Bush shouldn't fire Karl Rove

The “gotcha” game is in full swing in Washington as the vultures circle slowly over the White House, hoping for Karl Rove’s scalp. The ritualized homicide/suicide is well-programmed. A White House insider is accused of doing something, the news media hype the story and, finally, without proof or presumption of innocence, the staffer resigns so as not to become a “distraction” from the president’s agenda.

The “gotcha” game is in full swing in Washington as the vultures circle slowly over the White House, hoping for Karl Rove’s scalp.

The ritualized homicide/suicide is well-programmed. A White House insider is accused of doing something, the news media hype the story and, finally, without proof or presumption of innocence, the staffer resigns so as not to become a “distraction” from the president’s agenda.

But maybe this time the cycle can be stopped before it runs its bloody course.

Karl Rove did nothing wrong. The statute he allegedly violated has a number of very specific triggers. The person who reveals the identity of a covert CIA operative has to intend to uncover her identity, know she is a covert operative and know that he is blowing her cover.

The law is designed to stop the likes of Philip Agee, whose 1975 book Inside the Company revealed secret CIA information to sell books. Rove’s actions are a far stretch from those the statute was designed to cover.

Rove did not call Time magazine’s Matt Cooper. Cooper called him. He did not mention Valerie Plame’s name. He may not have even known it. He had no intent to reveal her identity. The context of the conversation was that Rove was trying to disabuse Cooper of the impression that CIA Director George Tenet had been the moving force in choosing former Ambassador Joe Wilson to investigate the nuclear dealings reported to be going on in Niger.

Rove said that it was not Tenet who pushed the appointment but that it likely stemmed from the fact that Wilson’s wife “apparently works” at the CIA.

To call that conversation a deliberate revelation of an agent’s identity designed to blow her cover is a far, far stretch of the statute’s wording and intent.

But just as Rove did not intend to blow Plame’s cover, so the Democrats demanding his head are not very interested in upholding the statute in question. Their motives are totally political. They want revenge against Rove for his successful role in piloting the Bush election and reelection campaigns, and they want to be sure that Bush does not have access to Karl’s advice in the remaining years of his second term.

Washington is a mean town where human sacrifice has been raised to an art form. But Karl Rove does not deserve this fate. He has served loyally and well, resisting enormous opportunities to leave midway and reap a bonanza of income in the private sector. He has shown himself to be a man of uncommon integrity and selflessness in serving this administration and this country. He should not be tossed to the partisan wolves.

Bush, having appointed a special prosecutor and pledged to fire anyone who was responsible for revealing Plame’s identity, cannot just sweep the matter under the rug. But he should allow Rove to clear his name through the normal process of investigation and testimony.

He should keep Karl onboard, stipulating only that he fully answer all questions from a grand jury — as he has done already? — should the prosecutor need him to appear again.

If Rove is indicted or even named as a target, Bush will have to let him go. But that’s not going to happen based on the current fact pattern, and Bush should not let himself be pushed ahead of the process by firing Rove.

Indeed, there is some question that the reporters who took Rove’s lead, looked up Plame’s name and published it may themselves be more likely to have violated the statute than is Rove himself. Whoever took the information Rove provided and outed Plame was, in fact, deliberately outing a CIA operative and may be a better fit for the statute’s intent than Karl Rove.

Bush should not fire Rove. He should stick by him until or unless the criminal investigation makes it evident that he may have violated the statute. Otherwise, he should stay on the job.

Morris is the author of Rewriting History, a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History.

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