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A White House lie
Scripps Howard News Service


July 14, 2005

Somebody somewhere in the Bush administration, probably the president himself, is a liar, some critics have said repeatedly about a host of issues, even if the allegation was probably false and required that they themselves did the lying.

Now, however, the critics have an ironclad case that presidential advisor Karl Rove lied when he said he did not identify a CIA agent to reporters and that the president has not yet followed through on the pledge he made when he said he would fire anyone who did such a thing. What they don't have is a case that Rove broke a law, endangered national security or was simply hitting back at the agent's husband through the disclosure, despite all the ideological and partisan prattle to the contrary.

The source of all of this is impeccable and far from anonymous: Rove's lawyer. He has now informed the press that Rove did privately tell members of the press that the wife of Joseph Wilson, an ambassador who had been giving the administration trouble, was a CIA operative. The lawyer has sought to dull the sharpness of the admission by saying that Rove did not reveal the woman's maiden name, which is the name she goes by. That's about like Bill Clinton once saying that whether or not he lied depended on what the definition of "is" is.

But it's an absurdity to contend that Rove violated the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which says as one of its chief provisions that there has been no violation unless the agent had been abroad in the five years before being named and that the CIA was taking steps to keep the identity a secret. The woman, Valerie Plame, worked at CIA headquarters in Virginia, where she could easily be spotted driving to work and back. The CIA took steps to hide her identity only to the extent it did not erect a billboard saying in giant letters, "Valerie Plame works here."

The act also says the person doing the revealing must know the agent is covert, must be revealing the name in order to damage the spying capacity of the United States and must have shown that intent through a history of similar deeds. None of this is the case with Rove, as a private attorney who helped frame the law has told the New York Times.

"It doesn't even come close," was what Bruce Sanford said in reference to a Rove conversation with a Time magazine reporter. A former chief counsel of a Senate committee instrumental in writing the law also told the Times that the measure was intentionally made hard to break and that it was not broken in this instance.

OK, OK, but wasn't Rove seeking revenge in telling the press that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA? Give me a break. Since when is it a fatal insult to slam someone with the disclosure that a spouse is a CIA employee? "Psst," our ill-willed informer says, "old Joe over there may look like a nice enough guy, but get this: He's married to a CIA agent!"

Rove's lawyer has said - and this adds up - that, in talking about Wilson's wife, Rove was trying to answer a charge that Vice President Dick Cheney had arranged the trip in which Wilson went to Niger. Cheney did not do that, and Wilson did not report to Cheney on returning that Niger was not sending Iraq materials that would enable it to build nuclear weaponry, the lawyer said. It was Wilson's CIA-employed wife who apparently authorized hubby to go to Africa, Rove told reporters. His point was that the White House had not had first-hand information that it then ignored in a presidential speech.

Although we now know with a high degree of certainty that Niger did not ship uranium to Saddam Hussein, I myself have never been convinced that Wilson's Niger interviews amounted to much of an investigation, and I think we got a glimpse into his partisan character when he as much as wished a couple of years ago that Rove would be marched from the White House in handcuffs.

That piece of drama seems to me unlikely to transpire. But there is no question that Rove has done both himself and the president's legislative agenda a huge disservice by not confessing immediately. He has given the president's enemies a huge amount of ammunition, and the bullets will not stop flying as long as Rove keeps his job. He has begun to do the right thing through his current admissions, perhaps to save reporters from jail time, perhaps out of some other calculation. He should keep doing the right thing by resigning, and if he doesn't, the president should keep his word and boot him back to private life. Soon.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)

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