WASHINGTON, July 12
Four things matter in the Karl Rove story now:
1. How much will Republicans (on the record or on background) turn on Rove and demand a fuller accounting? (See Dick Stevenson's tour de force New York Times story for some of that. . . LINK
2. The facts.
3. What prosecutor Fitzgerald decides to do.
4. What Chief Justice Rehnquist decides to do (maybe).
Yesterday, familiar Democrat names like "Reid" "Schumer" "Waxman," "Kerry," and "Lautenberg" called for investigations, a resignation, and/or the pulling of a security clearance. The story made network news and leads the Bill Keller Gazette.
Whatever else one thinks, these facts are not in dispute:
A. Rove's attorney has acknowledged that Rove talked about Valerie Plame with Matt Cooper, without mentioning her name, days before the Novak column appeared.
B. Rove (and Rove via McClellan) has repeatedly suggested that he had nothing to do with this story at all.
C. The White House has suggested that any person found to have anything to do with the improper leaking of Wilson's name to the press would be fired.
It is interesting (wethinks) to Note how McClellan used the word "criminal" so often in the briefing yesterday (when he wasn't on the verge of throwing up) -- as if to define the scope of what's appropriate, so when (assuming) Rove doesn't get indicted, Scott can say "the criminal investigation concluded he did nothing wrong, so there's nothing to talk about."
Still, this is a significant political problem for Rove and the President.
Some Republicans with standing believe he'll have to make unClintonian accounting for his actions, and soon.
Saying, in defense, that he didn't "say her name" or was trying to "wave off" Cooper is, for many, hairsplitting. It may save Rove from legal trouble, but it certainly does not get him free and clear of the political responsibility.
And this is where that old Washington rule kicks in.
No, no -- not "it's not the crime; it's the cover-up" (although that has kicked in too).
We are thinking of: "It is the scandal that is understandable to Joe and Gennifer Six Pack that can get you in the end."
And this one is pretty easy to understand, based on known facts.
For the average American, it is unseemly for the president's senior adviser, using inside information, to discredit enemies of the president anonymously. (Of course, this happens all the time, but that doesn't mean it is seemly or appropriate in the minds of the Six Pack clan.)
Because the White House has decided not to speak out and explain things, the Gang of 500 is left with the current facts, and the problem for Rove on this is that there is a controversy that people can understand.
It's not a hard story line: Guy hits administration on Iraq so the White House potentially breaks the law (or, at least, the Marquis of Queensberry Rules) and gives up his wife, the CIA agent.
(Note Note: we wonder when the negative -- and true -- stuff on Joe Wilson's (in)consistency will start to be floated again.)
Legalese aside, early on in this process, Rove and the White House went out of their way to make it appear as if Rove had absolutely nothing to do with the Plame story.
It now is apparently clear that he did indeed have some involvement in getting the story into circulation -- or, at least, in spreading awareness about Plame.
Dancing on that fine line between legally and politically questionable behavior is a totally legitimate line to dance on and/but one that should be Noted by the press. But the comparisons to President Clinton are unavoidable and too irresistible of a story for much of the media.
The best case for Rove: that he didn't break the law, that he didn't tell Matt Cooper the woman's name, that he's not subject or target of the investigation. And his friend the President stands by him until well after the last dog dies.
The worst case certainly involves things like the law, Senators like Lugar or Hagel, and someone like, say, Bill Kristol.
Karl Rove has a lot of friends and he understands exactly where the mindset of the Gang of 500 is right now (unlike some past White House officials on the griddle), but it isn't clear how far those two advantages will carry him going forward.
But what happens if some key people begin to think that Rove's problems are going to make it harder for this White House to get anything done for the next three years? Or if some Republican members of the Senate are upset by what Rove might have done.
Are people going to the wall for him if they feel they don't have to? Will the President make sure they have to?
If we could interview any two White House officials (besides Bush and Rove) about what they honestly think of all this and how it will turn out, we would choose Vice President Cheney and Scooter Libby. Regular Note readers will understand why we would pick them.
Again: when will Republicans start to get agitated about this -- if ever?
Does this give Democrats a way to (finally, in their mind) make it stick that the White House was allegedly being deliberately dishonest about Iraq?
Did Rove mislead his colleagues? Where did he get the information? If he is not the target or subject of the investigation, who is?
Can he continue to operate effectively or will everything he says publicly be seen through this lens? (In one of the few background comments issued on his behalf this news cycle, a White House official went out of his/her way with the New York Times to say that Rove was on the job, going regular speed, on Monday.)
Still, the panting on the left that they may be within reach of bringing down The Architect seems a bit of an overreach. As soon as Frank Lautenberg issues a press release demanding Karl Rove's security credentials be removed -- or Henry Waxman calls for a congressional investigation -- the seriousness and legitimacy of the story seems to be cheapened a bit as it gives way to being the political football of the news cycle.
On the other, other hand, there ARE a lot of questions that aren't being answered just yet.
So what happens next?
The grand jury is expected to meet tomorrow morning at 10:00 am ET. That will be quite a stakeout (or, put another way, that word that rhymes with "bustermuck").
As we suggested above, Washington controversies move from Type A to Type B when members of an administration's own party turns on it.
Here is what Herr Stevenson has alone:
"But in private, several prominent Republicans said they were concerned about the possible effects on Mr. Bush and his agenda, in part because Mr. Rove's stature makes him such a tempting target for Democrats."
"'Knowing Rove, he's still having eight different policy meetings and sticking to his game plan,' said one veteran Republican strategist in Washington who often works with the White House. 'But this issue now is looming, and as they peel away another layer of the onion, there's a lot of consternation. Rove needs to be on his A game now, not huddled with lawyers and press people.'"
"A senior Congressional Republican aide said most members of Congress were still waiting to learn more about Mr. Rove's involvement and to assess whether more disclosures about his role were likely."
"'The only fear here is where does this go,' the aide said. 'We can't know.'"
President Bush will be before cameras at the end of his Oval Office meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at 9:10 am ET. We wonder if the first question posed to the President will be about Karl Rove or about SCOTUS.
Earlier this morning, President Bush breakfasted with Sens. Frist, Specter, Reid, and Leahy as part of the White House's consultation process as the President prepares to choose his first Supreme Court nominee.
Note below Sen. Specter's urging of the President to look outside the Circuit Court system for his nominee.
At 10:30 am ET, the President addresses the 2004 and 2005 NCAA sports champions on the South Lawn.
Sen./Dr./Leader Frist (R-TN) is expected to come before microphones at the Ohio Clock at 12:15 pm ET. We have a hunch reporters will be looking for Rove and SCOTUS sound-on-tape here as well.
The Senate Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations subcommittee convenes at 9:30 am ET for a hearing on stem cell research.
Also at 9:30 am ET, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) joins Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) for a full Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "North American Cooperation on the Border."
Democratic Sens. Lieberman, Kerry, Biden, Akaka, Schumer, Clinton, and Corzine talk up Democratic homeland security initiatives at a 10:00 am ET press conference.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) holds a 4:30 pm ET conference call for Democratic donors to outline the next steps in the Supreme Court nomination process.
At 6:00 pm ET, DNC Chairman Howard Dean attends the District of Columbia Democratic State Committee fundraiser before heading to Wisconsin and Idaho later in the week.
Look for other Tuesday schedule items below.
Our two favorite tidbits from the network morning shows this morning:
1. On ABC's Good Morning America, Charlie Gibson asked Paul Begala if he thought the President would dismiss his top political strategist. Begala's reply: "They're awfully close. After George W. Bush lost New Hampshire by 19 points, he didn't fire Karl then. And that was Karl's job -- to win New Hampshire."
2. On NBC's Today Tim Russert said he spoke to a Republican last night who told him, "If this was a Democratic White House, we'd have congressional hearings in a second."
Write Dan Balz and Mike Allen, "In retrospect, it appears clear that many White House statements about the case were carefully constructed -- giving the impression of being general denials even as the words were narrowly focused on specific allegations. During briefings, McClellan repeatedly challenged reporters to provide him 'specific information' when asking about Rove, and he frequently limited his answers about White House involvement in the case to mean the act of leaking classified information. On a few occasions, however, he offered broad denials about Rove and other top aides." LINK
Note well this awesome graph: "Newsweek printed the contents of Cooper's July 2003 e-mail, in which he recounts to his bureau chief an interview with Rove that is typical of the cryptic exchanges that reporters often have with high-level officials on sensitive matters -- vague, but enough to help promote or squelch a story."
Per John McKinnon and Ann Marie Squeo in the Wall Street Journal, "[Rove's] attorney, Robert Luskin, said the questions raised by Democrats 'are issues of legitimate concern' but added, 'There's been a specific request from investigators that Karl and other witnesses not talk publicly about what they shared with the government.'"
Dana Milbank sketches the trials of Mr. McClellan, "wearing a gray suit and heavy make-up." LINK
The Los Angeles Times has Rove's attorney restating his belief that his client broke no law. Luskin "said Wilson's wife came up as an afterthought in a conversation that Cooper had initiated, primarily for a story about welfare reform," report Richard Simon and Richard Schmitt. LINK "'The fair inference … is that Rove was trying to warn Time … away from perpetuating things that turned out to be false, and not try to encourage him to say anything about Wilson's wife,' Luskin said."
In his New York Post column, John Podhoretz sees Rove's actions only as an attempt to discredit Wilson, not Plame, and writes, "some may differ on the fairness" of that. LINK
The agenda item Sen. Specter highlighted from the White House breakfast meeting this morning, which he attributed to himself: Specter suggested the President look for the nominee outside the traditional circuit court mold.
Ranking member Leahy appeared to concur.
Minority Leader Reid (D-NV) made it clear in the White House driveway this morning that the President didn't provide any names of possible nominees to the Senators. However, Reid went on to say that lots of names were thrown around and that they (the Senators and the President) had a deal not to discuss those names publicly.
ABC News Karen Travers reports that Scott McClellan, in this morning's gaggle, referred to the President in "listening mode" at the breakfast.
Note, too, the First Lady's remarks from Africa that she would like to see a female nominee.
ABC News' Ed O'Keefe reports, "The Public Information Office and the Court itself have opened to the public. No members of the staff arrived early, as they did on the day Justice O'Connor retired. Chief Justice William Rehnquist has departed his residence. So far, it's a usual and customary day at the Court; there is no unusual activity to report. The Chief Justice arrived at the Supreme Court at 9:22 am ET"
Roll Call's Paul Kane reports that "Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said Monday that he is seeking a meeting with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales later this week to clarify his positions on the Constitution in advance of his potential nomination to the Supreme Court. In the latest signal of unrest among social conservatives over Gonzales, Brownback - a member of the Judiciary Committee, a leading social conservative in the chamber and a potential presidential candidate in 2008 - said that his unusual request was designed to explore where Gonzales stands on key issues."
Carl Hulse of the New York Times Notes Harry Reid's seeming lack of interest in a filibuster over a SCOTUS nominee. LINK
But read closely. There is a lot of wiggle room there.
The New York Times' David Rosenbaum provides a fantastic look at the "judicial fifth." LINK
Peter Baker unfurls the legacy of Robert Bork. LINK
The politics of terror:
"A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken after explosions rocked the British capital revealed a surge in U.S. anxiety that there will be further acts of terrorism at home," writes Richard Benedetto in USA Today. LINK
"The latest poll suggests the London bombings have done little to raise confidence in Bush's ability to fight terrorism. Only 34% said the United States and its allies are winning the war on terrorism, down from 36% in a June survey."
"However, Bush's approval rating rose enough that more Americans now approve than disapprove of the job he's doing -- 49% to 48% -- for the first time since late May. The poll of 1,006 adults has a sampling error of +/- 3 percentage points."
Dan Eggan writes that the new Sensenbrenner Patriot Act expansion "does not go as far as legislation approved in June by the Senate intelligence committee, which voted to make it easier for the FBI to open mail and issue subpoenas without a judge's approval in terrorism probes. Sensenbrenner's bill also calls for stronger oversight of some of the government's powers." LINK
"The fate of both the House and Senate measures is uncertain: Sensenbrenner's bill is likely to come under heavy fire from Democrats during a mark-up session tomorrow, while the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering its own bill as a counterpoint to the Senate intelligence committee's version."
Ed Chen of the Los Angeles Times writes of the added significance to the President's remarks in Quantico yesterday. LINK
The Los Angeles Times tees up the current permutations of the Senate debate over homeland security dollars. LINK
Yes -- this good news about the economy does come from the EPI!
"In a sign of an improving U.S. job market, the growth of higher-paying hourly jobs is outpacing that of lower-paying jobs for the first time in nearly four years, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by the Economic Policy Institute."
"The Washington-based liberal economic think tank, which has bemoaned the dominance of low-paying jobs in recent years, compared year-over-year employment growth and wage data for nonmanagerial jobs in 20 private-sector industries. The analysis found that nine sectors expanding as a share of total employment paid about 3% more in average hourly wages than 11 sectors that were contracting in the first quarter. That marked the first time since the most recent recession that higher-wage jobs have grown faster as a share of total jobs."
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board on those good deficit numbers: "Why is it that the dreaded federal budget deficit only commands screaming headlines when it's rising, not falling? And why is it that the deficit is portrayed as a fire-breathing, hydra-headed monster only when the press can portray the villain as 'irresponsible tax cuts,' not runaway federal spending?"
"We ask these questions in the wake of the great unreported fiscal story of 2005: the shrinking federal deficit. It's down by at least $100 billion because federal tax receipts have skyrocketed this year by 14.6% (or $204 billion) through June. Private economic forecasters now believe the budget deficit may come in at about 2.5% of GDP, which is in line with the historical average for the past 40 years. Given that we're fighting an expensive, must-win war on terror, these deficit numbers aren't too shabby."
The Associated Press reports the latest DNC fundraising figures and Notes that since Gov. Dean has become chairman, the DNC has been collecting $1 million per week. LINK
The AP's Mike Glover takes a fun look at how women candidates have faired in the Hawkeye State. LINK
"The state that holds the nation's first presidential caucus stands as one of just two -- Mississippi is the other -- never to have elected a woman governor or sent a woman to Congress."
"It's a statistic that puzzles political observers -- and one that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., considered a front-runner for her party's nomination in 2008, or any woman seeking the presidency can't ignore."
David Yepsen (who, no doubt, is looking forward to hosting the national political press corps in an off-year at the end of the week) writes up Rep. Tancredo's (R-CO) one-issue potential candidacy in the Des Moines Register and Notes both the history and the impact of such protest candidates. LINK
Raphael Lewis of the Boston Glove covers Gov. Romney's trip to Washington yesterday. Romney attended a $1,000 minimum donation PAC fundraiser and spoke to fellow Republicans at the closed media event.
Asked for his reaction to Romney's speech, House majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas quipped: ''I like him, but I don't want to ruin his chances in Massachusetts." LINK
Sen. Hillary Clinton's reelection campaign's website goes into operation tomorrow, reports the New York Times' Ray Hernandez. LINK
". . .Mrs. Clinton's own advisers have privately conceded that she must win re-election decisively - not merely eke out a victory - in order to seriously pursue any national candidacy."
Deborah Orin of the New York Post keys off of Steve Minarik's response to Sen. Clinton's MAD Magazine comparisons to second day that story. LINK
The Indianapolis Star's Maureen Groppe Notes Sen. Bayh's (D-IN) 2005 approach to dealing with his vote against raising fuel efficiency standards. LINK
"'There have been a couple of votes in the Senate on that,' Bayh said. 'Unfortunately, neither approach was successful.'"
We're pretty sure that answer will get fine tuned by 2007, should Sen. Bayh still be making trips to New Hampshire then.
Dan Gearino divulges in the Sioux City Journal that Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's executive order re-enfranchising past criminals in no way prompted an immediate mass influx of registrants. LINK
The ever-alert Teddy Davis gets bloggers to praise Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer in Roll Call. "Schweitzer's supporters think the governor, a rancher and farmer who picked a Republican state Senator to run with him as lieutenant governor last year, has a knack for critiquing GOP policies in a way that sounds more populist than partisan." And Chris Lehane (helpfully?) compares him to Jimmy Carter. Sort of.
The Associated Press examines the security procedures in place for this weekend's gathering of the nation's governors. LINK
"Governors will be escorted around town in sport utility vehicles donated by General Motors and driven by Iowa State Patrol troopers, said Matt Paul, Gov. Tom Vilsack's spokesman. The vehicles, already in Des Moines, are being kept in a secure location, Paul said."
The New York Times' Pat Healy on Fernando Ferrer's Rose Garden strategy. LINK
The graph New York politicos will enjoy most: "A circumspect, often shy man in public, Mr. Ferrer became especially cautious about his own words after the Diallo mess, and he still buttons up when reporters are around. His spokeswoman, Jen Bluestein, is almost always by his side, guiding him by the elbow or whispering in his ear. Among Democrats, there is a lack of sizzle and buzz around Mr. Ferrer, except among his most ardent supporters and those who find him notably (sic) underwhelming as the leader."
Roll Call's Lauren Whittington writes that "Six months into the 2006 election cycle, Senate Democrats have set a torrid fundraising pace and have roughly twice the available campaign cash their GOP counterparts do, soon-to-be filed fundraising reports will show."
"The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee finished the second quarter with a record-setting $15.2 million in the bank after raising $6.9 million in June alone."
The Los Angeles Times' Matea Gold offers a nice wrap of yesterday's contentious hearing on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. LINK
Other schedule items:
First Lady Laura Bush continues her tour of Africa with a visit to the Mothers to Mothers-To-Be program and a speech at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town, South Africa.
The Senate Commerce Committee conducts two sessions at 10:00 am ET and 2:30 pm ET to discuss the transition to Digital Television (DTV).
At 9:30 am ET, the House Homeland Security Committee meets to discuss emergency preparedness.
Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Ben Bernanke discussed the U.S. economy at 8:15 am ET at the American Enterprise Institute. You won't want to miss the noon ET discussion of Bush's second term with Norman Ornstein, David Gergen, Dan Balz, and David Sanger.
At 1:30 pm ET, Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) holds a pen-and-pad-only news conference on the hottest topics of late -- Social Security, the deficit, the London bombings, and the war on terror.