Whatever happens in the next few hours -- regardless of whether Scooter Libby is the only one who gets indicted, regardless of how the GOP spins away charges as "perjury technicalities," regardless of how quickly George W. Bush hops on Marine One and high-tails it up to Camp David -- it's fair to remember this: Two years ago, when the Valerie Plame investigation and George W. Bush's reelection campaign were just getting started, the White House prejudged the case by announcing pretty unequivocally that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby had nothing to do with it.
This was the back-and-forth at Scott McClellan's White House press briefing on Oct. 10, 2003:
Reporter: Scott, earlier this week you told us that neither Karl Rove, Elliott Abrams nor Lewis Libby disclosed any classified information with regard to the leak. I wondered if you could tell us more specifically whether any of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA?
McClellan: Those individuals -- I talked -- I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out, and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this. And that's where it stands.
And that is, in fact, where it stood until this summer, when leaks from the grand jury room and then firsthand reports from reporters made it clear that Rove and Libby were both very much involved in leaking Plame's identity. The press has much to answer for: Reporters, sworn to secrecy by their sources, remained complicit in the administration's lie even as their readers stepped into the polling booths in November. And whatever Patrick Fitzgerald announces today, the White House has some long-overdue explaining to do, too.
McClellan started that process this week. For months, a lot of us have been asking this about McClellan's 2003 denials: Did Rove and Libby lie to McClellan, or did McClellan lie to the American people? At a press briefing three days ago, McClellan insisted that it was the former, that he had merely passed on -- accurately -- the assurances he'd received from Rove and Libby.
Reporter: Scott, a couple of years ago, you told us that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove had nothing to do with the CIA leak. It appears that you may have gotten bad information before you made that statement ... My question is: Can we be confident that when we hear statements from the White House in public that they are truthful?
McClellan: I think you can because you know that our relationship is built on trust, and I have earned that trust with you all. As you pointed out, you pointed back to some past comments that I gave and I've talked to you about the assurances that I received on that.
Translation: Rove and Libby lied to me.
So maybe we can check that one off the list, at least so far as McClellan's culpability is concerned, and at least so far as we can believe McClellan this time. But then there's still this: At a press briefing on Sept. 29, 2003, McClellan acknowledged that Bush knew that he was proclaiming Rove's innocence and was standing by and letting it happen. "The president knows" that Rove wasn't involved, McClellan said. He wouldn't explain then how the president "knew," and -- with the cloud of investigation still hanging over Rove -- it's unlikely that he's going to explain it now.
Early on his administration, George W. Bush said: "We must always ask ourselves not only what is legal but what is right." Patrick Fitzgerald will begin to address the "legal" part of that equation when he announces his decisions today. As for the "right" part? We're still waiting.