Rep. Henry Waxman on Karl Rove: “The President Said He Would Fire Anybody He Found Responsible”

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In Washington calls are intensifying for President Bush’s chief advisor Karl Rove to resign because of his role in the outing of undercover CIA operative, Valerie Plame. We speak with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) who is calling for Congressional hearings into Rove’s role as well as journalist David Corn of The Nation. [includes rush transcript]

A growing number of Congressmembers are calling on President Bush’s senior advisor, Karl Rove, to resign if he won’t publicly explain his role in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. This comes as multiple media outlets continue to piece together various parts of the story and the extent of Rove’s involvement. Newsweek obtained an email from Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper confirming that Rove spoke with Cooper about Plame — days before her name first appeared in a column by Robert Novak. Rove’s attorney has now admitted that his client mentioned to Cooper that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA but claims that Rove did not reveal her name. It is a felony to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover operative. From the moment this scandal began, the White House has adamantly denied that Rove or any other administration official was behind the outting of Plame.

On Monday at the White House press briefing, spokesperson Scott McClellan was asked repeatedly about Rove’s role. Among those questioning McClellan was Nation magazine reporter David Corn.

  • White House press briefing, July 11, 2005.

Meanwhile, California Democrat Henry Waxman is calling for Congressional hearings, saying, “The new disclosures also raise issues about whether Mr. Rove acted alone or whether there was a conspiracy with other White House staff to use classified information for the political purpose of discrediting” Plame’s husband Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson exposed one of the Bush administration’s key justifications for the invasion-Iraq’s alleged attempt to purchase uranium from Niger.

  • Rep. Henry Waxman, Democratic congressman from California. He is calling for a hearing into Karl Rove’s role in the outting of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame.
  • David Corn, Washington Editor of The Nation magazine. He was the first journalist to report that someone in the White House may have committed a criminal act by revealing the identity of Valerie Plame. He is also author of The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception.
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday at the White House press briefing, spokesperson Scott McClellan was asked repeatedly about Rove’s role. Among those questioning McClellan was Nation magazine reporter David Corn.

SCOTT McCLELLAN: And now I’ll go back to David. Go ahead.

DAVID CORN: There’s a difference between commenting publicly on an action and taking action in response to it. Newsweek put out a story, an e-mail saying that Karl Rove passed national security information onto a reporter that outed a C.I.A. officer. Now are you saying that the President is not taking any action in response to that? Because I presume that the prosecutor did not ask you not to take action, and that if he did, you still would not necessarily abide by that, that the President is free to respond to news reports regardless of whether there is an investigation or not. So are you saying that he’s not going to do anything about this until the investigation is fully over and done with?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has previously spoken to this. This continues to be an ongoing criminal investigation. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And we’re just not going to have more to say on it until that investigation is complete.

DAVID CORN: But you acknowledge that he is free as President of the United States to take whatever action he wants to in response to a credible report that a member of the staff leaked information. He is free to take action if he wants to.

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Again, you’re asking questions relating to an ongoing investigation, and I think I’ve responded to it.

AMY GOODMAN: White House spokesperson Scott McClellan, speaking Monday at the daily news briefing at the White House. Meanwhile, California Democrat Henry Waxman is calling for Congressional hearings saying, quote, “The new disclosures also raise issues about whether Rove acted alone or whether there was a conspiracy with other White House staff to use classified information for political purpose of discrediting” Plame’s husband; Ambassador Joseph Wilson exposed one of the Bush administration’s key justifications for the invasion: Iraq’s alleged attempt to purchase uranium from Niger. And he says that this whole thing is in retaliation for him speaking out. We turn now to Congress member Waxman. Welcome to Democracy Now!

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Thank you, pleased to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your call right now? What is your demand?

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I think that the Congress must hold hearings, bring Karl Rove in, put him under oath, and let him explain the situation from his point of view. Let him tell us what happened. It’s ridiculous that Congress should stay out of all of this and not hold hearings. You can imagine that if this had happened under the Clinton administration there would have been many hearings by now. I asked Chairman Tom Davis, who’s Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, which is the chief investigative committee, to hold hearings in 2003. He said he wanted to wait to see what the Justice Department came up with. I just find that with the White House saying they want to wait for the Justice Department, with the Congress saying it, it’s all stonewalling to me. They just don’t want to get to the facts.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what you see as the crime here? How serious is this?

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, to explain how serious it is, I want to quote the President’s father, George H.W. Bush, because in April 1999 he was talking about how we need human intelligence, we need to give protections for those people who are gathering that intelligence. And he said, “I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are in my view the most insidious of traitors.” Now, that’s what the President’s father called those who would have leaked the information about Valerie Plame, who was working on finding weapons of mass destruction as a covert agent for the C.I.A. They outed her in order to — for political reasons, to get back at her husband. And the issues are, did Rove or any others engage in such conduct, which would be a conspiracy? Did they find out about Valerie Plame through classified information, which they then used for political purposes? And then, did they out her as a C.I.A. agent? If those facts are true, even if they don’t amount to a criminal offense, it just seems to me that Karl Rove has to resign. The President said he would fire anybody he found responsible for revealing this information. He obviously didn’t care enough to get to the bottom of it by doing his own investigation of his own staff. But Congress has a Constitutional responsibility to do it now.

AMY GOODMAN: David Corn, you were at the White House press briefing yesterday asking questions of Scott McClellan. You’ve been following this from the beginning. Can you talk about Scott McClellan’s changes over the last two years on what he’s willing to talk about and what he isn’t?

DAVID CORN: Yes, I was asking questions and, like everybody else in the room, getting no answers. And it was very contentious yesterday. You know, the mainstream media reporters really fired a lot of fastballs at Scott McClellan, maybe even not over the strike zone but at his head, because of what he had said previously, over and over again over the course of the last two years. He had said that it was ridiculous to suggest that Karl Rove was involved in this leak, and again and again he quoted the President saying if anyone was involved in this leak, they would not long be part of this administration. And so obviously the reporters came armed with all these quotes to the press briefing yesterday. And they kept asking Scott McClellan to stand by them.

'Was it true when you said that Karl Rove was not involved? Was it true when you said the President would act vigorously against anybody who was involved in such a leak?' And again and again and again, he said, ’I’m not going to comment on this. It’s part of an ongoing investigation.’ And they said, 'Well, you used to comment all the time.' And then he said, 'Well, the special prosecutor asked us not to comment.' 'Well, when did that happen?' 'Well, after I had made my previous comments.' 'Oh, but then why was the President talking about it nine months later? Was he, you know, breaking the agreement with the special prosecutor?' So his story did not hold.

And you had people like David Gregory of NBC News literally shouting at Scott McClellan, saying, 'Can you tell us that when you speak from the podium you're telling us the truth or not?’ And he refused to answer that question. He got so ridiculous that even when Carl Cameron of Fox News said, 'Does the President have confidence in Karl Rove?' Scott McClellan said, ’I’m not going to answer that question.’ I mean, and so I said, 'Can you explain Karl Rove's importance to this administration?’ He said, ’I’m not going to answer that question.’

So it is quite clear to me, as the Congressman said, they’re engaging in a very classic maneuver: stonewall. Not say anything that would feed the story any further, hoping that the meeting will, you know, be distracted by a Rehnquist resignation or something else, and they’ll take a couple bad days of hits. And then if they don’t put any more information out there, the story will fade, and they’ll just keep walking past it.

AMY GOODMAN: David Corn of The Nation magazine, questioning Scott McClellan yesterday at the White House. Your understanding of where the investigation stands right now and also of one of your colleagues Judith Miller, national security correspondent for The New York Times being in jail as we speak.

DAVID CORN: Yes. Judith Miller is in jail because she would not cooperate with special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. We don’t quite know what he was after in her case, whether it involves Karl Rove or anybody else. She didn’t write a story, so it’s clear that he saw a phone log, an e-mail or got testimony from somebody else that led him to want to question her. About what, we don’t know.

As far as the investigation stands overall, at the hearing last week in which Matt Cooper, you know, said he would talk to the Grand Jury, Fitzgerald said that after getting the material from Time magazine, it was more important than ever to talk to Matt Cooper. We didn’t realize at the time that included the e-mail that was revealed a couple days ago about Karl Rove’s talking to Matt about Joe Wilson’s wife being in the C.I.A. But it was clear to me from being at that hearing that Fitzgerald is not just sort of finishing up and dotting I’s and crossing T’s, but he still is vigorously trying to get to the bottom of this and that his pursuit of Matt Cooper and Judith Miller was not just a vendetta or a prosecutor lashing out at reporters, but he believed that he could get something to benefit his investigation by winning their cooperation.

And there are two real issues. One is whether Karl Rove violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act by identifying a covert officer. Another potential legal issue is whether Karl Rove or anybody else when they testified before the Grand Jury, and we know that Rove testified a few times, told the truth. If Matt Cooper’s e-mail contradicts what Karl Rove might have told Fitzgerald or the Grand Jury about his conversation with Cooper, that would be the basis for a perjury charge. But I’m admitting here, this is highly speculative, but we don’t know, because it’s a secretive investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Waxman, are you calling for Karl Rove to resign?

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I am not calling for him to resign, although it looks like we’re getting close to the point where he may have to resign. I think we need to get the facts. And I think that we need to hear from Karl Rove under oath in public. I don’t think that this sort of thing ought to be done simply in secret. It could well be a report from the investigator, Mr. Fitzgerald, that would say he can’t quite connect the dots to establish a crime or to be able to charge a crime. But that still wouldn’t mean that Karl Rove should be allowed to continue. If he were involved in a conspiracy to use classified information for political purposes, even though they maybe didn’t have the necessary intent to disclose it or whatever, just the action itself demeans their authority in the White House and shows the contempt they have for the protection of our sources at the C.I.A., when Valerie Plame was working on trying to find weapons of mass destruction. They were interfering with that effort by outing her, and it’s not just jeopardizing her, but jeopardizing her sources and those that she was working with. And it puts — it’s really a jeopardizing of our national security, and for that reason alone, whoever in the White House was involved in it should be forced out, if not prosecuted.

DAVID CORN: You know, it’s an important point, and the Congressman knows this better than I do. Not everything that’s wrong in Washington is a crime. And so the White House is going to hide behind, as Karl Rove’s lawyers are hiding behind, the whole notion that he didn’t technically commit a crime. But the bottom line was that we now know that he revealed national security information to a reporter while he was engaged in a political vendetta against a policy critic of the White House, Joe Wilson. And so either he knew what he was doing in revealing a covert officer or he was reckless and cavalier about the whole matter and put politics ahead of that. Either one should be, you know, a firing offense and, at the very least, he should be called to explain. The President, as McClellan said yesterday, keeps saying he wants to get to the bottom of it. He wants to get to the bottom of it. It is fairly easy to get to the bottom of it. Put Karl Rove in front of cameras, have him swear to tell the truth, and tell the truth. —

AMY GOODMAN: David Corn, I want to thank you for being with us.

DAVID CORN: —so he can’t plead the fifth.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, David Corn of The Nation magazine and Congress member Henry Waxman. And we hope to have you back, Congressman, to talk about Halliburton in Iraq.

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