George Stephanopolous dropped a bombshell on his show on Sunday. Toward the end, as Judd notes, he said,
‘ Definitely a political problem but I wonder, George Will, do you think it’s a manageable one for the White House especially if we don’t know whether Fitzgerald is going to write a report or have indictments but if he is able to show as a source close to this told me this week, that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were actually involved in some of these discussions. ‘
The implication is that Bush and Cheney took part in discussions with Karl Rove, Lewis Libby and other administration spinmeisters about what to do about that pesky Joseph Wilson IV, former acting ambassador to Iraq who had stood up to Saddam in fall of 1990. Wilson had gone to Niger in spring of 2002 to check out the stories circulating in intelligence circles that Saddam had bought uranium there recently. Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney (when people are in legal trouble the tradition is to drop the nicknames) had asked the CIA about the stories. Wilson had found that the structure of the uranium industry in Niger (which frankly was in French hands) made the purchases implausible. What Wilson did not know at the time was that the stories were generated by actual documents, a set of clumsily forged letters generated by Italian military intelligence officer Rocco Martino (who claimed he was the tool of “higher powers.”)
Wilson wrote his report and assumed it was passed by then CIA direct George Tenet and thence went to Cheney, who had initiated the inquiry. Wilson watched with amazement and outrage as the Bush administration went on relentlessly to hype Iraq’s alleged nuclear program as a basis for the Iraq War that they got up. By May of 2003, Wilson had had enough, and he went public with an editorial in the New York Times, in which he told his story.
The whole point of Bushism is to punish dissidence within the ranks immediately and ruthlessly. Wilson, a former State Department official, had to be destroyed for having stepped out of line. Everyone should remember that when former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill decided to come out with a tell-all memoir about being in the Bush cabinet for a year, he proclaimed, “I’m old, I’m rich, and there is nothing they can do to me” (or words to that effect). Then all of a sudden the Bush administration was finding signs of classified documents in O’Neill’s book, implicitly threatening him with spending the rest of his life in jail for having revealed government secrets. O’Neill feebly protested that he had not had access to classified documents. But all of a sudden he disappeared from the airwaves. He had discovered that there were, too, things that could be done to him. He must have been astonished that the Bushes of Kennebunkport would behave like Vladimir Putin. Everyone always underestimates the malevolence of the Bushes of Connecticut.
So the Bush team ordered an investigation into Wilson. It quickly emerged that he was married to Valerie Plame Wilson (though the government documents the White House could get hold of just called her Valerie Plame), and it transpired that Plame worked on preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction at the CIA.
Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, Richard Bruce Cheney, and the Department of Defense mafia considered the CIA an open enemy and not a team player. Richard Perle, their guru on these matters, viewed the CIA as a hotbed of wimpy “liberalism” that especially underestimated the depravity of dark-skinned peoples in the Third World. In short, the CIA was impervious to the Likud lobby and unimpressed with the crackpot theories of far rightwing gadflies like Perle.
So in the hothouse atmosphere of the White House in 2003, when the awful truth was dawning that there was no WMD in Iraq, Rove, Libby, W. and the big Bruce huddled together with others in the administration to think how to discredit Wilson. They care only about image, not substance. It didn’t matter to them that Wilson had been proved right. In their world, you only lose if the public sees the truth. The mere discovery of the truth in some obscure quarter is irrelevant. They had to prevent the public from seeing Wilson’s truth.
So they would leak it that Wilson’s wife was CIA and moreover had had something to do with having him sent on his mission. Apparently among the peculiar tribes that inhabit the press offices in Washington, this information would be enough to tag Wilson as unreliable, as, indeed, a flack for a CIA populated by Walter Mondales who wouldn’t recognize a uranium shipment to Iraq if a caterpillar lift truck accidentally dropped it on their toes. In short, Wilson would be not a good-faith witness but a secret agent with a hidden (pinko) agenda, and so safely dismissed.
Rove and Libby were chosen as the hatchet men who would actually talk to the reporters and put the information around. But of course Bush and Cheney were part of the deliberations that set the plan in motion. It involved outing a career CIA operative (and likely getting her contacts in the third world killed). It was very serious business. Bush would have had to have signed off on it, at least orally.
As long as the Republicans control both houses of congress, Bush is probably safe. I’m not sure a special counsel like Fitzpatrick could by himself bring down a president. But if the Democrats can take the House in 2006, this scandal could turn into an impeachment trial.
I have long been frustrated by the US press’s tendency to talk about Bush’s cabinet officers as though they were independent agents, and to put Bush on a pedestal. Let me just follow through on some further assertions in the spirit of Stephanopoulos’s remark.
It is fruitless to speculate about who dissolved the Iraqi army in May of 2003, and why. (This move contributed to the rise of the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement). Bush did it!
Who ordered the Marines, against their better judgement, to launch a reprisal attack on Fallujah after four Western private security guards were killed and their bodies desecrated there? Bush did it!.
Who authorized torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? Bush did it!
Who appointed Michael Brown, a man with no experience in emergency management, head of FEMA? Bush did it!
Who let Bin Laden escape from Tora Bora? Bush did it!
Who completely destroyed the fiscal health of the US government and forced us into massive debt, squandering Clinton’s surplus and endangering social security? Bush did it!.
Bush is the president. He makes the decisions. If there has been a major bad decision, it has been his.
Who outed Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operative? Bush did it!