On Plamegate, the president slips and slides

Over the summer, he backtracked on whether he'd fire anyone involved in outing Plame. Now he won't address the question at all.

Published October 4, 2005 3:55PM (EDT)

When reporters began asking about the outing of Valerie Plame back in 2003, White House press secretary Scott McClellan insisted that the president would fire anyone who was "involved" in the leak. When the president himself was asked in October 2004 if he stood by his pledge to fire anyone involved, he answered with an unequivocal and unqualified "yes."

But when the Plame story began getting a little too close for comfort earlier this year -- which is to say, when it became clear that Karl Rove had played a role in outing Plame -- the president began to backtrack. At a press availability on July 18, Bush said that he'd fire anyone who "committed a crime" in the Plame case, suggesting that merely leaking the identity of a CIA agent -- or getting indicted for doing so -- wouldn't be enough to get you fired from the Bush White House.

But now, as reports suggest that the vice president and maybe even the president played a role in developing White House strategy involving Plame, Bush isn't willing to articulate even that rather forgiving standard anymore. Asked at his Rose Garden press conference today whether he'd fire anyone indicted in the Plame case, Bush simply refused to comment. "I'm mindful of the investigation," he said. "I'm not going to talk about it until the investigation is complete."

Bush also refused to say whether he'd had any conversations about outing Plame with Rove, Scooter Libby or anyone else on the White House staff. "The special prosecutor made it very clear early in the process that those of us in the White House should not discuss the case," he said.

By Tim Grieve

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

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