Bush on Plame: Time to wag the dog again?

The last time Plamegate dominated the news, the president accelerated his announcement of his nomination of a Supreme Court justice.

Published September 30, 2005 3:44PM (EDT)

The White House won't comment on the latest indications that -- contrary to its prior representations -- the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney played a role in revealing the identity of Valerie Plame. But neither, it seems, is the White House ready with a wagging-the-dog way to change the subject.

You remember what happened the last time. When Karl Rove's role in the Plame case became uncomfortable subjects A, B and C for the White House in July, George W. Bush responded by accelerating his announcement that he was nominating John G. Roberts to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Republicans familiar with White House strategy told Bloomberg News at the time that Bush had intended to make the Roberts announcement on July 26 or July 27, but that he moved up the announcement to July 19 at least in part to knock the Rove story out of the news.

It worked, and a lot of big news stories since then-- the Cindy Sheehan saga, the death of William Rehnquist, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the ongoing war in Iraq and scandals surrounding Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Bill Frist and other Republicans -- have kept Plamegate so far off the back burner that it's dripped down the far side of the stove. But with New York Times reporter Judith Miller's release from jail -- and the confirmation that Scooter Libby was the source she was "protecting" -- the White House role in the Plame story is back on the front page now.

Will Bush knock it off again? Yes, he will. With Roberts confirmed as chief justice, the president needs to announce another replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor, and he appears to be ready to do so. But Scott McClellan has assured White House reporters that the announcement won't come today. Why? Maybe Bush doesn't want to be accused of wagging the dog twice. Or maybe, in the eyes of Bush handlers still digging out from Katrina and DeLay's indictment, a story about the White House's involvement in outing a CIA agent suddenly seems like the least of a lot of possible evils.

By Tim Grieve

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

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