Friday, July 29, 2005

Rove Watch, day nineteen

What, did you think it would go away?

The heat beneath Karl Rove's derriere has been turned down low for the last couple of weeks, partly due to coincidence (the London bombings, for example) and partly due to the Bush administration's (not entirely incorrect) assumption that the best defense is a good offense. The president is taking an unstated "I'm not going to let this matter derail my policy agenda" tack -- hitting his marks with the Roberts appointment, pressing CAFTA through to victory in the House and floating trial ballons about withdrawal from Iraq.

All to protect Rove (and Libby, and Cheney, and in a peripheral way maybe even Condoleezza Rice)? I doubt it ... but it can't hurt. And for a president who had a "lame duck" sign taped to his back a month ago ... well, let's just say that Bush has always shown a surprising capacity for coming out of the corner just when you think he's got himself painted completely in. He's more than a little like his immediate predecessor in that respect.

So the heat's low ... but it isn't off.

As Robert Novak -- whose column outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent initially sent this dog off and running -- now writes:

The general feeling by Republicans is that the White House has handled this case very badly, though it has not risen to the level of a major political threat. ... After an investigation of this length, at least one indictment is expected. The damage inflicted on the Bush Administration will depend on who is indicted.

Of course Novak follows that with the qualifier that the White House has assured supporters that it won't be Rove who ends up in the dock. Interestingly, though, earlier in the column, he refers to journalist Matt Cooper's emails as having "incriminated" Rove. That's a pretty strong statement, especially given the source, and at odds with a lot of the chaff the Republicans have been throwing off to create the impression that there was no crime in the first place, and therefore no criminal to be held accountable.

The White House seems determined to get Rove off of the hot seat one way or another. Right now they're stalling the outcome, but my gut feeling is that, sooner or later, a dark horse candidate will emerge from the pack and claim the honor of going down with the SS Plame. I even have one in mind: Rove's foreign policy advisor, Mussolini fanboy (no, really) and National Review columnist Michael Ledeen.

As one of the chief apologists for (hell, one of the architects of) the administration's failed war policy -- one with a real knack both for being dead wrong and for hyping the hell out of whatever piece of absurd quackery catches his fancy at any given moment -- Ledeen makes a great candidate for ritual sacrifice to the Gods of Political Retrenchment. Throwing him to the wolves in PlameGate would allow the White House to defuse that situation ... and implicitly distance itself from its own foreign policy failures without an overt admission of error. And while we're awarding bonus points, Ledeen's connections with the AIPAC spy scandal pretty much make the hat trick: The administration can throw a bone to the Right's anti-Israel faction without getting in the pro-Israel faction's face about it.

Is it going to be Ledeen? That's my tentative prediction -- but they won't do it until they've dragged things out long enough for scandal fatigue to minimize the impact, and until a plausible story can be concocted that has Ledeen whispering "she's CIA -- and no, that's not classified" in Rove's ear.

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