from liability for using the power and prestige of his office to pressure his intern to allow her body to be penetrated with his cigar, and much more, silently hovered over every minute of those impeachment proceedings. And, still, the Republicans lost in the short term.

In addition, Mr. Clinton's behavior with Ms. Lewinski was thought disgusting and disgraceful to many people - including many in Mr. Clinton's feminist base, who were forced by political expediency to humiliate themselves with silence. Mr. Clinton's antics were also far from known common Washington office practice. In contrast, Washington lives on leaks, which are considered normal. In fact, leaks are generally celebrated by the media as an essential aid to democracy. Briefs filed by the New York Times, TIME and other media companies (as well as by some civil rights groups) with the Supreme Court and other federal courts, attempted unsuccessfully to elevate this supposed benefit to democracy to the pantheon of First Amendment privilege for media representatives. The other major concentration of presidential critics, the Democratic caucus of the United States Senate, preaches the dangers and impropriety of "leaks" to the media at the risk of the audience breaking into gales of laughter over the obvious hypocrisy.

If Mr. Rove had breached federal law prohibiting disclosure of covert agents, or had even inadvertently been the source of disclosure of a true covert agent, the facts of the Plame case might to some extent be distinguishable from common Washington leaking (which, by the way, I do not wish to suggest I endorse). But none of that seems to be the case. Nobody has produced evidence that Mr. Rove knowingly outed Ms. Plame, and there is considerable evidence to suggest that the only information Mr. Rove had on Plame was obtained from other journalists - as pointed out repeatedly by the Wall Street Journal, for example:

Media chants aside, there's no evidence that Mr. Rove broke any laws in telling reporters that Ms. Plame may have played a role in her husband's selection for a 2002 mission to investigate reports that Iraq was seeking uranium ore in Niger. To be prosecuted under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Mr. Rove would had to have deliberately and maliciously exposed Ms. Plame knowing that she was an undercover agent and using information he'd obtained in an official capacity. But it appears Mr. Rove didn't even know Ms. Plame's name and had only heard about her work at Langley from other journalists.
And, of course, the more the argument is made that the leak was serious and possibly improper, the more important the special prosecutor's need to know all the facts is supported. Poor Ms. Miller, a sacrificial offering. But surely Mr. Sulzberger has promised that he will make things nice for her when she gets out? Is that obstruction of justice on Mr. Sulzberger's part? Yes, it probably is, technically. Indeed, given Ms. Miller's continued silence and the special prosecutor's zeal, perhaps he should consider summoning Mr. Sulzberger and Times' management to the grand jury to ask what, if anything, those worthies have offered, done or said to Ms. Miller - including anything affecting the prospect of her advancement at the newspaper - to induce her to defy the court. [UPDATE: Victoria Toensing, another of the attorneys who helped draft the 1982 act [that protects covert agents' identities] ... said, "reading between the lines, I'd say he's got a 'Martha Stewart case' " involving perjury or obstruction of justice.] The Times has certainly not backed down yet (although that is coming), but even the Times' coverage has shriveled to this kind of thing:

President Bush said Wednesday that he would withhold judgment on whether Karl Rove, his senior adviser and political strategist, had identified an undercover C.I.A. operative in a conversation with a reporter for Time magazine. .... Mr. Bush's comment came nearly two years after he suggested that he would fire anyone in his administration who had knowingly leaked the identity of the operative, Valerie Wilson.
So even the Times now remembers the "knowingly" bit. In light of the evidence and developments so far, the president's comment amounts to a subtle "screw you" directed at the media, the Democrats and especially the Times.

The media and Democrats seem poised to take the Plame fallout in a big, bad way. The consequences will maybe not be quite as localized and intense as the fallout from the Rathergate disaster, although that will depend to a large extent on what the Times and Ms. Miller actually knew and when they knew it - and whether the public ever finds such things out. But even on present facts the damage looks likely to be broader and ultimately, worse, for the media than even Rathergate because the entire hostile but contentless (and obviously partisan) media and Democratic second-guessing of the Administration comes hard on the heels of the London bombings. Could there be a worse time for the Administration's critics to be doing what they are doing: second guessing the Administration's anti-terror efforts and drawing attention to the critics' own arguments that the Administration has been "making too much" of the war on terror?

Yet such critics keep charging over the cliff, apparently following the lead of the New York Times: First one sheep jumped to its death. Then ... nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff ... The Democratic abandon has reach the point of Joe Wilson doing press conferences with Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. The London bombers couldn't have known that they were helping the Democrats, the New York Times and much of the American liberal media to blow themselves up - American political "suicide bombers."

POSTSCRIPT: Mickey Kaus and Tom Maguire praise a 2003 Web article by Howard Fineman that purports to provide some backstory for the Plame affair that supposedly explains - in a way yesterday's WSJ editorial quoted above supposedly (according to Mickey) misses - why the White House might have considered it particularly significant that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, and semi-endorsing the following claim by Fineman:
I am told by what I regard as a very reliable source inside the White House that aides there did, in fact, try to peddle the identity of Joe Wilson's wife to several reporters. But the motive wasn't revenge or intimidation so much as a desire to explain why, in their view, Wilson wasn't a neutral investigator, but, a member of the CIA's leave-Saddam-in-place team.
Why should anyone care about Mr. Fineman's airy, unsupported constructs? First, who the heck are the "aides"(note the plural) claimed by Mr. Fineman's source other than Mr. Rove supposed to be? If Mr. Fineman knew anything of substance, he would presumably have disgorged it to the special prosecutors (and there's no word that he has done any such thing) or he would now be sharing a cell with Judith Miller (and he isn't). So Mr. Fineman almost certainly knows nothing - yet he writes at length. Mr. Fineman isn't the only reporter likely making claims way beyond his sources in this manner. Mr. Cooper (under oath) and his notes describe only one source (Mr. Rove) and describe an approximately two minute "interview" with him entirely unlike such "shopping." Yet Mr. Cooper's original TIME article suggests that the Administration was "shopping" the anti-Plame story and outright states (not just suggests) that Mr. Cooper's story is supported by leaks from more than one Administration official:
And some government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore, sometimes referred to as yellow cake, which is used to build nuclear devices.
In other words, Mr. Cooper outright lied about the number and circumstances of his White House contacts - either in his TIME article or under oath. And the claims made by Mr. Fineman are highly suspect in themselves and in light of his completely non-existent role in the special prosecutor's investigation.

No thanks. I'll stick with the Journal's take unless a lot more comes to light.

FURTHER UPDATE: The sheep keep leaping:

Democrats stirred the pot Thursday in the case of powerful presidential aide Karl Rove and the news leak that unmasked a CIA agent. They triggered a partisan clash in the Senate, sought a House investigation and brought the husband of the undercover operative to the Capitol, where he accused the White House of a "smear campaign."
Of course, there already has been a Congressional (Senate)investigation. The resulting written bipartisan Senate committee report almost completely discredited the very same Mr. Wilson the Democrats have now invited to Capitol Hill, without dissent from a single Senator. But even more peculiar is AP's self-immolation of its own credibility in its casual description of the Plame case as involving "the news leak that unmasked a CIA agent" - where it has by no means been determined that Valery Plame was "unmasked" in any serious sense by any news leak, still less the "leak" by Mr. Rove, who appears to have obtained his information about Ms. Plame from journalists. Indeed, Ms. Plame most likely wasn't even a covert operative, as noted above.

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