Frank Rich on Plame Gate

I am going to break my own rule here and post an entire lengthy article from the NY Times, knowing that in a few days it will be archeved and rendered unattainable without a payment. I want it here so we can refer to it in the future.

As usual, Frank Rich manages to get right to the heart of the matter. He strips aside those subplots that the right-wing bloggers try so deperately to cling to, the details they try to use to obfuscate the issue. They are smokescreens, designed to divert attention away from the crime. Word games and tricks. What we have to remember, Rich argues, is why this is such a huge story: because it is a microcosm of what Bush was willing to do to push for the Iraq war in spite of the evidence indicating it was unnecessary. Thousands — hundreds of thousands — of lives may have beed spared had BushCo not been so eager to push this war down our throats.

It’s long. But it’s great. Please, read it all. And don’t miss that last paragraph, where he says Rove’s resignation is now only a matter of time. I still have a hard time believing it, but Rich is almost always right. And based on this article, Cheney should be next.

“I am saying that if anyone was involved in that type of activity which I referred to, they would not be working here.”
– Ron Ziegler, press secretary to Richard Nixon, defending the presidential aide Dwight Chapin on Oct. 18, 1972. Chapin was convicted in April 1974 of perjury in connection with his relationship to the political saboteur Donald Segretti.

“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 have the president’s confidence.”
– Scott McClellan, press secretary to George W. Bush, defending Karl Rove on Tuesday.

WELL, of course, Karl Rove did it. He may not have violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, with its high threshold of criminality for outing a covert agent, but there’s no doubt he trashed Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. We know this not only because of Matt Cooper’s e-mail, but also because of Mr. Rove’s own history. Trashing is in his nature, and bad things happen, usually through under-the-radar whispers, to decent people (and their wives) who get in his way. In the 2000 South Carolina primary, John McCain’s wife, Cindy, was rumored to be a drug addict (and Senator McCain was rumored to be mentally unstable). In the 1994 Texas governor’s race, Ann Richards found herself rumored to be a lesbian. The implication that Mr. Wilson was a John Kerry-ish girlie man beholden to his wife for his meal ticket is of a thematic piece with previous mud splattered on Rove political adversaries. The difference is that this time Mr. Rove got caught.

Even so, we shouldn’t get hung up on him – or on most of the other supposed leading figures in this scandal thus far. Not Matt Cooper or Judy Miller or the Wilsons or the bad guy everyone loves to hate, the former CNN star Robert Novak. This scandal is not about them in the end, any more than Watergate was about Dwight Chapin and Donald Segretti or Woodward and Bernstein. It is about the president of the United States. It is about a plot that was hatched at the top of the administration and in which everyone else, Mr. Rove included, are at most secondary players.

To see the main plot, you must sweep away the subplots, starting with the Cooper e-mail. It has been brandished as a smoking gun by Bush bashers and as exculpatory evidence by Bush backers (Mr. Rove, you see, was just trying to ensure that Time had its facts straight). But no one knows what this e-mail means unless it’s set against the avalanche of other evidence, most of it secret, including what Mr. Rove said in three appearances before the grand jury. Therein lies the rub, or at least whatever case might be made for perjury.

Another bogus subplot, long popular on the left, has it that Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, gave Mr. Novak a free pass out of ideological comradeship. But Mr. Fitzgerald, both young (44) and ambitious, has no record of Starr- or Ashcroft-style partisanship (his contempt for the press notwithstanding) or known proclivity for committing career suicide. What’s most likely is that Mr. Novak, more of a common coward than the prince of darkness he fashions himself to be, found a way to spill some beans and avoid Judy Miller’s fate. That the investigation has dragged on so long anyway is another indication of the expanded reach of the prosecutorial web.

Apparently this is finally beginning to dawn on Mr. Bush’s fiercest defenders and on Mr. Bush himself. Hence, last week’s erection of the stonewall manned by the almost poignantly clownish Mr. McClellan, who abruptly rendered inoperative his previous statements that any suspicions about Mr. Rove are “totally ridiculous.” The morning after Mr. McClellan went mano a mano with his tormentors in the White House press room – “We’ve secretly replaced the White House press corps with actual reporters,” observed Jon Stewart – the ardently pro-Bush New York Post ran only five paragraphs of a wire-service story on Page 12. That conspicuous burial of what was front-page news beyond Murdochland speaks loudly about the rising anxiety on the right. Since then, White House surrogates have been desperately babbling talking points attacking Joseph Wilson as a partisan and a liar.

These attacks, too, are red herrings. Let me reiterate: This case is not about Joseph Wilson. He is, in Alfred Hitchcock’s parlance, a MacGuffin, which, to quote the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a particular event, object, factor, etc., initially presented as being of great significance to the story, but often having little actual importance for the plot as it develops.” Mr. Wilson, his mission to Niger to check out Saddam’s supposed attempts to secure uranium that might be used in nuclear weapons and even his wife’s outing have as much to do with the real story here as Janet Leigh’s theft of office cash has to do with the mayhem that ensues at the Bates Motel in “Psycho.”

This case is about Iraq, not Niger. The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit – the big enchilada, to borrow a 1973 John Ehrlichman phrase from the Nixon tapes – is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped-up grounds and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from fighting the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. That’s why the stakes are so high: this scandal is about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a C.I.A. operative who posed for Vanity Fair.

So put aside Mr. Wilson’s February 2002 trip to Africa. The plot that matters starts a month later, in March, and its omniscient author is Dick Cheney. It was Mr. Cheney (on CNN) who planted the idea that Saddam was “actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time.” The vice president went on to repeat this charge in May on “Meet the Press,” in three speeches in August and on “Meet the Press” yet again in September. Along the way the frightening word “uranium” was thrown into the mix.

By September the president was bandying about the u-word too at the United Nations and elsewhere, speaking of how Saddam needed only a softball-size helping of uranium to wreak Armageddon on America. But hardly had Mr. Bush done so than, offstage, out of view of us civilian spectators, the whole premise of this propaganda campaign was being challenged by forces with more official weight than Joseph Wilson. In October, the National Intelligence Estimate, distributed to Congress as it deliberated authorizing war, included the State Department’s caveat that “claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa,” made public in a British dossier, were “highly dubious.” A C.I.A. assessment, sent to the White House that month, determined that “the evidence is weak” and “the Africa story is overblown.”

AS if this weren’t enough, a State Department intelligence analyst questioned the legitimacy of some mysterious documents that had surfaced in Italy that fall and were supposed proof of the Iraq-Niger uranium transaction. In fact, they were blatant forgeries. When Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said as much publicly in the days just before “shock and awe,” his announcement made none of the three evening newscasts. The administration’s apocalyptic uranium rhetoric, sprinkled with mushroom clouds, had been hammered incessantly for more than five months by then – not merely in the State of the Union address – and could not be dislodged. As scenarios go, this one was about as subtle as “Independence Day” and just as unstoppable a crowd-pleaser.

Once we were locked into the war, and no W.M.D.’s could be found, the original plot line was dropped with an alacrity that recalled the “Never mind!” with which Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella used to end her misinformed Weekend Update commentaries on “Saturday Night Live.” The administration began its dog-ate-my-homework cover-up, asserting that the various warning signs about the uranium claims were lost “in the bowels” of the bureaucracy or that it was all the C.I.A.’s fault or that it didn’t matter anyway, because there were new, retroactive rationales to justify the war. But the administration knows how guilty it is. That’s why it has so quickly trashed any insider who contradicts its story line about how we got to Iraq, starting with the former Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill and the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.

Next to White House courtiers of their rank, Mr. Wilson is at most a Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. The brief against the administration’s drumbeat for war would be just as damning if he’d never gone to Africa. But by overreacting in panic to his single Op-Ed piece of two years ago, the White House has opened a Pandora’s box it can’t slam shut. Seasoned audiences of presidential scandal know that there’s only one certainty ahead: the timing of a Karl Rove resignation. As always in this genre, the knight takes the fall at exactly that moment when it’s essential to protect the king.

But we all know the truth, that the king is equally guilty, if not more so.

The Discussion: 8 Comments

It is good you included the whole opinion and that Rich has the ability and intelligence to put this Plame matter in its correct perspective.

Yes there is an MO of Rove. A pattern that makes telling reading. As the Sheriff of Nottingham, Rove has to give one up for bad King John, is it? You Brits can help me out on this point.

But what of the king? Will he fall on his own blade? If Rove goes, how far is the king behind. Or to put it another way, less precipitously perhaps, what legacy will this Bush leave America? In a less gentlemanly way, Bush has fucked with our country and there needs to be some accounting.

July 16, 2005 @ 11:34 pm | Comment

Pete, idealistic people like you and me simply have to face the fact that it’s an unfair world and often there is no justice. Rove will most likely take the fall, and I’m not even sure of that. He’s so slimy he just might slip away; he’s simply too valuable to Bush. But if you expect Bush himself to fall, all I can say is forget it, that’s simply not on the horizon. Even if we found the semen-stained dress, Bush would quash the investigation on the basis of national security; a war-time president can’t be bothered with such petty things. No, there are too many loyal lieutenants surrounding Bush, and he can’t be touched.

July 17, 2005 @ 12:29 am | Comment

I agree with this article. At last we are getting something useful. What commentary I often see I think is rather silly. I do not know Rove, nor much about him. But in Idaho there was a fellow that did do a horrendous deed, Karl does not down to that low of a level.

I am not attempting to support Rove, I personally think all politicians are not truthful. All that I hope is that they do not steal too much nor cause too much harm to the people.

July 17, 2005 @ 4:59 am | Comment

Richard, I supposed you are right and realistic. It is in my being to see Bush take a fall that dashes the neocon’s hopes for more war and the radical right’s hopes for for continued political dominance.

July 17, 2005 @ 8:12 am | Comment


July 17, 2005 @ 10:25 am | Comment

One of the most telling articles I’ve read, about how “the goods” for this adventure were “managed”, “cherry picked”, call it what you want, I prefer manufactured, was:

In Rumsfeld’s Shop
written by Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski

You can still see it, I think, at the site of The American Conservative. She is recently retired from the U.S. Air Force. Her final posting was as an analyst at the Pentagon. In particular, her duties included the “Africa Desk”, which brings me to part of the “Why they got so upset” that Wilson didn’t toe the line for them. THEY KNEW from the git-go they were manufacturing the evidence re. the yellowcake issue they had sent Wilson to look into!

Here are three paragraphs from Kwiatkowski’s articles:

The other type of change to the talking points was along the lines of fine-tuning and generalizing. Much of what was there was already so general as to be less than accurate. Some bullets would be softened, particularly statements of Saddam’s readiness and capability in the chemical, biological, or nuclear arena. Others were altered over time to match more exactly something Bush or Cheney had said in recent speeches. One item I never saw in our talking points was a reference to Saddam’s purported attempt to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger. The OSP list of crime and evil included a statement relating to Saddam’s attempts to seek fissionable materials or uranium in Africa. (Our point, written mostly in the present tense had conveniently omitted dates of the last known attempt, some time in the late 1980s.) I was later surprised to hear the president’s mention of the yellowcake in Niger because that indeed would be new, and in theory might have represented new actual intelligence, something remarkably absent in what we were seeing from the OSP.

When President Bush gave his State of the Union address, there was a small furor over the reference to the yellowcake in Niger that Saddam was supposedly seeking. After this speech, everyone was discussing this as either new intelligence saved up for just such a speech or, more cynically, just one more flamboyant fabrication that those watching the propaganda campaign had come to expect. I had not heard about yellowcake from Niger or seen it mentioned on the Office of Special Plans talking points. When I went over to my old shop, sub-Saharan Africa, to congratulate them for making it into the president’s speech, they said the information hadn’t come from them or through them. They were as surprised and embarrassed as everyone else that such a blatant falsehood would make it into a presidential speech.

It was a sad day for me and many others with whom I worked when we watched Powell’s public capitulation. The era when Powell had been considered a political general, back when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had in many ways been erased for those of us who greatly admired his coup of the Pentagon neocons when he persuaded the president to pursue UN support for his invasion of Iraq. Now it was as if Powell had again rolled military interests—and national interests as well.

July 18, 2005 @ 1:58 am | Comment

Respectfully – Frank Rich was, up until this article, someone I read religiously. After reading this and realizing he must assume all of us either are brain dead or willing to go along with what ever he states – I now regret wasting my time ever reading him the first place. Why? I guess Rich and his ilk assume none of us are going to get off our butts and independently research the situation surrounding this dog and pony show. And that’s what this is – a show. What for? I’m not totally sure. What I do know is that Rove could have held a rally and declared publicly the Plame worked for the CIA and he STILL wouldn’t have been guilty of leaking anything. The law that protects operatives that we’re being led to believe by Rich & co was broken. Isn’t and wasn’t applicable to plame due to the fact she had not had the status of an operative or undercover for nearly a decade. Her cover was blown when Aldrich Aimes sold the Russians those lists of operatives. A situation that was further compounded shortly afterwards when a transmission from state dept to its personnel in Cuba was errantly sent clear. Allowing the Cuban gov to intercept and read it. Contained in it was Plames name and her association with the CIA.
That’s when Plames name was blown. Her current position as an analyst at CIA headquarters isn’t privileged. The thinking being that if someone can be seen walking in and out of the front door of the place, why bother? So it is with anyone working in such a capacity.
What the f*ck is going on now I haven’t a clue. All I know is that all these people acting oh so indignant and calling the administration liars about this are in fact lying and going to insane lengths to keep it up. Which leads me to wonder – what else have these jerks lied about?


July 20, 2005 @ 4:45 am | Comment

If you want to link to NY Times articles, use should use the NY Times link generator ( which generates permanent non-expiring links to NYT articles for posting on blogs. It’s a really handy tool.

July 20, 2005 @ 11:35 am | Comment

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