Here we go again: What did the president know, and when did he know it?

The AP's sources say Rove assured Bush that he wasn't involved. The New York Daily News says the president knew all along.

Published October 19, 2005 3:32PM (EDT)

Did George W. Bush know about Karl Rove's involvement in the outing of Valerie Plame?

It's a simple question. And time was, it got a simple answer. On Sept. 29, 2003, Scott McClellan said that "the president knows" that Rove wasn't involved in the leak. "It was a ridiculous suggestion in the first place," McClellan said.

By the time it became clear that it wasn't such a "ridiculous suggestion" -- Rove, as we know now, leaked Plame's identity to at least two reporters -- McClellan was refusing to comment about the investigation.

So did Bush know about Rove's involvement in the outing of Plame?

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that he didn't. Citing "people familiar with Rove's statements," the AP said that Bush asked Rove in the fall of 2003 to assure him that he was not involved in an effort to divulge Plame's identity. The sources told AP that Rove gave Bush the assurance he wanted.

But the New York Daily News offers a contrary take today. Quoting a "presidential counselor," the Daily News says that Bush knew about Rove's role as far back as the fall of 2003 and that he rebuked him for it at the time. "He made his displeasure known to Karl," the presidential counselor told the Daily News. "He made his life miserable about this."

What about the story that Rove had deceived Bush? A second "well-placed source" tells the Daily News that it was a phony leak spread by White House insiders trying to get the president some distance from Plamegate.

In the end, it's hard to see how either story helps Bush all that much. If the first one is true -- that is, if Rove lied to Bush -- then the president has known since at least July that he's employing someone who lied to his face about something he himself has called "a very serious matter." And if the second story is true -- that is, if Bush has known all along -- then he allowed his spokesman to mislead the American people and he misled them himself when he suggested it would be hard to identify the person who leaked Plame's identity.

Maybe it would be better to just tell the truth.

By Tim Grieve

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

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