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Context of 'June 10, 2004: Bush Vows to Fire Anyone Found to Have Leaked Plame Wilson’s Identity'

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During a press conference, President Bush is asked, “[D]o you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have” leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to the press? Bush replies, “Yes.” [White House, 6/10/2004] Not only will Bush not fire either his chief political adviser Karl Rove or Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, when evidence clearly shows both men leaked Plame Wilson’s name to the media, but when Libby is later convicted of lying about his leaks and obstructing justice in the investigation, Bush will commute his sentence, ensuring that Libby does not pay for his crimes (see July 2, 2007).

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

David Gregory.David Gregory. [Source: TopNews (.us)]In light of the revelation that White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove was a source for a reporter in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 10, 2005), the White House press corps grills press secretary Scott McClellan unmercifully on the entire issue. Plame Wilson will reveal a modicum of sympathy for the beleaguered McClellan, whom she will note “endured what had to be one of his hardest days on the job as reporters competed to ask the next question.” The reporters are eager to pry information out of McClellan and are exasperated at his refusal to answer questions in any depth.
Fire Rove? - One of the most probing questions involves the White House’s promise to fire anyone involved in the leak (see September 29, 2003). Asked, “Does the president stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak of a name of a CIA operative?” McClellan responds that the White House is not going to comment on an ongoing investigation, an answer the gathered reporters find less than satisfactory. “Excuse me,” the reporter continues, “but I wasn’t actually talking about any investigation. But in June of 2004, the president said that he would fire anybody who was involved in the leak. And I just want to know, is that still his position?” McClellan continues to deflect the question with the standard “refusal to comment on an ongoing investigation” line. He also refuses to answer the direct question, “Did Karl Rove commit a crime?”
McClellan Cleared Rove, Others of Culpability - Another reporter, apparently NBC’s David Gregory, asks why McClellan told reporters that Rove, along with National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams and the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, were definitely not involved in the leak. “[Y]ou said, ‘I’ve gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this’—do you stand by that statement?” McClellan confirms he said that “as part of helping the investigation move forward on the investigation we’re not going to get into commenting on it. That was something I stated back near that time, as well.” The reporter calls McClellan’s response “ridiculous,” and says: “The notion that you’re going to stand before us after having commented with that level of detail and tell people watching this that somehow you decided not to talk. You’ve got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium, or not?” When McClellan says he will go into further detail “at the appropriate time,” Gregory interjects, “Why are you choosing when it’s appropriate and when it’s inappropriate?” McClellan begins, “If you’ll let me finish—” and Gregory cuts him off, saying: “No, you’re not finishing—you’re not saying anything. You stand at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke out about Joseph Wilson’s wife. So don’t you owe the American public a fuller explanation? Was he involved, or was he not? Because, contrary to what you told the American public, he did, indeed, talk about [Wilson’s] wife, didn’t he?” McClellan continues to refuse to answer. Later in the conference, he is asked if “you will be consistent with your word and the president’s word that anybody who was involved would be let go?” McClellan says he “will be glad to talk about it at that point.”
Ordered to Stop Talking? - Another reporter, following up on Gregory’s relentless questioning, asks: “When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you peg down a date?” McClellan answers vaguely, “Back in that time period.” The reporter then notes that “the president commented on it nine months later (see June 10, 2004). So was he not following the White House plan?” Again, McClellan refuses to answer. Another reporter tries a different tack, asking, “Can you walk us through why, given the fact that Rove’s lawyer has spoken publicly about this, it is inconsistent with the investigation, that it compromises the investigation to talk about the involvement of Karl Rove?” McClellan answers that “those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigative side while it’s ongoing.”
When Did Bush Know? - McClellan is asked bluntly, “When did the president learn that Karl Rove had—” to which McClellan interrupts with, “I’ve responded to that question.”
Changing the Subject - McClellan then calls on Raghubar Goyal of the India Times, who he is sure will ask a foreign policy question having nothing to do with Rove or Plame Wilson. He manages to keep the subject more or less off of Rove for the remainder of the conference. Plame Wilson will recall, “I almost felt sorry for McClellan, who was perspiring and had that deer-in-the-headlights look to him.” [White House, 7/11/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 223-227]
Change in Media Focus - After this press conference, as Plame Wilson will note, the press begins issuing far more skeptical reports on the leak and its investigation, depending less on White House spin about the Wilsons’ supposed culpability and zeroing in on the roles of Rove, Libby, and other White House officials. Plame Wilson will recall that for the first time, the pressure was easing off of them and being refocused onto the White House. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 227-228]
McClellan: Press Conference 'Brutal,' 'Humiliating' - McClellan will later characterize the press conference as “brutal.” He calls NBC’s Gregory “mocking” when Gregory asks whether he still stands by his old assertions of no involvement by Rove (see September 29, 2003), Lewis Libby (see October 4, 2003), and Elliott Abrams (see October 5, 2003). ABC’s Terry Moran is incredulous that McClellan would try to hide behind a refusal to “comment on an ongoing investigation.” McClellan will later write, “Eventually, long after leaving the White House, I came to see that standing in front of the speeding press bus in those days had much more to do with protecting the president and the White House from further political embarrassment than respecting the sanctity of the investigation.” McClellan will reflect that it was during this press conference, as he felt his “reputation crumbling away, bit by bit,” that he began to lose his “affection for the job.” He will write: “The ridicule I received that day and the following ones, though dispiriting and humiliating, was justified, given what I had previously said. Since my hands were tied (see July 10, 2005), about all I could do was go into a defensive crouch.” After the conference, McClellan receives a brief verbal apology from Rove. McClellan will write, “It’s clear to me, Karl was only concerned about protecting himself from possible legal action and preventing his many critics from bringing him down.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 260-261]

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, David Gregory, Bush administration (43), Raghubar Goyal, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame Wilson, Terry Moran

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

President Bush says he is withholding judgment on whether senior political adviser Karl Rove was one of the administration officials who leaked the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. Rove has been identified in court testimony as having disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity to two separate journalists, Robert Novak (see July 14, 2005) and Matthew Cooper (see July 6, 2005). Bush has said repeatedly that anyone identified as leaking Plame Wilson’s identity would be fired (see September 29, 2003 and June 10, 2004). He now says it would be wrong for him to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation. “I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation,” he says. “I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports.” Bush makes these statements with Rove literally sitting at his elbow. Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin indicates that Rove already told the grand jury of his conversation with Cooper (see July 17, 2003). “Rove has cooperated completely with the special prosecutor, and he has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of the investigation,” Luskin says. “Rove has done nothing wrong. We’re confident that he will not become a target after the special prosecutor has reviewed all evidence.” Rove’s supporters inside and outside the administration emphasize that Rove never told the reporter Plame Wilson’s actual name, nor mentioned her undercover status, but merely told Cooper that “Joseph Wilson’s wife” worked at the CIA. Critics note that it would take anyone a matter of moments to identify Plame Wilson as Wilson’s wife. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have asked Bush to revoke Rove’s security clearance. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says the issue of whether Rove actually broke the law is not the only issue. “We just don’t hold those working at the closest and highest levels to the president to a criminal standard and say, ‘If you have not committed a crime, show up for work tomorrow morning,’” he says. [New York Times, 7/14/2005] Days later, Bush will modify his earlier statements, saying that someone who has committed a crime would no longer work in his administration (see July 18, 2005).

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Karl C. Rove, Robert Luskin

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

During a press conference, President Bush is asked if he still intends to fire anyone involved in the Plame Wilson leak, and if he is “displeased that Karl Rove told a reporter that Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife worked for the [CIA] on WMD issues.” Bush, described as looking “mildly annoyed,” responds, “We have a serious ongoing investigation here,” and adds: “[I]t’s being played out in the press. And I think it’s best that people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions. And I will do so, as well. I don’t know all the facts. I would like to know all the facts. The best place for the facts to be done is by somebody who’s spending time investigating it. I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know all the facts, and if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.” The last line regarding a “crime” was carefully selected before the conference by White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who, press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, wanted to “redefine the terms of firing someone who might have been involved in the leak, specifically Karl.” The New York Times observes, “The remarks appeared to shift the standard for dismissal that has been expressed repeatedly over many months by Mr. Bush’s spokesmen—from promises to fire anyone who played a role in the disclosure, to Mr. Bush’s statement today that criminal conduct would have to be involved.” McClellan dutifully echoes the new phrase in his own press conference, “barely objecting that it did not square with what the president had previously committed to do” (see September 29, 2003 and June 10, 2004). “I think that the president was stating what is obvious when it comes to people who work in the administration: that if someone commits a crime, they’re not going to be working any longer in this administration,” McClellan tells reporters. “I think that you should not read anything into it more than what the president said at this point.” McClellan will later describe himself as “psychologically battered” by this point (see July 11, 2005). [New York Times, 7/18/2005; White House, 7/18/2005; New York Times, 7/19/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 262-263]
Accusations of Shifting Standards, 'Lowering the Ethics Bar' - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says he is disappointed in what he believes to be Bush’s shifting stance. “The standard for holding a high position in the White House should not simply be that you didn’t break the law,” he says. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) writes a letter to Bush charging that he has “significantly changed” his position, and that a president has “an affirmative obligation” to take quick action to protect national security secrets without waiting for a prosecution to run its course. [New York Times, 7/18/2005] Other Democrats charge that Bush has “lowered the ethics bar” for his administration. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) says: “It appears that an administration that came to office promising ‘honesty and integrity’ and to avoid ‘legalisms’ is now defining ethical standards downward. In this White House, apparently no aide will be fired or forced to resign unless and until the jail cell door is locked behind him.” [Associated Press, 7/18/2005]
Rove Held to Different Standard of Accountability, Say Experts - Some experts say that by insisting on waiting for a final legal verdict, Bush is setting a different standard of accountability for Rove than for other government employees. Elaine Kaplan, who headed the Office of Special Counsel from 1998 through 2003, says: “Government employees and officials who are negligent with classified information can lose their jobs for carelessness. They don’t have to be convicted of intentionally disseminating the information. Crime has never been the threshold. That’s not the standard that applies to rank-and-file federal employees. They can be fired for misconduct well short of a crime.” Beth Slavet, the former chair of the Merit Systems Protection Board, adds: “The government can fire a Civil Service employee if it can show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it would ‘promote the efficiency of the service’ to do so. The person does not have to be guilty of a crime. You can be dismissed because you didn’t submit paperwork on time, you didn’t follow instructions, you repeatedly showed up late for work, or you yelled at supervisors and fellow workers.” [New York Times, 7/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Beth Slavet, Charles Schumer, Dan Bartlett, Henry A. Waxman, Elaine Kaplan, Scott McClellan, George W. Bush, John Conyers, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Dan Froomkin writes that since special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has decided not to charge White House political strategist Karl Rove with any crime related to the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see June 13, 2006), it is up to the press to find out the extent of Rove’s involvement. “The White House has long maintained—spuriously, I might add—that the ongoing criminal investigation precluded them from answering any questions even vaguely related to Rove’s conduct,” Froomkin writes. “Now, without charges against Rove in the offing, the media should demand answers to a slew of questions. The overriding issue: Just because Rove wasn’t charged with a crime doesn’t mean his conduct meets the standards the public expects from its White House. If Rove was irresponsibly lax with classified information, if he intentionally misled the press, the press secretary, and the president, if he conspired with fellow White House aides to punish someone who spoke out against the president—all of which appears to be the case—what is he still doing serving as the president’s most trusted aide?” Froomkin continues: “Is a criminal indictment the only thing that gets someone in trouble over there? Here’s a question for Bush: You said you’d fire anyone involved in the leak (see September 29, 2003, June 10, 2004, and June 10, 2004). Rove no longer faces criminal charges, but undeniably was involved. Now that nothing you do or say can in any way influence the criminal investigation, will you tell us what you know and when you knew it? Will you fire him? Will you strip him of his security clearance? It seems to me that the White House has a variety of options: Admit Rove misled the president and his colleagues; admit the president and his colleagues misled the public on his behalf; admit they intentionally engaged in legalistic hairsplitting; or sweep it all under the rug. It’s up to the press corps to rule out the last of those options.” [Washington Post, 6/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Dan Froomkin

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

July 2, 2007: Bush Commutes Libby’s Sentence

Ending weeks of speculation, President Bush commutes the sentence of convicted felon and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007), calling the sentence “excessive.” Libby is now a free man, though he is still due to serve two years’ probation period and pay a $250,000 fine. Many Libby supporters, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have called upon Bush to pardon Libby [Politico, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] , but Bush stopped short of issuing a full pardon. [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] White House press secretary Tony Snow says that the White House did not bow to pressure from Republicans and conservative pundits to pardon or commute Libby’s sentence. “This has nothing to do with political pressure,” Snow says. “It has everything to do with justice.… The president is doing the right thing for a principled reason. For once, it might be refreshing for people to consider that principle tends to be governing in this White House and not polls. He’s laid out some highly defensible reasons and he takes his powers very seriously. If you take a look at pardons and commutations, they’ve been done very carefully in this White House. Not every White House has done that.” [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Bush says in a written statement that he decided to “respect” the jury’s conviction of Libby, but adds that Libby’s “exceptional public service” and prior lack of a criminal record led him to conclude that the 30-month sentence handed down last month was “excessive.” Bush notes that he had previously promised not to intervene until Libby had exhausted all of his appeals, but because an appeals court denied Libby a delay in beginning his prison sentence (see July 2, 2007), Bush decided to act: “With the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision.… The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.” Libby’s lawyer Theodore Wells says in a statement that Libby and his family “wish to express their gratitude for the president’s decision today,” and says Libby will continue to pursue an appeal. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald acknowledges Bush’s power to commute Libby’s sentence, but disputes the characterization of Libby’s sentence as excessive, saying: “An experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.” [Politico, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Libby's Commutation Allows Refusal to Testify before Congress - Author Laura Rozen will note that by commuting Libby’s sentence instead of pardoning Libby, Bush allows Libby to retain the ability to refuse to testify before Congress on the grounds that he could incriminate himself. Thusly, Libby can avoid not only testifying about his own actions in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak affair, but about the roles of his former bosses, Bush and Cheney. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 388]
Split Reactions - The reactions to Libby’s commutation are split along largely partisan lines, with many Democrats and their supporters expressing their outrage over the decision to spare Libby from serving prison time (see July 2, 2007).

Entity Tags: Theodore Wells, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Laura Rozen, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Tony Snow, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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