An indictment watch, but what about Cheney?

If Bush won't asked the vice president to resign, can he at least demand a public explanation?


Tim Grieve
May 16, 2006 1:04AM (UTC)

The Associated Press says Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury will meet again Wednesday. Maybe it will hand down an indictment for Karl Rove. Maybe it won't. We can spend the next two days debating what we know and what we don't know about Rove's plight, but there's another question worth pondering in the meantime: What about Dick Cheney?

We don't mean to suggest that Dick Cheney is going to be indicted, soon or ever. While Cheney is guilty of many things -- the New York Times reported over the weekend that he pushed for NSA surveillance programs even more intrusive than the ones the president ultimately authorized -- we haven't seen evidence that he outed Plame himself or lied about it afterward. But that isn't the bar that the White House set for Plamegate, at least not in the beginning. At a press briefing on Sept. 29, 2003, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the president would fire "anyone" in his administration who was "involved" in Plame's outing.

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Involved? It's awfully hard to argue that Cheney wasn't "involved." Fitzgerald has said that he has evidence of a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" Joseph Wilson through the use of classified information. Fitzgerald's court filings make it clear that Cheney was "involved" in -- if not the leader of -- that effort.

As Fitzgerald alleges in Libby's indictment, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus contacted the Office of the Vice President sometime prior to June 12, 2003, with questions about Wilson's trip to Niger. Libby participated in conversations about how to respond to those questions, the indictment says, and on June 12, 2003, Cheney told Libby that it was his understanding that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.

So when Cheney went about annotating Wilson's New York Times Op-Ed a month later -- "Have they done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?" -- he wasn't operating on a blank slate, and he knew that Libby wasn't either. Cheney knew that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Cheney knew that Libby knew that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. If Cheney's marginalia were meant for Libby -- or for anyone else with whom he'd discussed Plame and Wilson -- then Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher has it exactly right: "These were marching orders, not a question."

Now, we know that McClellan's promise about firing those "involved" hasn't meant much so far, and it probably won't mean much ever. Libby kept his job at the White House long after it was known that he'd leaked Plame's identity. Rove has still got his. And even if Bush wanted to fire Cheney, he couldn't: Cheney was elected to office just like he was. But the president can urge the vice president to resign. Short of that, he can express his displeasure and urge him to come clean with the American people. That's what Bush says he did in the aftermath of Cheney's shooting incident; is it too much to ask that he do so again now?


Tim Grieve

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

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

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