Fire Rove? The White House says it would be "disrespectful"

But as Fitzgerald narrows his investigation, Americans say by a two-to-one margin that it's time for Rove to go.

Published November 4, 2005 1:45PM (EST)

At a press briefing on Sept. 29, 2003, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said that if "anyone in this administration was involved" in leaking Valerie Plame's identity, that person "would no longer be in this administration." At a press conference on June 10, 2004, George W. Bush was asked if he stood by his pledge to fire anyone who leaked Plame's identity. The president said yes.

So why is Karl Rove still working for the White House? The counselor to the president has the answer: Bush won't be forced into firing Rove by "catcalls in Washington," Dan Bartlett tells the Washington Times. "It would be deeply disrespectful of him personally and the investigation that is going on more broadly for us to be making presumptions about something we don't know the outcome of."

So there you have it. Firing Rove -- despite the undisputed evidence that he leaked Plame's identity to Robert Novak and Matthew Cooper, despite the fact that he failed to mention his leak to Cooper the first time he testified before the grand jury, despite the fact that he apparently lied about his involvement to Scott McClellan, despite the fact that McClellan assured the nation that anyone involved in the leak would be fired and despite the fact that the president made similar assurances -- well, firing Rove now would amount to dissing Karl.

Maybe the president can keep ignoring the "catcalls" of Democrats and the grumblings of a few conservatives who would like to see him live up to his administration's promises. Maybe Rove will continue to enjoy a security clearance and a government paycheck and an office in the West Wing right up until noon on Jan. 20, 2009. But that will happen only if the president can fend off not just the "catcalls" but also Patrick Fitzgerald and public opinion.

Fitzgerald is still holding out the possibility of filing criminal charges against Rove, although the New York Times reports this morning that the scope of his investigation has narrowed. At one point, the Times says, Fitzgerald was considering whether Rove lied to Bush about his involvement in outing Plame -- a line of inquiry that led to discussions between the prosecutor and the president's personal lawyer. But now sources close to the case tell the Times that Fitzgerald is focused solely on whether Rove intentionally misled the grand jury when he failed to mention, during his initial testimony in February 2004, that he had leaked Plame's identity to Cooper.

Meanwhile, in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, Americans say by a two-to-one (59 to 30 percent)margin that Rove ought to resign.

By Tim Grieve

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

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