Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Not time for apologies (Plamegate)

By Martin Schram
Scripps Howard News Service
September 18, 2006

The Washington Post editorialized about Armitage's admission: "It follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House — that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame's identity to ruin her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson — is untrue."

Then came a column by Washington's most admired political journalist, the Post's David Broder: "For much of the past five years, dark suspicions have been voiced about the Bush White House undermining its critics, and Karl Rove has been fingered as the chief culprit in this supposed plot to suppress the opposition. Now at least one count in that indictment has been weakened — the charge that Rove masterminded a conspiracy to discredit Iraq intelligence critic Joseph Wilson by 'outing' his CIA-operative wife, Valerie Plame."

Broder properly jabbed some liberal activist-journalists who reached beyond the known facts to attack Rove, and then concluded: "These and other publications owe Karl Rove an apology. And all of journalism needs to relearn the lesson: Can the conspiracy theories and stick to the facts."

That advice, well-taken, must now lead us to note the fact that the central assertions in this case are not mutually exclusive. Especially because of the way things work in Washington.

The facts we know provide key answers: Was there a White House effort to discredit Wilson? Yes. Fitzgerald's public filings in April make that clear.

Were Cheney, Libby and Rove involved in the effort? Again, yes. And Fitzgerald's filing says President Bush wanted it done. Was it a crime to seek to discredit Wilson? No. Discrediting critics is business as usual in all administrations. But knowingly leaking a covert agent's identity is a crime.

Was Armitage part of the White House effort? Unlikely. Armitage and Secretary of State Colin Powell were fighting the Cheney-led hardliners.

Is it a crime to make false statements to federal investigators or the grand jury? Yes, big-time.

That's what we were told by conservatives pushing to impeach a Democratic president who lied under oath about his sex life. This is about national security — outing a covert agent. Cheney's man Libby was indicted for deceiving the federal investigators — but was it a White House-choreographed effort? Now, apparently, some (perhaps Rove) have provided new information, perhaps in exchange for assurances they won't face trial. Thus, the crucial facts that are still unknown make clear that it is not yet time for all-clears or apologies.

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