President Bush and Karl Rove can thank their lucky stars that the independent counsel law expired and that Kenneth Starr is not on their case. Bush would be in the impeachment dock and Rove almost certainly headed out of government if not to prison.
On the other hand, I may exaggerate Starr’s integrity. He may be impelled only by Democrats and sex and not by Republicans and real perfidy.
But one thing is certain. If the 1990s template for high crimes and misdemeanors were in play today, Bush and Rove would be in deep trouble. They have violated federal statutes, and their defenses seem closely crafted after President Clinton’s strategy in the Monica Lewinsky affair before the Whitewater grand jury. Clinton played coy publicly and again, we learned later, before the grand jurors about having oral sex with the intern. But it didn’t work. His legalistic answers, based on juvenile understandings about the definition of sex, and his lack of complete candor were treated as perjury and they got him impeached by the Republican House of Representatives.
We cannot know and probably will never know what Rove told the grand jury about outing a covert CIA agent in retaliation for her husband’s public revelations of administration lies in the buildup to war in Iraq, but you have to assume that it’s the same as his public answers. It was revealed over the weekend that Rove identified Valerie Plame as a covert CIA analyst on weapons of mass destruction in telephone conversations with at least one reporter, but he says he did not mention her name — only that Joseph Wilson’s wife was a secret agent.
Wilson, you will recall, wrote an op-ed in which he disputed administration claims that the president genuinely believed that he had solid evidence that Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire nuclear materials from an African nation. The CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to investigate the rumors in February 2002 and he reported back what already was widely known in intelligence circles in Europe: it was a fraud. Bush used the fraudulent African report to scotch congressional and United Nations efforts to forestall the invasion while Iraqi weapons rumors were verified.
Rove draws a sharp distinction between identifying Wilson’s wife as a secret agent and actually telling reporters her name: Valerie Plame. It is a distinction without a difference. Any 10-year-old could get the wife’s actual name. Call the house and ask the name of the woman who answers the phone, ask a neighbor, or look at Wilson’s bio. But the law makes it a criminal act to disclose “any information identifying” an agent, not just tell her name. Did Rove violate only that law or did he commit perjury as well, which would be the case if he repeated before the grand jury what he said publicly when asked if he had anything to do with identifying the secret agent: “No” (to ABC News in September 2003). White House spokesman Scott McClellan repeated that answer and indicated that Rove had given Bush that answer, too.
I would not have thought identifying a CIA weapons analyst was all that big a deal, but I have to rely on the Bushes. President Bush said he would fire anyone who did it, and his father, once the CIA director, said in 1999: “They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors.”
But Karl Rove’s treachery pales beside his boss’s in the same affair, the lies about Saddam Hussein seeking to acquire fissionable “yellow cake” from Niger, a deception that Bush employed on five occasions to invade Iraq.
Two federal statutes prohibit making fraudulent statements to Congress and obstructing the functions of Congress. Bush made such statements to Congress twice on the nuclear claim, Jan. 20 and 28, 2003, and his cabinet members repeated it three times. Francis T. Mandanici, the Connecticut lawyer who catalogued Kenneth Starr’s ethical transgressions for the federal judges of the eastern district of Arkansas, has marshaled impressive evidence that Bush’s untruths deserve the appointment of an outside special counsel by the Justice Department if not impeachment proceedings. You can read it at democracyrising.us/content/view/268/164/.
Did he have a motive for misleading Congress? Pending before Congress at the time was House Con. Res. 2, which expressed the sense of Congress that it should re-examine its support for war and allow UN inspectors time to finish their work. The president had been expressing concern about growing congressional misgivings about going to war over the nuclear weapons threat.
The administration now maintains that the statements were merely errors made in good faith. The Downing Street Memo, which said the Bush administration in 2002 was “fixing” evidence on weapons of mass destruction to support going to war, is only the latest evidence that Niger and other lies were intentional and not good-faith bumbling.
Clinton appointed seven Republican lawyers to investigate allegations of misconduct in his administration, two of them involving sexual dalliances. You would think that lying to take the nation to war might be worthy of some inspection.