As far as George W. Bush is concerned, the case of Valerie Plame Wilson has “run its course.” Asked during his Thursday press conference about the morality of White House staff members who leaked Ms. Wilson’s CIA identity during the summer of 2003, he dismissed the issue as if he had never promised to punish those lurking miscreants.
“I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about the testimony that people throughout my administration were forced to give as a result of the special prosecutor,” he shrugged. “I didn’t ask them during that time [about their roles in the leak] and I haven’t asked them since.”
Offering a quip about his “fair and balanced” decision to commute the jail sentence of former vice presidential chief of staff and convicted perjurer I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, he concluded: “We’re going to move on.”
The White House press corps should not accept that puerile and facetious answer.
For four years, every reporter who asked the president or his press secretaries any question about the Wilson matter has received essentially the same non-responsive response: The president and the White House staff could not talk about the matter so long as the special counsel was actively pursuing the case. That tired excuse no longer works.
Now that the leak prosecution has ended with Bush’s silencing of Libby — the only potential stool pigeon who could implicate him and Vice President Cheney in the vicious and unpatriotic “outing” of Valerie Plame Wilson — he says instead that it is time to move on. Yet all of the lingering questions still require real answers.
Those questions began to pile up as long ago as September 2003, even before the Bush administration named U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Wilson leak as special counsel. That was when Bush reportedly told his aides, including Karl Rove, who was later proved to have leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to Time magazine, “I want to get to the bottom of this.” Publicly the president complained about the leak and vowed, “If somebody did leak classified information, I’d like to know it, and we’ll take the appropriate action.”
That was also when Bush’s press secretary declared that the president considered the Wilson leak to be “a very serious matter” and stated that the president would fire any official found to be responsible for the leak. “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration,” said Scott McClellan, then the president’s spokesman. “There’s been nothing, absolutely nothing, brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement.”
Whether McClellan and Bush were lying back then or not — and they probably were — much information later came to the incurious president’s attention that demonstrated the dishonorable “involvement” of his staff beyond a reasonable doubt. Sworn testimony showed that the leakers included not only Libby, but former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former press secretary Ari Fleischer, and of course Karl Rove.
All left public service under one circumstance or another, with their reputations dented or destroyed, except for Rove — who has suffered no consequences whatsoever for his role in revealing the identity of a covert CIA agent who devoted 20 years of her life to this country. Now that the president can no longer hide behind the “current prosecution” excuse, he deserves to be asked why Rove is still collecting a paycheck from the U.S. Treasury and continues to hold a security clearance.
Then there is the problem of Vice President Cheney, who obviously orchestrated Libby’s leak to New York Times reporter Judith Miller and the entire campaign against Valerie Plame Wilson. Plame Wilson was a casualty of Cheney’s vendetta against her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who dared to expose the lies and forgeries at the center of the argument for war against Iraq.
During the Libby trial, testimony and evidence indicated that Cheney oversaw the activities of his chief of staff, and later went so far as to order McClellan to “clear” Libby in a press briefing on the case. The defense brought into evidence a note in Cheney’s own handwriting, explaining why he insisted that the White House press staff should defend Libby just as vigorously as Rove — and implicating Bush in the scandal.
Cheney’s angry scribble said, “not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy this Pres. asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.” (That “incompetent” insult was intended for Rove, whom the vice president evidently blamed for the exposure of their conspiracy against the Wilsons.) Although Cheney had crossed out the words “this Pres.” and replaced them with the phrase “that was,” the reference to Bush remained legible and incriminating.
So now is the time to ask the president what Cheney meant when he wrote that little note. Why did the vice president write a note claiming that “this Pres.” had asked Libby to “stick his head in the meat grinder”? Did the president ask Libby to take the fall for others in the White House? Did he know the extent of the vice president’s involvement in the effort to ruin the Wilsons? When exactly did he learn what Cheney, Libby, Rove and Fleischer had done to advance that scheme?
The commutation of Libby’s prison term and the continuing prospect of a possible pardon for the felonious ex-staffer lend fresh relevance to those questions.
Now would also be a proper time to ask both the president and the vice president to release the transcripts of their interviews with Fitzgerald and his staff. According to published reports, the special prosecutor interviewed the president and the vice president during the summer of 2004. Even though Bush reportedly was not under oath during those sessions, to which he was accompanied by private counsel, both he and Cheney were still obliged to tell the truth. Did they?
If all those questions are ever answered, there will still be one more.
Joe and Valerie Wilson served this country faithfully and on some occasions heroically for more than two decades, he in the diplomatic corps and she in the intelligence service. They committed no crime or offense that justified the secret White House campaign to smear them and ruin their careers. Indeed, Joe Wilson continued to serve the interests of the United States when he corrected a crucial remark about Iraq’s pursuit of nuclear weapons in the 2003 State of the Union address — a statement that the White House later admitted to be false.
Why then has the president failed to apologize to them on behalf of himself, his staff and the government of the United States?