. . . Monday July 18, 2005

Like the Pope Firing God?

To many, President Bush firing Karl Rove would be the equivalent of the Pope firing God. I’m not so sure, but to have a better idea of where this is going, we first need to take a quick look back at the development of the CIA leak scandal.

I recently attended a lunch with Joseph Wilson and he spent some time telling the story of the CIA leak from his perspective. Some of those thoughts are incorporated here:

- Joseph Wilson was hired by the Feds to go to Niger to check out the validity of suggestions that Saddam had made repeated attempts to score yellowcake from Niger. Why Wilson? He had spent years in Africa and was considered an expert (not on nukes, but on the way the government and the military are managed in Niger).

- OK, but there are a lot of experts. Why Wilson? Was it because his wife pulled some strings? No, that is the misinformation. After reading the news during and after the election cycle, you’d think Joseph Wilson was a left wing maniac. Actually, he got that Ambassador title thanks to the first President Bush. In fact, Wilson was treated to the sans kid gloves treatment by the Democrats in the Senate during his confirmation sessions (in no small part because he was considered to be one of James Baker’s guys). Now that is the backdrop. Did Plame suggest Wilson for the job? Yes, she did. Does that matter? No. I don’t care if Barbara Streisand nominated Joe Wilson for the job. He was qualified. So qualified in fact that he got the facts right.

- Wilson quickly determined that there was no truth to the Niger story. And he wasn’t the only one. Other independent investigators (including a former general) came to the same conclusion.

- Plenty of folks from the State Dept to the White House got word that the original report of a Saddam-Niger connection was hogwash. The report still made it into the President’s State of the Union Address. You can come up with your own thoughts on motivations for this.

- Joe Wilson was frustrated. He knew what his report said and he knew that everyone in W’s circle likely heard of his report and others with similar findings. He responded to the use of false information to boost the threat level in the minds of Americans by writing a NYT op-ed piece called, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.”

- The Bush team has a long standing practice of responding to attacks (especially those that are true) by attacking the credibility of the attacker. And so it was with Wilson. The angle: Discredit Wilson by insinuating that he is a hack and the only reason he was even in Niger was because his wife, a CIA employee, pulled some strings.

- It’s important to note that Valerie Plame’s job at the CIA was to help keep weapons of mass destruction from entering the U.S. You probably don’t need to put on your irony cap to see the insanity of this factor. At the same time the Rove-led Bush election team is ripping John Kerry for being too easy on terrorists, they are outing a CIA agent focused on WMD and terrorism in an effort to discredit the reputation of her husband. Security takes a backseat to winning elections. No big deal, eh?

- The Plame leak was tested out on several journalists. Bob Novak wrote the piece that first outed Plame. According to Wilson, by the end of that day, several operations in which she was involved had to be discontinued. Essentially, her long career in the CIA (at least when it comes to covert ops) came to an end.

- A few hours after Novak’s story breaks, Chris Matthews calls Joseph Wilson and tells him that he just got off the phone with Karl Rove who let him know that Plame is “fair game.”

So where are we now? Who gets busted? Who gets protected?

The answers to those questions will depend on a few major factors. Meanwhile, we will see many stories within a story playing out.

One key factor will be how Plame’s role at the CIA is positioned in the media, etc. I recently heard an interview with Bob Woodward in which he suggested that Plame was a desk worker and that her outing had no impact on matters of security. On the other hand, Joseph Wilson indicated that all of her missions had to be scrapped and that it is likely that informants were killed once this story broke. Which is true, the former or the latter? If the latter positioning is the one that gets picked up by most Americans, heads will roll.

But would a loyalty-focused dude like W drop the man who has helped him win so many elections? Wouldn’t that be, as I mentioned above, like the Pope firing God? Perhaps. But don’t be too sure. Remember, in the world of the Bush elites, Rove is a genius, but he’s still part of the proletariat. His fate will depend on who else was involved. If Rove has to be cut to protect a more elite member of the inner circle, he’ll be gone faster than a speeding Scooter.

And the stories within the story…

First, it is no secret that the GOP has had a long standing policy of discrediting the media to give themselves a more direct messaging line to voters by way of direct mail, the radio and the net. Karl Rove, as the man currently behind everything electoral, is the man who is charge of this strategy as well. This seems like a pretty good moment for many in the media to strike back. There is, of course, some irony in the fact that Joseph Wilson came out with what we now know to be the truth of the matter in the NY Times – one of the key targets of the GOP discrediting efforts.

Second, there hasn’t been much love between this administration and the CIA. Don’t expect anyone in the CIA to be stepping to the front of the line to say that outing Plame really didn’t mean the risking of much of anything.

And more importantly, don’t let the details of the political and media games distract you from a question that still hasn’t been well-answered. Why did Bush include the line in the State of the Union Address and what were the main motivations behind the Iraq invasion. Whichever way the war finally plays out, that question will need to be answered.

Concentration is important!