Rove-Plame Scandal Leading to Deeper
White House Horrors?
By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
July 19, 2005
At long last, Plamegate -- the scandal surrounding the outing of covert
CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson by two "senior administration
officials" -- has exploded out of the D.C. beltway to become a major
national news story.
It would appear that this scandal goes way beyond Karl Rove and who said
what to whom when about Ms. Plame. It certainly is true, though, that
turning over that slimy Rove-Plame rock was the way into the larger issues
upon which Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and his grand jury
apparently are focusing.
(Ain't it almost always so in Washington? The cover-up is always a greater
problem for the perpetrators than the original crime, for inevitably even
seamier scandals are unearthed one by one; see the Pentagon Papers,
Watergate, Iran-Contra, et al. The moral lesson -- admit your mistake
early, bear the immediate hit, and move on unencumbered -- rarely seems to
"take" among politicians, of whatever party.)
What's being covered up in the Plame/Rove case seems to revolve around the
Bush Administration's orchestrated, and perhaps illegal, propaganda
campaign to justify its invasion of Iraq. Valerie Plame and her husband
Ambassador Joseph Wilson -- who wrote the op-ed in the New York Times that
got this whole thing going -- are just the tips of very large icebergs,
and one of those icebergs has a name: the White House Iraq Group (WHIG),
which we'll examine below.
THE EIGHT BLACKED-OUT PAGES
One of the ruling judges on the case of the two reporters who refused to
divulge their Plame-outing source was about to go easy on them when he
read Fitzgerald's new information -- eight pages of which were redacted
from the public -- and said that the
national-security seriousness of what he read changed his mind. The
court then ordered Time's Matthew Cooper and the New York Times' Judith
Miller to testify or else; Cooper finally did, and Miller is in jail for
contempt of court.
We don't know what is in those eight blacked-out pages -- and, if they
really do involve national-security matters, we may never be permitted to
know precisely. But apparently they provide the locus around which
Fitzgerald is building a case that could result in perjury indictments, at
the least, for a number of Administration officials and perhaps
journalists as well.
(Another judge said that the prosecutor's classified filing -- those
missing eight pages -- "decides the case." In other words, to quote
Lawrence O'Donnell: "All the judges who have seen the prosecutors secret
evidence firmly believe he is pursuing a very serious crime, and they have
done everything they can to help him get an indictment.")
Further, depending on what Bush and Cheney knew and when they knew it --
and what they did or covered-up in the possible light of such knowledge --
there may be plenty of ammunition for likely impeachment hearings. (Note:
Bush hired a private attorney last summer for this CIA-leak case. )
And the two journalists in question, Cooper and Miller, have their own
attorneys. It's defense-attorney heaven in the nation's capital these
PERSONAL REASONS MILLER NOT TESTIFYING?
Why Judith Miller is not testifying apparently goes to the heart of
Fitzgerald's case. There are reasonable grounds for wondering whether
Miller might have been aiding, inadvertently or consciously, Rove and the
rest of the WHIG to help move the country toward war with Iraq. For
example, she may have been told by Administration officials about Plame
and her CIA job, and helped spread that word to other journalists, who
then contacted Rove and I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff. Cooper
over the weekend revealed that it was Libby who was the second of the "two
senior administration officials" who leaked Plame's identity.
The New York Times already has apologized for running several of Miller's
pre-Iraq War stories that were based on faulty weapons-of-mass-destruction
intelligence; much of that concocted intel was provided by Ahmed Chalabi,
the sleazy Iraqi exile leader who hitched his wagon to the Pentagon
neo-cons to get his forces back into Iraq in the wake of a U.S. invasion.
Those Miller stories helped provide the imprimatur of New York Times
prestige that other media outlets then picked up on, helping create a
nationwide zeitgeist of imminent threat from Iraq.
Indeed, Dick Cheney squared the circle by using Miller's stories as
"evidence" that even the hallowed New York Times had determined that Iraq
had, or soon would have, nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
"The day The Times story ran," wrote Amy and David Goodman in their
Exception to the Rulers...," Cheney "made the rounds on the Sunday
talk shows to advance the administration's bogus claims. On NBC's Meet the
Press, Cheney declared that Iraq had purchased aluminum tubes to make
enriched uranium. It didn't matter that the IAEA refuted the charge both
before and after it was made. But Cheney didn't want viewers just to take
his word for it. 'There's a story in The New York Times this morning,' he
said smugly. 'And I want to attribute The Times.' This was the classic
disinformation two-step: the White House leaks a lie to The Times, the
newspaper publishes it as a startling expose, and then the White House
conveniently masquerades behind the credibility of The Times."
WHO GETS THE HOT POT?
What we are witnessing right now is a grand-scale game of political/legal
"hot potato." Nobody wants to be holding the various hot pots around the
Plame case when the grand jury finally settles on its various indictments,
which could come in the next several months.
Rove these days, through an anonymous source (probably his attorney), is
trying to deflect blame and attention to others, especially journalists,
by throwing out one bizarre scenario after another to escape legal
culpability. (Not surprisingly, even though Bush and Press Secretary Scott
McClellan say the Administration will refuse to comment because there's an
"official investigation" going on, Rove, through his surrogate, feels free
to continue his attempts to comment on and shape the case.)
But, from what Fitzgerald has suggested, he and the grand jury long ago
determined who the leakers were. That's not what is at issue now. The
investigation is all tied in with the national-security matters talked
about on those blacked-out eight pages.
And, a reasonable guess is that those pages deal in some fashion with the
actions -- legal or illegal, overt or covert, actual or covered-up -- of
the members of an inner council of Administration heavies called the White
House Iraq Group.
Just one example of the WHIG's function and influence: "The escalation of
nuclear rhetoric a year ago [in 2002], including the introduction of the
term 'mushroom cloud' into the debate, coincided with the formation of ...
WHIG, a task force assigned to 'educate the public' about the threat from
Hussein, as a participant put it." (This quote comes from a
groundbreaking 2003 article by investigative reporters Barton Gelman
and Walter Pincus of the Washington Post.)
EENY MEENIE HUNT FOR WAR JUSTIFICATION
How did we get to Cheney and Rice scaring the population with talk of
"mushroom clouds" and wild tales of Iraqi WMD that might be made available
to al-Qaida terrorists?
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. It was 2002. The
Administration already had decided to bomb and invade Iraq, but was having
trouble figuring out how to manipulate the propaganda so as to fool
Congress, the American people, and the international community into giving
them permission to do so.
It was not smooth sailing. Not only were the Democrats and leakers within
the CIA beating up on Bush's plans for war, but prestigious conservative
Republican leaders, such as Gen. Brent Scowcroft, James Baker III, Dick
Army, and Trent Lott also were warning against an invasion of Iraq.
Something had to be done.
The disinformation campaign was launched by the WHIG and others inside and
outside the White House. (We ordinary citizens learned about Bush's
pre-9/11 obsession about attacking Iraq both from memoirs by former
Cabinet members, such as Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and National
Security Council official Richard Clarke, and most recently verified by
the Downing Street Memos leaked from inside the Blair Cabinet.)
REASONS BEHIND THE INVASION
Bush&Co. realized they couldn't come right out and tell everyone what
their true motives were -- to depose the Saddam Hussein regime in order to
control the world's second largest oil reserve, to set up permanent
military bases there, and to use the presence of those bases and the
"shock&awe" example of overthrowing a dictator as a warning to other
autocratic regimes in the Greater Middle East to bow to U.S. wishes. Those
wishes involved oil, Israel, nuclear reactors, terrorism, and the like.
So, a convenient reason -- one simple enough for the masses to comprehend
-- had to be found that would justify war.
As the Downing Street Memos and other internal British and U.S. documents
make clear, it was well-known that Iraq by the mid-1990s was a paper
tiger: Its economy, as a result of the embargo, was in tatters; Saddam had
control only of the central part of the country (Britain and the U.S.
controlled the skies over the so-called "no-fly" zones in the South and
the North); its standing army was easily defeatable; and, most important,
its major weapons systems and research facilities had been effectively
destroyed during the first Gulf War or in the years immediately after. In
short, there were no WMD worth mentioning, even though the lying,
exaggerating Iraqi exiles kept insisting that the U.S. military would find
huge stockpiles of such when they got to Iraq.
But, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz later said, the
Administration settled on WMD ("for bureaucratic reasons"), apparently
realizing that it would be the most effective, frightening, and thus
acceptable justification. And so the WMD scare campaign began, with
nightmarish tales of biological and chemical agents (which senators were
told could be delivered by a drone Iraqi air force over East Coast
cities), huge missile armadas, and, most tellingly, nuclear weapons. Of
course, none of this was true.
Cheney and Rice and Bush and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, the whole lot, spent
months peddling their scare stories to the public and to members of
Congress, and even sent poor Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United
Nations Security Council with a sorry, embarrassing hodge-podge of
non-existent "evidence" -- and, damn, it worked.
Thanks to those lies and the stenography of the mainstream media when it
came to the Administration's peddling of them, both the Congress and the
public bought into Bushthink with regard to the war. That was especially
so when the campaign added the laughable suggestion that somehow Saddam
Hussein was tied to the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S. (yet another
example of the Big Lie Technique used by Rove and his forces). The war was
THE WHITE HOUSE IRAQ GROUP
But someone, or some entity, within the Administration had to coordinate
these concerted propaganda campaigns. That was the bailiwick and
job-assignment of the WHIG, chaired by Bush's Chief of Staff Andrew Card,
the regular members of which were Karl Rove, the president's senior
political adviser; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin
and James R. Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio; and policy
advisers led by Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, along with
"Scooter" Libby, Cheney's Chief of Staff. In other words, WHIG included
the key decision makers (Rove, Rice, Card, Cheney-via Libby), and the key
propaganda specialists (Hughes, Matalin, et al.).
They waited a month to launch their first public-relations bombardment.
Why September? Andy Card let slip the reason in an interview with the New
York Times: "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new
products in August," he said.
They soon determined that the public was most frightened of a possible
nuclear attack by al-Qaida, and so, the day after publication of Card's
marketing quote, the Bush Administration heavies began dropping their
Iraq-as-nuclear-menace grenades into the public airwaves. They attempted
to back up their claims by quoting from reports by international nuclear
energy agencies supposedly saying that Iraq was about to become a nuclear
power -- but no such reports existed.
But the lack of believable evidence about WMD didn't stop them, and the
fright campaign continued. Some of that history may well have been in
Fitzgerald's classified showing before the court.
FITZGERALD MIGHT HAVE TO WATCH OUT
In sum, the White House Iraq Group was tasked to come up with propaganda
campaigns that would work on the Congress and American people -- no matter
how great the fib; indeed, the bigger the lie, the easier it seemed to be
to sell it. And their mission included coordinating those campaigns
through the various stages, and denouncing and destroying the reputations
of those who dared to confront their lies and deceptions.
The WHIG played the public like masters, thanks in no doubt to their
stooges and ideological supporters in the mainstream media, who joined in
the fool-the-public campaign in major, influential ways. Those who chose
not to play the deception game, such as Ambassador Wilson, they decided,
would be made to pay the price for their perfidy -- and would serve as a
warning to any others inside the Administration who might want to blow
some truth-whistles. Interestingly, the trash-Joe-Wilson campaign
continues until this day.
To their chagrin, Wilson appears to be a man of great character and
courage, and refuses to back down. And why should he? He's been speaking
the truth about the Bush Administration's lack of evidence of Iraqi WMD
for more than two years, while the Administration's lies have been exposed
time and time again on the ground in Iraq and by official agencies and
Again, it's not totally clear how far Special Counsel/U.S Attorney
Fitzgerald is willing to go to clear out this nest of Administration
vipers. He could choose to stick close to the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson
case itself, or he could keep heading in the direction of indicting a good
many Administration officials -- perhaps with Bush and Cheney as
unindicted co-conspirators -- for their part in lying about classified
national-security matters to the Congress and American people. A wild
card: If Judith Miller were to trade immunity for prosecution and decide
to testify about Rove/Libby/Cheney, anything could happen.
WOUNDED, CORNERED ANIMALS ARE DANGEROUS
If and when the above scenarios start to unfold, it's not outside the
realm of possibility that Rove would get desperate enough to try to
question the motives and character of the Special Counsel himself, as
BuzzFlash puts it, "to try to sink the investigation through an ad
hominem attack. This is Rove's pathological gutter tactic. He doesn't
know how NOT to use it when backed into a corner." Or Rove/Bush
conceivably could do a Nixon and order Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
to fire Fitzgerald.
Anything is possible as the Bush Administration paints itself further into
the scandal corner, and, desperate to avoid criminal proceedings and/or
impeachment, lashes out at its perceived enemies.
Stay tuned. The fun is just beginning.
Copyright 2005, by Bernard Weiner