Harriet Miers, meet Valerie Plame

Did Bush rush his announcement to counter new revelations and worries about the White House's role in the outing of a CIA agent?

By Tim Grieve
Published October 3, 2005 1:19PM (EDT)

It's déjà vu all over again -- and maybe two times over.

In nominating Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, George W. Bush has chosen the person who was supposed to be helping him do the choosing -- just like he did five years ago when he chose Dick Cheney, the man in charge of his vice presidential selection process, to serve as his running mate.

But Bush's announcement this morning follows a more recent precedent, too. In July, when revelations about Karl Rove's role in the outing of Valerie Plame were hitting too close for comfort, the president responded by rushing the announcement that he was nominating John G. Roberts to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Today, with new revelations in the Plame case striking even closer to home, Bush went before the cameras at 8 a.m. EDT -- upstaging Roberts' first day on the Supreme Court, at least for those Americans who weren't still asleep -- to announce that he was picking Miers to replace Roberts as the replacement for O'Connor.

Was it a preemptive strike?

Maybe Bush planned all along to announce Miers' nomination this morning. But the Plamegate revelations over the weekend gave him plenty of reason to move quickly. After New York Times reporter Judith Miller broke her silence and testified before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury Friday, the Times posted a story suggesting that Vice President Dick Cheney played a direct role in deciding how the White House would respond to Joseph Wilson's damaging Op-Ed piece about Iraq. Relying on a source familiar with the testimony of Scooter Libby, who is Cheney's chief of staff and the man identified as Miller's source, the Times says that Bush administration "efforts to limit the damage from Mr. Wilson's criticism extended as high as Mr. Cheney."

Libby and Miller discussed the Wilson Op-Ed on July 8, 2003. Four days later, the Times' source says, Libby "consulted with Mr. Cheney about how to handle inquiries from journalists about the vice president's role in sending Mr. Wilson to Africa in early 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq was trying acquire nuclear material there for its weapons program." Cheney's advice: Libby should "direct reporters to a statement released the previous day by George J. Tenet, director of central intelligence." In that statement, Tenet said that Wilson had been sent to Niger by CIA counterproliferation officers "on their own initiative."

On Sunday, there was word that Plamegate could extend to the president himself. During ABC's "This Week," George Stephanopoulos said that a source told him "that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were actually involved in some of [the] discussions" about how to respond to Wilson's Op-Ed piece.

What does it all mean? In the Washington Post Sunday, Jim VandeHei and Walter Pincus say that two lawyers representing witnesses in the Plame investigation have begun to surmise that Fitzgerald is now weighing a criminal conspiracy charge against a group of senior White House officials. "Under this legal tactic," VandeHei and Pincus write, "Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife."

Who would those officials be? The list of possible candidates is long and includes Rove, Libby, Ari Fleischer, Cheney and -- if Stephanopoulos and his source are to be believed -- the president himself. The Post says that Fitzgerald could make his prosecutorial decisions as early as this week. Which means that, all things considered at the White House, today's a terrific day for talking about Harriet Miers.

Tim Grieve

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

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