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2005-07-15

Political Firestorm Brews in Washington Over Karl Rove and Outing of Undercover CIA Operative

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The political firestorm over Karl Rove and the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame continues in Washington. Wilson and top Congressional Democrats are increasing their calls for Karl Rove to be fired over the White House leak. We speak with Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, and Norman Solomon, author of "War Made Easy." [includes rush transcript]

The political firestorm over Karl Rove and the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame continues in Washington. The New York Times is reporting it has confirmed that Rove spoke with Novak as he was preparing his July 2003 article that exposed Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operative. The paper says its source is "someone who has been officially briefed on the matter." Rove has told investigators that he learned Plame’s name from Novak, as well as the circumstances in which her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, traveled to Africa to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq.

After hearing Novak’s account, The Times says Rove told Novak, "I heard that, too." The previously undisclosed telephone conversation allegedly took place on July 8, 2003. The Times" source says the call was initiated by Novak. Six days later, Novak’s column reported that two senior administration officials had told him that Wilson’s wife "had suggested sending him" to Africa. That column was the first time in which Plame was publicly identified as a CIA operative.

Wilson held a press conference yesterday with Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York who is co-sponsoring legislation calling for Rove’s top-level security clearance to be lifted. Wilson again accused the White House of running a "smear campaign" against him.

  • Joseph Wilson and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), news conference, July 14, 2005.

The White House has repeatedly refused to answer questions from reporters over the past week about Rove’s role in the leak. President Bush said yesterday "I will be more than happy to comment on this matter once the investigation is complete." The Justice Department appointed federal prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald to head up the investigation. Rove denied he was the source for Novak’s column in an interview last year. And in a September 2003 press briefing White House spokesperson Scott McClellen dismissed as ridiculous the possibility that Rove leaked Valerie Plame’s identity.

  • Scott McClellan, White House spokesperson, September 29, 2003.

Wilson and top Congressional Democrats are increasing their calls for Karl Rove to be fired or at least to lose his security clearance for the duration of the investigation. Two years ago, McClellen confirmed President Bush’s statement that any White House official responsible for leaking the identity of an undercover CIA agent would be fired.

  • Scott McClellan, White House spokesperson, October 6, 2003.

We are joined on the line right now by Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton and author of "The Clinton Wars." His latest article is "Rove’s War" on Salon.com. In our New York studio we are joined by Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy in San Francisco and the co-founder of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). His latest book, just published, is "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death."

  • Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton and author of "The Clinton Wars." His latest article is "Rove’s War" on Salon.com.
  • Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy in San Francisco and the co-founder of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He latest book, just published, is "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Wilson held a news conference yesterday with Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who is cosponsoring legislation calling for Rove’s top level security clearance to be lifted. Wilson again accused the White House of running a smear campaign against him.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Specifically what I have heard was the meetings were held in March of 2003, which was four months before I wrote an opinion piece in the White House, and those meetings consisted of or led to a decision to do a, quote, "workup" on Wilson. A workup is an intelligence operation to find out everything that you can about Wilson and his family, and I’m told that at least one of the participants in that meeting was Scooter Libby.

REPORTER: Senator Schumer.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Yes.

REPORTER: [inaudible] the actions of Karl Rove could well be a crime?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: It could, we don’t know.

REPORTER: Well, if we don’t know, why — why should his security clearance be lifted?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Because the standard for keeping — for gaining and keeping security clearance is a lot different than the standard for criminal prosecution.

REPORTER: Ambassador Wilson, would you address some of the questions about your own credibility? The Republicans are saying that you have changed your story, that originally you said the Vice President had sent on you this mission, that turned out to not be true. Can you address those questions, and not just about your wife, but about yourself?

JOSEPH WILSON: Well, let me begin by saying that I regret what the R.N.C. has been putting out, because in actual fact, this is not a partisan issue, this is a national security issue. And for the R.N.C. to try and turn this into a partisan fight, I think, is unfortunate. I also think that it’s ultimately not going to be successful. I will tell you this: I would urge you to go back and read the record. And you can go back, and you can begin with my opinion piece of July 6 of 2003. You can also read the text of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence report; the letters, the additional views that were addressed by Senators Roberts, Hatch and Bond; as well as my own rebuttal to that letter, which was dated July 15 of 2004. You can also take a look at some of the things that have been said by some of my friends at the R.N.C. and, as they say, you can run the tape and, indeed, your organization has some tapes that would clarify very quickly who was telling the truth and who wasn’t.

But again, this is not a fight between Joe Wilson and the Republican Party. This is a question of whether the national security of our country was violated, and certainly, the C.I.A. felt that a crime — a possible crime had been committed and, as a consequence, referred the matter to the Justice Department for investigation. The Attorney General, after recusing himself, appointed a special counsel to look into it, and that special counsel has been working diligently for two years. It has not been easy for him despite the fact that the President instructed all of his employees to cooperate fully with the Justice Department investigation. Despite that fact, the issues related to who the sources were had to be litigated up to the Supreme Court, had to put one of your colleagues through sheer agony, and put another one languishing in jail for eight days. And that part of it has still not been resolved.

Irrespective of whether a law has been violated, it’s very clear to me that the ethical standards to which we should hold our senior public servants has been violated. And that is for that reason that I have called for not Karl Rove’s resignation, but for the President to honor his word that he would fire anybody who was involved in the leak.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former ambassador, Joseph Wilson, together with Senator Schumer, speaking at a news conference Thursday in Washington. The White House has repeatedly refused to answer questions from reporters over the past week about Rove’s role in the leak. President Bush said Wednesday, quote, "I will be more than happy to comment on this matter once the investigation is complete." The Justice Department appointed federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, to head up the investigation. Rove denied he was the source for Novak’s column in an interview last year, and in September 2003, a press briefing, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan dismissed as ridiculous the possibility that Rove leaked Valerie Plame’s identity.

REPORTER: You said this morning, quote, "The President knows that Karl Rove wasn’t involved." How does he know that?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: I have made it very clear that it was a ridiculous suggestion in the first place. I saw some comments this morning from the person who made that suggestion backing away from that, and I said it is simply not true. So, I mean it’s public knowledge. I have said that it’s not true. And I — and I have spoken with Karl Rove. Yeah.

REPORTER: Just a couple of quick clarifications. Weeksago when you were first asked whether Mr. Rove had the conversation with Robert Novak that produced the column, you dismissed it as ridiculous. And I want to just make sure, at that time had you talked to Karl?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: I have made it very clear from the beginning that it is totally ridiculous. I have known Karl for a long time, and I didn’t even need to go ask Karl, because I know the kind of person that he is.

AMY GOODMAN: White House spokesperson Scott McClellan, speaking September 29, 2003. Well, Joseph Wilson and top Congressional Democrats are increasing their calls for Rove to be fired or at least to lose his security clearance for the duration of the investigation. Two years ago, McClellan confirmed President Bush’s statement that any White House official responsible for leaking the identity of an undercover C.I.A. operative would be fired.

REPORTER: Scott, the President just expressed his desire to get to the bottom of this C.I.A. leak issue, and he said that he wanted to hold accountable whoever was responsible.

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Absolutely.

REPORTER: But can you confirm that the President would fire anyone on his staff found to have leaked classified information?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: I think I made that very clear last week. The topic came up, and I said that if anyone in this administration was responsible for the leaking of classified information, they would no longer work in this administration. This is a very serious matter. The President made it very clear just a short time ago in the East Room. And he has always said that leaking of classified information is a serious matter, and that’s why he wants to get to the bottom of this, and the sooner we get to the bottom of it, the better.

AMY GOODMAN: White House spokesperson Scott McClellan, speaking in October of 2003. When we come back from our break we’ll be joined by Sidney Blumenthal, former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton, author of The Clinton Wars. His latest article is, "Rove’s War." We’ll also be joined by Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about Karl Rove, as we talk about Joseph Wilson, and we talk about the media coverage of the context of all of this — the war in Iraq — our guests are Norman Solomon, Executive Director of the Institute for Public Accuracy in San Francisco, co-founder of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. His latest book, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. We’re also joined in Washington by Sidney Blumenthal, former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton. He also wrote a book. It’s called The Clinton Wars. And his latest article is about Karl Rove, called "Rove’s War" on Salon.com. Well, let’s begin with Sidney Blumenthal. Your response to what is happening right now in Washington around Karl Rove and what you think should happen.

SIDNEY BLUMENTHAL: Well, Karl Rove is waging a communications battle in the way he wages communications battles. He is trying to act — he’s acting as though this is — this matter is going to be decided by a court of Washington pundits. He is leaking stories now. There are stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post that are clearly leaked by his lawyer trying to depict him in a light in which he is innocent of the charges, but that’s not how this is going to be decided. It’s going to be decided by the prosecutor. And I think that Rove is in a panic mode. He’s acting in a very frenetic way, and he is undermining himself, and he is undermining his principal, the President.

AMY GOODMAN: How is he undermining himself?

SIDNEY BLUMENTHAL: He’s undermining himself by putting out all of these stories and keeping this at a — in the forefront of the news. He has regarded his defense as though it is the defense of the administration himself. He cannot separate himself. Furthermore, the President has not separated him. He walked to Marine One, his helicopter, accompanied by Karl Rove, a clear statement that he stands by Rove. So, Bush has embraced Rove, as well. This is — Bush — Rove’s damage control, in my view, has created more damage. This so-called master of communications is undermining himself in terms of communications, but in the end, none of that matters. It all comes down to Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, and what he decides to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Solomon.

NORMAN SOLOMON: It would be a big mistake for social movements to pin their hopes and their futures on what a court or prosecutor does. I think it’s also important for us to remember that the news media themselves, as major institutions, are framing this. They are themselves participating in the spin, and a lot of what we are getting now is this notion that there’s nothing more crucial for U.S. national security than protecting the identity of a C.I.A. agent. And hat’s a perspective, I think, that’s rather warped. National security involves, among other things, making sure that the United States government does not create enemies around the world by dropping bombs on innocent people. It also involves as national security, broadly defined, making sure that we don’t continue with the decimation of communities around this country, where we have schools and clinics, and social services being damaged severely. So I think what we’re seeing here, while it’s very interesting palace intrigue and certainly has great historical and political importance, the kind of recasting of what is on the front burner, and ironically, public concern about Iraq itself and the implications of the U.S. war there, are to some degree being shunted aside by this controversy which, in fact, has its roots in the lies about this war.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, this war comes from a series of deceptions that go way back, go back several years, unveiled on the front page of the New York Times and other major outlets, put out there by Donald Rumsfeld and his pet Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabi, through the good graces of the paper of record in Judith Miller and other rather sycophant stenographic-to-power journalists. So, when you follow the chain of events — and this actually has some precedent with Watergate — it’s a wartime context. The White House engages in some dirty tricks, and then engages in lies to cover up those, and then in turn has to lie about those. And now there’s a tangle of lies and, of course, especially because the President is involved as a major player, this is real fascinating for the press. It should be to some degree, but let’s not lose perspective of what’s at stake here.

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