There's a lull in real news in the Valerie Plame case, so reporters -- at least the ones still working in these dog days of August -- are doing what reporters do in the calm before the storm: They're fleshing out what's already known and asking questions about what isn't. Walter Pincus did the former Thursday morning with his Washington Post piece on what may have been the beginning of the thread of the Plame leaks. The Associated Press' Pete Yost is doing the latter now.
Yost focuses on a question we've raised before: What -- and when -- did Karl Rove tell George W. Bush about his involvement in the Plame leak? Back in 2003, White House press secretary Scott McClellan insisted that "the president knows" that Rove wasn't involved in leaking Plame's identity to the press. McClellan wouldn't say how the president knew -- "I'm not going to get into conversations that the president has with advisors or staff," he said. He was more forthcoming about how he "knew" it himself: McClellan said he had asked Rove and that Rove had assured him that he wasn't involved.
Did Rove repeat the same lie to Bush? Did Bush simply take it on faith that his trusted advisor couldn't possibly be involved? Or did Bush actually know that Rove was involved and simply choose to stand by silently while his press secretary spun a story he knew to be false? Either way, Yost says, there are problems for the president. If it turns out Rove lied to Bush, the president would look foolish and weak if he keeps him on his staff -- and Rove could conceivably be guilty of making a false statement to a federal officer, Yost says. If Rove told Bush the truth back in 2003, then the president misled the country by letting McClellan's statements stand.
Mark J. Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University, tells Yost: "What we really don't know factually is whether Rove lied to the president or whether the president knew something about Rove's role and dissembled."
We also don't know what's going to come of any of this. That doesn't mean we can't speculate. In a speech in Florida Thursday, Joseph Wilson said that if anyone is indicted in the case, it will probably be Rove or Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby. "The modus operandi of guys like Karl Rove and those around him is to engage in character assassination of those who oppose them," Wilson said in a talk at Tallahassee's Capital Tiger Bay Club, according to a report in the Tallahassee Democrat. "They cannot help themselves and may have succeeded, but for one thing. When they went after my wife, they may have broken a law."
Yes, they may have -- and that's a tragedy, CNBC's Larry Kudlow writes in a column posted yesterday. For if Bush loses Rove to an indictment, Kudlow says, the entire country loses, too. "Rove is the rare political advisor who understands that good pro-growth policies lead to successful politics," Kudlow says. "Rove is a brilliant political strategist, but he is also an uncommon thinker who understands the economic underpinning of winning elections." If the Plame case leads to an indictment, Kudlow says, the real victims may be the stock market and the economy as a whole.