The president's selective silence

George W. Bush say he won't comment on an ongoing investigation. Funny, it didn't seem to bother him before Karl Rove was in the hot seat.

Published July 13, 2005 4:15PM (EDT)

As the Associated Press has it, George W. Bush will not comment on Karl Rove's role in leaking the identity of a CIA operative while the investigation is ongoing. "I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation," Bush said at the end of his cabinet meeting this morning, with Rove sitting close by. "I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports. We're in the midst of an ongoing investigation, and I will be more than happy to comment further once the investigation is completed. . . . We're in the midst of an ongoing investigation, and this is a serious investigation. And it is very important for people not to prejudge the investigation based on media reports. And again, I will be more than happy to comment on this matter once the investigation is complete."

Which is all well and good, except that the president had no problem commenting on the investigation -- and prejudging its results -- before it was clear that Rove was implicated in it. Back in September 2003, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said that "the president knows" that Rove wasn't involved in the Plame leak. Moreover, McClellan said then that Bush was aware that McClellan was telling the press the Bush knew that Rove wasn't involved. "He's aware of what I said, that there is simply no truth to that suggestion," McClellan said.

If Bush was so concerned about "prejudging" the investigation then, perhaps he could have said something to distance himself from McClellan's comments when he spoke to reporters the next day in Chicago. He didn't. Instead, Bush 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." And at a press conference on June 10, 2004, when a reporter asked Bush if he still thought leaking Plame's identity was a firing offense, the president said, "Yes."

So refraining to comment during the course of an investigation? We can buy that. But you don't get to do it selectively, offering up exculpatory comments when the news allows it and then hiding behind a "no comment" when the news turns bad. In the vernacular of the witness stand, Bush "opened the door" to questions about Rove's involvement when he let his press secretary proclaim that "the president knows" that Rove wasn't involved. It's too late to close it now.

By Tim Grieve

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

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