The decision not to charge Karl Rove shows there often are no consequences for misleading the public.
In 2003, while Rove allowed the White House to tell the news media that he had no role in leaking Valerie Plame’s CIA identity, the presidential aide was secretly telling the FBI the truth.
It’s now known that Rove had discussed Plame’s CIA employment with conservative columnist Robert Novak, who exposed her identity less than a week later, citing two unidentified senior administration officials.
Rove’s truth-telling to the FBI saved him from indictment.
And by misleading reporters, the White House saved itself from a political liability during the 2004 presidential campaign.
While the president and the vice president underwent questioning by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in 2004, Rove’s role never surfaced. The lone blip on the radar screen was a one-day flurry of news stories the month before Election Day when Rove was brought before a federal grand jury — one of his five grand jury appearances in the probe.
The extent of Rove’s involvement didn’t become official until Oct. 28 of last year, when Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, was indicted on charges of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI about how he learned of Plame’s CIA identity and what he told reporters about it.
The indictment recounted Rove’s conversation with Novak about the CIA officer, as Rove later related it to Libby.
‘No leaks, no damage’
For nearly three years, the White House has refused to discuss the Plame investigation, citing the fact that it is still under way.
“The ability of this White House to stiff the press is probably better than any previous administration,” said presidential scholar Stephen Hess, a former speechwriter for President Eisenhower and an adviser to Presidents Ford and Carter. “Clearly if there are no leaks, there’s no damage.”
Hess said Tuesday the Plame case is an example of the news media being complicit in the White House’s conduct.
“I’m saying that there was a handshake and Bob Novak was honorable to the handshake” by refusing to publicly identify his sources, said Hess. “It’s not quite a deal with the devil because these people are our elected and appointed officials, but it’s a question of how much you want to let them off the hook.”
Lee Edwards, a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said other administrations have “flinched or blinked or said ’we’ve got to do more in response to this or that crisis.”’
“Rove and everyone else has been under enormous pressure and yet they have been able to stick to it and that’s remarkable,” said Edwards.
What did Rove tell Bush?
Among the many unanswered questions in the Plame probe are what, if anything, Rove told President Bush about his conversation with Novak. Another question is whether Rove told Bush about his conversation with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper.
It was the Rove-Cooper conversation on July 11, 2003, that threw the investigation back on the front pages a year ago.
Facing jail unless he cooperated with prosecutors, Cooper testified that Rove said Wilson’s wife worked at the “agency” and that she was responsible for sending her husband on a CIA mission to Africa in 2002 to check out intelligence about Iraq.
“I inferred that he obviously meant the CIA and not, say, the Environmental Protection Agency,” Cooper wrote in Time, recounting his conversation with Rove.
Trip to Niger
Wilson’s mission to Africa was the basis for his later criticism of the Bush administration. In his State of the Union speech in 2003 in the run-up to war, Bush embraced intelligence that Saddam Hussein had recently sought significant quantities of yellowcake uranium from Africa.
From his trip, Wilson had concluded it was highly doubtful any such transaction between Iraq and Niger had taken place.
It was the Rove-Cooper conversation about Wilson’s wife that became the focus of Fitzgerald’s investigative interest in the president’s political adviser.
Unlike the conversation with Novak, Rove didn’t reveal it to the FBI until more than a year into the criminal investigation of the Plame leak.
Rove’s explanation for his belated disclosure of the conversation? He says he forgot about it.