Rove, Plame and the firing offense

The president and Senate Democrats agree -- or at least they did: The leaker must go.

Published July 12, 2005 12:27PM (EDT)

George W. Bush and the Democrats in the Senate don't see eye to eye on much, a near-constant difference of opinion that may be underscored as the president sits down this morning to talk about the Supreme Court with Harry Reid and Patrick Leahy. But there's one matter on which Bush and the Democrats are in complete accord: Whoever leaked the identity of Valerie Plame to the press ought to be fired.

When White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan was asked about the Plame case at a press briefing in September 2003, he made it clear that Bush would fire anyone who was "involved" in leaking Plame's identity to the press. "The president has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration," McClellan said then. "He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration."

Bush seemed to reiterate that point when he talked to reporters in Chicago on Sept. 30, 2003. The president said that he wanted to know if anyone in his administration had leaked Plame's identity, and that "if the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of." Bush was asked again about the Plame case on June 10, 2004, at a press conference that followed that year's G8 summit, and he seemed to give the same answer: Asked by a reporter whether he stood by his "pledge to fire anyone found" to have "leaked the agent's name," Bush said, "Yes."

Now that Karl Rove has been implicated in Plame's outing -- and really, "implicated" doesn't quite get it -- Democrats say they think Bush had it just about right all along. "I agree with the president when he said he expects the people who work for him to adhere to the highest standards of conduct," Harry Reid said in a statement issued Monday. "The White House promised if anyone was involved in the Valerie Plame affair, they would no longer be in this administration. I trust they will follow through on this pledge." John Kerry piled on, saying in an e-mail to supporters: "Despite carefully worded denials, it is now apparent that Karl Rove discussed the identity of an undercover CIA agent with a reporter. His clear aim was to discredit that agent's husband who had dared to challenge the Administration in the buildup to the war. There appears to be no limit to the lengths to which Rove -- and this administration -- will go. But, there is a limit to the patience of the American people -- and we have reached it. President Bush has a choice to make: Spend the months ahead focused on protecting Karl Rove's job security or spend them focused on protecting America's national security."

For Rove, the attacks of the Democrats are nothing new. What is new -- and what ought to have him concerned -- is the silence coming from his own party. Whatever affliction struck Scott McClellan at Monday's press briefing seems to have spread quickly through the ranks of Republican Washington. When Rove said last month that liberals wanted to respond to 9/11 with "therapy and understanding," Republicans stood in line to support him. Not anymore. The New York Times asked several Republican senators to comment on the Rove revelations Monday. It appears that not one of them was willing to speak on the record; some said they didn't know enough about the case or that they didnt want to venture an opinion. One senior congressional Republican aide told the Times that most members of Congress are waiting to hear more about Rove's role in the Plame case before making any statements in public. "The only fear here is where does this go," the aide told the Times. "We can't know."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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