Thursday, October 02, 2003

The Plame Affair 

The Plame Affair is viewed as "very serious" by 48% of those polled by the Washington Post. 68% of them think that an outsider should be in charge of the criminal investigation. (Here is the law.)

Of course, an insider is in charge: John Ashcroft, who is in a "delicate position" because of his deep ties to all the officials he is about to investigate for the commision of the crime. In particular, Karl Rove (a leading suspect) was a paid consultant on three of Ashcroft's campaigns. Interestingly, even Rove associates think that Ashcroft is going to have to recuse himself. It doesn't help that someone at DOJ gave the White House a "heads up" before the officially notifying them of the investigation (Atrios); some might see that as giving a criminal the chance to destroy evidence.

Unless the White House can keep the lid on. Reframing the story as a "leaks are bad" story (example) has brought the Bush damage control team some success, if the metric is headlines. (Though see AP here.) Most of the headlines use the word "leak," and the story has dropped off the breaking news on the wires.

However, the "leaks are bad" line is so weak that it's hard to believe that it will hold up for long; the polling data above suggest it's already been discounted by the public. Richard Cohen of WaPo risks stating what must be obvious to all: "[H]ypocrisy was on display Tuesday when President Bush indignantly declared war on leaking, asserting that there are 'just too many leaks.' The president, as is his wont, misspoke. What he meant to condemn are leaks that do damage to his administration." So DeLay distributing paper sacks labeled "Leak Hyperventilation Bags," while cute, probably won't have much impact outside the Hill. (It's hard to see how the atmosphere there could be more embittered than it already is.)

So fresh damage control tactics are already emerging from the White House, as Tresy has already seen (back). The White House is now trying to make Plame's husband, Ambassador Wilson, the issue, asserting that Wilson, the yellowcake whistleblower, contributed to the Democratic Party (example). Josh Marshall deals with that high floater by pointing out that Wilson also contributed to the Republican party; and whether he did or not, that has nothing to do with whether a White House official committed a crime by revealing the identity of Ambassador Wilson's wife, an intelligence operative.
Unlike Whitewater (back), this one is serious.

Meanwhile, the defense that Plame was just an analyst—that the criminal could not have blown her cover since she had no cover to blow—has been quietly dropped; it turns out that Plame was, indeed, an operative, and so the law applies. Condi Rice's line that the CIA's criminal referral to the DOJ was just a routine matter has also been dropped.

With regard to the potential for an independent investigation, the Republicans are trying out the "overreaching" meme for themselves, but it's hard to see how that will stick, given the prima facie case for the commission of a felony. Here again, the Republicans are trying a line that the polling data suggests people have already discounted.

Republican tactics depend on making sure that no Republicans break ranks. The Republicans the White House is watching include Senators John McCain of Arizona, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John W. Warner of Virginia, and Representative Porter J. Goss of Florida. And it looks like Hagel is breaking ranks already.

Finally, a new suspect has emerged: "Scooter" Libby from Cheney's Office (Josh Marshall). (Readers may remember the Veteran Intelligence Professionals and the work they did to bring Cheney's intimidation of the intelligence community to light as the White House built the case for the Iraq war.)

In the world outside the Beltway, crises fester. It's unfortunate that accurately assessing and interpreting North Korea's announcement that it has plutonium and will make bombs with it depends on the WMD intelligence community—exactly the community that Plame worked in as an intelligence operative.

Unless, of course, the Bush administration has already decided to go to war.

corrente SBL - New Location
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