WASHINGTON — President Bush said Wednesday that he will reserve judgment on Karl Rove’s possible involvement in the leaking of a CIA agent's identity until the special prosecutor’s criminal investigation into the matter is complete.
"This is a serious investigation," Bush said at the end of a meeting with his Cabinet, with Rove, his deputy chief of staff, sitting just behind him. "I will be more than happy to comment on this matter once this investigation is completed,” Bush said.
While the White House seemingly stands by its man, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory discusses the investigation, how the administration is expected to proceed, and how the root of the scandal is once again the controversial justifications for the war in Iraq.
Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, came to Rove’s defense during a press briefing Tuesday by saying, “Any individual who works here at the White House has the confidence of the president. They wouldn’t be working here at the White House if they didn’t.” What is the likelihood that Bush would ever actually fire Rove, a close confidant and the architect of his re-election campaign?
I think, were Karl Rove to be indicted for any crime, it would be impossible for the president to keep him on. Short of that, I don’t think that he will go anywhere. I think the president will stand behind him.
If you look, the president’s past comments were pretty clear: that anyone who is responsible for leaking classified information, which is a crime, would be fired. Until and unless that’s proven in this case, I don’t think that Karl Rove will go anywhere.
As to the question of whether what Karl Rove did was a smear campaign, or politically sleazy, it’s pretty clear to me that everyone in White House — from the president, to the vice president, to other officials — shared Rove’s interest in discrediting former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was critical of the administration’s case for going to war in Iraq.
Other than standing by Rove, how much longer can the White House remain silent and dodge this issue?
The president spoke out this morning to say it’s an ongoing investigation and that they should get to the bottom of it. But, beyond that, he’ll try to make it clear that Karl Rove continues to do his job as normal, that it’s business as usual, and that he retains the president’s confidence. It’s pretty clear that’s the case.
The White House has a political problem because they have made statements that are wrong and that are no longer accurate. That’s brought the heat on them.
The president just said today that he “will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports.” So, it doesn’t appear that he is going to comment beyond that.
What is the legal basis behind the whole case?
The law says that you have to have known the person is a covert agent and that you have to intentionally disclose that. Not accidentally disclose it, but intentionally disclose it.
Based on what we know so far, Karl Rove did not do that.
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Now, that’s the legal standard, but there is a different standard politically. That’s what is being debated now.
Rove has testified before the grand jury, now we know the contents of this e-mail, and we know that [Time magazine reporter] Matt Cooper will testify [today]. But, based on what we know so far, Rove never used her name, which is not as important as the fact that he did not reveal that she was a covert agent.
What more can we learn from Matt Cooper's testimony today?
I think it will be interesting to see what questions he is asked, if we can figure that out.
The line of questions may say something about what the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, is interested in learning and where he is going with the case. That’s the key thing, whether Matt Cooper essentially confirms the substance of the e-mail he turned over.
Is this a case of the curse of the second-term scandal?
No, it would be the curse of the first term. This happened in the first term. This is perhaps the curse of a controversial basis for going to war.
Really what this is about is the case for going into Iraq. The issue is really the debates about the war, the evidence that was used to go to war, and the claims that were made by this administration that proved to be false.
David Gregory is NBC News’ chief White House correspondent.