Monday, July 25, 2005

July 23, 2005

A Character Test

How do you measure character? That's one of those questions that seems obvious until you start thinking about it. Certainly there are as many ways to measure a person's character as there are situations in which character is tested.

Here's one of those situations.

WASHINGTON, July 21 - At the same time in July 2003 that a C.I.A. operative's identity was exposed, two key White House officials who talked to journalists about the officer were also working closely together on a related underlying issue: whether President Bush was correct in suggesting earlier that year that Iraq had been trying to acquire nuclear materials from Africa. (Full Story)

This little test was given to the two men closest to the two most powerful men in the world, Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby. And, by even the most generous standard, they flunked.

Imagine this. The two of them were working with then CIA chief, George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, on a statement Tenet would make taking the blame for letting the "nuclear material from Africa" line stay in the President's State of the Union speech. The press had figured out that the story was full of holes and was pressuring the White House to explain how such dubious information got into the speech.

So Rove and Libby worked out a deal with Tenet; he would take the fall, retire and get a medal in return for getting the Bush and Cheney off the hook. "The hook" being of course, that the statement in Bush's speech was wrong... or in their weasel-worded statement penned for Tenet, "unsubstantiated."

It was wrong and Rove and Libby knew it. Whether they knew it was wrong when VP Cheney insisted it be put in the President's speech or not isn't clear -- yet. But there is no doubt they knew it wrpmg by the first week of July 2003. Otherwise why would such two high-level officials waste their valuable time drafting a cover, a cover they considered serious enough to throw their own CIA chief to the wolves to perfect?

If that were the end of the tale it would be just another one of those "Washington is a snake pit," stories. But there's more. What happened next speaks volumes about the character of the characters at the highest levels of this administration.

At the very time Rove and Libby were crafting their own Niger retraction, former ambassador Joe Wilson unleashed his "What I Didn't Find in Africa" op-ed piece in the New York Times.

Suddenly Rove and Libby had another job – a job that was in direct contradiction to the one they were already working on. Only a schizophrenic or patholognical sociopath could pull this one off. But clearly they had found the right two guys to do it. So, even as they polished the wording of Tenet's retraction/mea culpa explaining why he should never have allowed the bogus Niger yellowcake line into the Presidents' speech, Rove and Libby began the work of vilifying and discrediting the very person who tried to tell them that to begin with, Joe Wilson.

Rove and Libby deceminated the talking points to GOP foot-soldiers: Wilson was a liar. Wilson wasted his time in Niger drinking green tea with diplomats. Wilson got it wrong.

But it wasn't working. Wilson came across on TV as a straight-shooter, and when Tenent issued the retraction Rove and Libby had prepared for him, that only made Wilson's position even more credible.

Then Rove and Libby got wind of the secret State Dept. memo disclosing that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative. Bingo. "Wilson's wife is fair game." Rove declared to a reporter at the time.

So there you have it – a clear and unambiguous character test. Two guys who not only knew the Niger information was wrong and were actually crafting a retraction, were at the same time feverishly working to discredit the only guy who had the guts to say so when it could have averted a war. And, they were prepared to not only ruin Wilson, but his wife as well. (Not to mention putting field agents and sources of Valerie Plame in jeopardy as well.)

Of course the President knows all this. We know he knows because before Karl and Dick clued him in he said he would fire anyone "involved" with the leak of Plame's identity. After he found out who was "involved" he change his standard to "anyone guilty of a crime," which would mean any firings would come only after a trial and conviction -- a likelihood that, even under the best of circumstances would not take place until well after Bush's term ends three years from now. So, he knows. And we know he knows.

This from the White House George Bush promised would "return integrity and honesty to the Oval Office." Bill Clinton lied about getting a hummer from a floozy. I suppose that's what Bush was referring to.

I wish there were a set of scales on which we could pile the lies Clinton told that would measure not only the number of lies, but their gravity and implications for the nation and the world. And, on the other side of the scale, the lies this administration has told, their number and their gravity.

On one scale we have lying about that hummer. No one dies.

Result: Clinton faces impeachment.

On the other side Bush lies about WMD in Iraq, goes to war, at least 25,000 Iraqis die, 1800 US soldiers, so far. Bush lies about the cost of the new Medicare drug benefits endangering the fiscal health of the entire Medicare system. Bush lies about Iraq trying to buy yellow cake from Niger then orchestrates lies about Wilson. Then the administration lies about how or who blew Wilson's wife's CIA cover.

Result: Tenet gets a metal. Rove gets promoted. Bush gets to appoint at least two new Supreme Court Justices and three more years in the Oval Office.

Something is out of whack.

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