November 17, 2005 | 11:22 a.m. ET

In curious case of Plamegate, serious questions remain
(Pat Buchanan)

"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice. 

And so it goes with the  investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative.

The latest twist is the revelation by Bob Woodward that a senior administration official told him in June 2003, a month before the Novak column, that Joe Wilson's wife was a CIA operative.

While Scooter Libby's lawyer correctly points out that this disproves Patrick Fitzgerald's contention that Libby was the first to leak the story of Joe Wilson's wife, it is hard to see how it helps Libby's case.  For Libby is charged not with outing Plame, but lying about where he first heard about her.  Either he lied to the FBI and grand jury or he did not.  Woodward's story does not affect the truth or falsehood of what Libby said to the FBI and under oath.

But this story does raise serious questions.  First, who is this senior official and why did he wait more than two years into an investigation to tell the special prosecutor he mentioned Wilson's wife to Woodward in June 2003?  Especially when President Bush said everyone is to cooperate fully with the investigation.  What impelled "senior official" to act now?  Why did he give Woodward permission to confirm his story to Fitzgerald, but deny Woodward permission to give his name to the people?

Second, did the senior official withhold this information from the FBI, Fitzgerald or the grand jury, when questioned back in 2003?  If so, he may have the same problem Karl Rove had when he forgot that he had spoken to Matt Cooper about Mrs. Wilson.  Only after a fourth visit to the grand jury to explain how he forgot the Cooper conversation did Rove, at least temporarily, avert an indictment for misleading federal investigators.

For Fitzgerald, this episode raises a question as to the competence of his investigation.  If Woodward visited Libby in June 2003 (even if Libby is not the senior administration official who leaked to him), this had to be on Libby's calendar.  Why did Fitzgerald not call Woodward before now to ask if Woodward had been told by Libby anything about Valerie Plame?  How wide a sweep did Fitzgerald make if he knew Woodward was talking to White House aides in June 2003, but failed to call him in to talk?  Until this is cleared up, Fitzgerald will have a bit of egg on his face.

The most interesting aspect of this story is what it says about Woodward and the Post.  For over two years, Woodward has known and protected a principal in the know on the biggest potential scandal of the Bush administration.  Not only has Woodward protected that secret and his source, but withheld this information from his paper and the people, and gone on national television to disparage Fitzgerald and his investigation.  In short, he has acted like a surrogate of his source.  He sat on the story.  Isn't the job of the Post to serve the people's right to know?  Why, then, is the Post standing by Woodward's decision to withhold crucial information from the public about a matter in which the public is keenly interested?

Several months ago, we learned that Mark Felt, No. 2 at the FBI, who was in charge of the Watergate investigation, was turning over FBI reports of the investigation to Woodward.  The Post was colluding with a corrupt FBI official, who was engaged in what was unethical and almost surely criminal misconduct, a violation of his oath, to destroy an administration the Post detested. The great investigative reporters Woodward and Bernstein turned out to be the great stenographers of their generation.  The Post was paid in the currency it wanted, ruin of a president it could not defeat at the ballot box.  And Felt got what he wanted: a lifetime cover-up of his squalid role and revenge against a president who had passed him over for the post held by J. Edgar Hoover, whom Felt had served with spaniel loyalty by overseeing black bag jobs.

One can no more differentiate the politicians from the journalists in Washington today than one can tell the pigs from the farmers at the close of Orwell's Animal Farm.

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November 15, 2005 | 2:22 p.m. ET

Daddy knew best (Bob Shrum)

"Turns out we were wrong," Bush's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said about WMD's in Iraq on one of the Sunday talk shows.  Yes, turns out over 2,000 Americans are dead and almost 10,000 wounded, many of them maimed or shattered -- and "turns out we were wrong." Thirty thousand Iraqis or as many as 100,000 killed, most of them civilians -- and "turns out we were wrong." Hundreds of billions of dollars not spent on schools or health care, but on warfare and Halliburton --and "turns out we were wrong."

This wasn't your normal government mistake - misestimating the gross domestic product or misstating the cost of a new federal program.  This is a foreign policy disaster that has broken the hearts of families across America, left us with a military stretched to the breaking point, and left this nation and its President more distrusted and isolated in the world than ever before. 

Yet what seems to bother this Administration most is not the casualties or costs of this colossal error, but the precipitous decline in Bush's job rating and the fortunes of the Republican Party.

The President's last minute intervention couldn't rescue the Republican candidate for Governor in Virginia, Jerry Kilgore, after he took the Atwater-Rove strategy of smear too far by suggesting that his opponent was soft on Hitler.  (Shrum's first rule of American politics: Don't ever compare anyone on the other side to Hitler.) Then the Republican candidate for Governor in New Jersey, Doug Forrester, publicly assailed Bush as the cause of his defeat -- although in fairness it should be noted that Forrester's own negative rating was higher than his positive, almost as low as Bush's and that the voters rebelled against his sleazy last-minute commercial about his opponent's ex-wife.  What the press wrongly predicted would be a close race in New Jersey was in fact a landslide. Meanwhile back at the Washington ranch, Congressional Republicans can't agree on budget cuts, have utterly abandoned the President's Social Security privatization, and are timidly offering up the usual argument of a political party dreading the next mid-term election that the contest will be decided by local factors.

Bush would probably like to just go back to the Texas ranch and clear some brush -- but in the midst of    the Iraq mess and the aftermath of Katrina, that's impossible.  Instead the Administration has launched a PR offensive; if they can't beat the Iraq insurgency, maybe they can beat up their critics here at home. So we're now told that the Senate and House saw the same pre-war intelligence the President did.  As Stephen Hadley might say, "turns out to be wrong." The Congress and the country didn't know that a principal source for the information was the notorious and self-serving Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, the neo-con mascot who wanted to become a top dog in Baghdad and now is, and he's  being welcomed this week in Washington by Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld, despite charges that he leaked U.S. secrets to Iraq. Another example: neither the Congress nor the country knows to this day how the Administration used --or misused -- the intelligence; the commission they appointed under pressure was not permitted to look at that critical question. Something to hide? Before going on the attack, maybe the President ought to level with the American people.

But the deception didn't stop with false claims about nuclear weapons, aluminum tubes, and mobile labs for chemical and biological warfare.  The Administration promised to make a genuine effort at the U.N., put together a real coalition, give the inspectors time, and send enough troops if there was an invasion.  Instead, they treated the U.N. as window-dressing and humiliated Colin Powell by sending him there to mouth a dishonest speech.  They assembled a faux coalition, short-circuited the inspectors and all but fired the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for reporting that they weren't sending enough troops.

Those are facts about how we were misled into war --and as Ronald Reagan used to say, "Facts are stubborn things."  No PR blitz can change them or redeem President Bush's shattered credibility.  You know the Administration is in deep trouble when they assail the patriotism of those who raise legitimate questions about how we got into this war --and how we get out. That's the last, Nixonian refuge of a failing policy that only offers more of the same.  Support for the troops does not mean support for a policy that will risk their lives with no coherent strategy and no end in sight. 

The real test is not rhetoric, but results. John McCain advocates sending 20,000 more troops. I'm convinced he's wrong: Top U.S. military experts now say our military presence actually feeds the insurgency; it's the problem, not the solution.  But at least McCain is telling the truth as he sees it.

It's time for Democrats, and maybe even some Republicans, to tell a different, harder truth. Months ago on this blog, I said that Democrats had to advocate setting a schedule for withdrawal. Now Senate Democrats are proposing doing just that. And in testament to the bankrupt policy and political weaknesses of the President, Republicans who can't survive just endorsing our present course are now following suit with a stopgap, watered-down version of the Democratic proposal.

We need to begin withdrawing troops after the December election instead of leaving them there indefinitely as a safety net for squabbling Iraqi factions.  The Iraqis have to know the day is coming when they will have to stand on their own. In attempting to establish and keep the peace, we need to involve other countries in the region.  To train Iraqis, we need to involve our NATO allies  (we could even let them share in the reconstruction projects instead of reserving them for Cheney's friends at Halliburton).  The Bush Administration may stubbornly refuse to do any of this, or do it ineffectively. But failure is no reason for its own perpetuation.  We should set a target date, the end of 2006, to bring most American troops home. We should aim to withdraw the rest by the end of 2007 at the latest. We should stop feeding the insurgency, rebuild our military, and maybe even track down Osama Bin Laden.

Today we're not getting from the Administration what even former Republican National Chairman Jim Gilmore called for on "Hardball" last Friday -- "a new policy...different diplomacy." All we're hearing from the President is a tinny rhetoric of redemption. He misled us into war, led by the neo-cons who disdained and ridiculed the first President Bush for not going all the way to Baghdad. They waited years and then exploited 9/11, manipulating the intelligence and fear-mongering about mushroom clouds to rectify the first Bush's "mistake."

Turns out Daddy knew best. 

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November 2, 2005 | 10:55 a.m. ET

Bush Administration: Parade of lies (Bob Shrum)

The Bush administration looks forward to the trial of “Scooter” Libby, says Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman. Just like the sausage looks forward to the meat grinder.

On matters great and trivial, lying is second nature to an Administration that came to power by stealing the 2000 Presidential election. Look at the parade of lies.

-- Iraq had and was acquiring weapons of mass destruction, including yellow cake uranium from Niger. False.

-- The President was making a genuine effort to enlist the United Nations before the war. False. The mission in Iraq was accomplished swiftly and cleaning. False. The level of insurgent violence in Iraq was falling. It wasn’t and isn’t.

-- No one in the White House was involved in the Valerie Plame scandal; anyone who was, whether or not they were yet accused of breaking the law, would be fired. False.

-- John Kerry wasn’t a war hero, but someone whose record of bravery deserved to be smeared (admittedly by Bush’s henchman, not the administration itself, so the President could piously disclaim responsibility). And of course, Bush himself hadn’t used special influence to get into the National Guard. False on both counts.

-- “Brownie” was doing “a heck a job” at the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Katrina and Harriet Miers was the best qualified person in America for the Supreme Court. Laughably false.

The list goes on and on. And sometimes the lies have mortal consequences: the loss of untold Iraqi civilians and more than 2,000 American troops in a war that was rooted and manipulated and manufactured intelligence. And the deception metastasizes as the months and causalities mount. The President who was never deigned to go to Dover Air Force Base to salute the fallen who are coming home says no photographs of their coffins can be permitted because that would hurt the feelings of the families. This is false, tragically false; the real reason is that day after day the photos would starkly reveal the price of Bush’s folly.

Now the President has announced his new Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito, and it is a choice swathed in spin and wrapped in deceit. Ken Mehlman unctuously calls for non-partisan consideration of someone who was picked precisely to placate the most partisan elements of the far right. The White House continues to insist that it is wrong for Senators to ask about Alito’s views on Roe v Wade when the President and his advisors know and the anti-choice forces are certain that Alito will vote to overturn it. He was selected on Halloween, but the mask he’s wearing - that he hasn’t made up his mind yet - is pellucidly transparent. Doesn’t the Senate have the right and duty to look behind that mask?

The embattled Bush administration hasn’t gone to the mattress, but to the base. George Bush has made his choice, on the Supreme Court and across the board - and he is likely to be at best a 40% President for the rest of his term. Now Democrats have to stand and fight - not just for their beliefs, but for the majority of Americans. The Alito nomination is the first test. If not now, when? Bush is a depleted President, exposed as an incompetent prisoner of the neo-cons and the ideologues. And if this isn’t an “extraordinary case” under the bi-partisan Senate agreement on Judicial nominees, then what is? Alito is well tailored, somewhat thinner clone of Antonin Scalia, who would strip away fundamental rights ranging from privacy to protections against discrimination. The last thing this country needs is a Supreme Court that would side with corporate polluters, rollback FDR’s New Deal and give a raw deal to women, minorities, workers and the disabled.

This is a test for “moderate” Republicans too. There is nothing moderate about putting an extremist on the court, even a smart one. For Arlen Specter, Susan Collins, Lincoln Chafee and even John McCain, isn’t there a point where party loyalty asks too much? If McCain really means what he says about outlawing torture, why would he vote for a Justice likely to tolerate it?

As for the Democrats, sometimes a party just has to stand for something. Oppose Alito. Filibuster him. Be proud to be pro-choice, pro-equality, pro-consumer and pro-environment. The failed Presidency of George Bush has already given America a needless war and heedless violations of the public trust. Don’t let Bush continue his reign of reaction by packing the Court and hollowing out the Constitution. Don’t just get out of the way of the Bush train wreck. Get in the way and do what’s right, on principle and for the country.                              

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