Indictments, non-indictments and the fallout for the White House

Are today's developments good news or bad news for George W. Bush?

Published October 28, 2005 3:48PM (EDT)

Assuming that they are what they now seem to be, today's developments in the Valerie Plame case will be spun as a victory for the White House. Dick Cheney won't have been indicted. Karl Rove won't have been indicted. And while Scooter Libby will be facing charges, does anyone other than those who have long since made up their mind about the president even know who he is?

But is this really a victory? Hardly. What the White House wants -- what, on some levels, the White House needs -- is for the Plame case to go away. That's not happening. If Libby is indicted, a criminal case is just beginning. If that case proceeds -- if Libby doesn't cop to a plea or get the charge dismissed or persuade the president to grant him a pardon -- the Plame cloud will linger over the White House for months and years to come, and it will a cast a much more visible shadow than it has so far. The president and the vice president can meet privately with a special prosecutor during the investigation stage of a case; when that investigation becomes a prosecution, people are called to testify in court, and that kind of testimony, as a general matter, becomes a matter of public record: What did the president know, and when did he know it?

As for Rove, it's certainly better for him that he lives to fight another day. Is it better for the White House? Maybe. If Rove had been indicted today, it was widely expected that he would have resigned immediately. Instead, he'll keep showing up for work at the White House even as Fitzgerald continues to investigate. Is he any closer to being off the hook today than he was a day or a week ago? It's hard to read that into the bits and pieces we're seeing. The New York Times has said again and again over the last week that Rove has been warned that he's in serious legal jeopardy. Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said today that his client's "status" hasn't changed. While Luskin said that he's "confident" that Fitzgerald will ultimately decide that Rove has "done nothing wrong," that's what lawyers always say; he also acknowledged that Fitzgerald has "made no decision" yet.

That sort of no news isn't good news for the White House. More news wouldn't be, either. We'll know in a few minutes whether Scooter Libby has been indicted. We may also know whether anyone else -- aside from Rove -- is still in Fitzgerald's sights.

By Tim Grieve

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

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