George W. Bush sat down for a chat Monday with half a dozen reporters from Texas newspapers. And somewhere between calling for public schools to teach "intelligent design" and insisting that he has no idea how John Roberts might vote if he were asked to judge the legality of abortion rights, the president took a moment to offer his strongest support yet for Karl Rove.
"Karl's got my complete confidence," the president said. "He's a valuable member of my team."
That's a whole lot more public love than Rove was getting from the White House just a few weeks ago. When news of Rove's involvement in leaking Plame's identity first broke in early July, Fox's Carl Cameron asked Scott McClellan whether Bush still had confidence in his deputy chief of staff. McClellan refused to answer, saying the question was arising in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation he had already refused to discuss. The next day, Bush didn't respond when a reporter asked him about Rove, and McClellan offered only lukewarm support, saying that "any individual" who works at the White House necessarily "has the confidence of the president." The day after that, with Rove sitting behind him at a White House Cabinet meeting, Bush answered a question about Rove's involvement in the Plame case by saying that he would not "prejudge the investigation based on media reports."
So why was Bush so willing to prejudge the investigation Monday? Is it possible that the president knows something the rest of us don't about the evidence Patrick Fitzgerald is finding or what he plans to do with it? Bush sure sounded like it. After expressing confidence in Rove, Bush urged the reporters gathered around him "to wait and see what the true facts are."
But when reporters asked specific questions about what Bush knew, the president reverted to McClellan-speak. Someone asked Bush if he knows the true facts. He didn't say yes, but he didn't say no, either. "We have been cautioned about talking about this issue," the president said. So does Bush know what Rove said about Plame? "As you know," he said, "I occasionally read the newspapers."
Which brings us back to some variations on questions we asked the other day. Why does the president of the United States have to rely on newspaper reports to know what his deputy chief of staff is doing? Couldn't he, you know, ask him? Or maybe he already has and he knows better than to rely on what Rove tells him. After all, it wasn't so very long ago that McClellan was telling everyone who'd listen that "the president knows" that Karl Rove wasn't involved at all.