White House in Full Damage Control Mode as Plame Leak Closes in on Rove

White House in Full Damage Control Mode as Plame Leak Closes in on Rove

At today's White House press briefing, Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan repeatedly refused to comment on the case, despite having spoken about it multiple times over the past few years. The difference between then and now? At the time, it appeared that the Bush administration would weather the Rove-Plame storm. Now, the future of the top White House adviser is anyone's guess. The signs of an increasingly worried administration come from two directions. The first is White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's contradictory press briefing of July 11. In it, McClellan told an agitated press corps that he would make no comment on the allegations swirling around Karl Rove. A reporter pressed the case: QUESTION: "On September 29th of 2003, while the investigation was ongoing, you clearly commented on it. You were the first one to have said that if anybody from the White House was involved, they would be fired. "And then, on June 10th of 2004, at Sea Island Plantation, in the midst of this investigation, when the president made his comments that, yes, he would fire anybody from the White House who was involved, so why have you commented on this during the process of the investigation in the past, but now you’ve suddenly drawn a curtain around it under the statement of, We’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation?" MCCLELLAN: "Again, John, I appreciate the question. I know you want to get to the bottom of this. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States. "And I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation. And that’s something that the people overseeing the investigation have expressed a preference that we follow. "And that’s why we’re continuing to follow that approach and that policy. "Now, I remember very well what was previously said. And, at some point, I will be glad to talk about it, but not until after the investigation is complete." As pointed out by numerous additional reporters at the briefing and the blogger Billmon, McClellan gave very different statements to the media two years ago. Also of interest are the increasingly lawerly statements from none other than Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, which demonstrate an absurd level of grammatical hair-splitting. In a CNN interview on July 4th, Luskin contended that "Karl did nothing wrong. Karl didn't disclose Valerie Plame's identity to Mr. Cooper or anybody else . . . Who outed this woman? . . . It wasn't Karl." Newsweek, on July 6, quoted more legalese, with Luskin telling reporter Michael Isikoff that "Rove did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA†nor did he “knowingly disclose classified information.†Today, the full import of Luskin's remarks to Newsweek became clear when the Washington Post reported that Luskin simply meant that Rove didn't mention Plame's name to Cooper: "'Rove did not mention her name to Cooper,' Luskin said. 'This was not an effort to encourage Time to disclose her identity.'"

There is still no telling what Republican Attorney General Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation will ultimately uncover. What's more, the Bush White House has shown a remarkable ability to weather one crisis after another, and has refused to back down when any of its closest associates are in trouble. Nevertheless, George W. Bush has always made certain to cast himself as a "straight shooter," as opposed to the slippery philanderer who occupied the White House before him, and such an image has allowed him to get away with some absurdly moronic comments-- "bring 'em on," "smoke 'em out," and so on. With a reputation for honesty and plain speaking one of his only remaining assets, Bush and company could be confronted with an uncomfortable political choice as the heat on Rove grows.