Keep on talking, Mr. Rove

Editorial

Los Angeles Times

July 15, 2005

Ever since President Bush named him deputy chief of staff in February, Karl Rove has been staking out a higher political profile. But the current tempest over his possible involvement in the leaking of a CIA operative's identity was surely not part of his plan for strengthening the GOP.

Now President Bush, who is famously loyal to his subordinates, will have to decide whether his 2000 campaign pledge to restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office includes keeping on the likes of Rove.

The extent of Rove's involvement in the leak is not yet clear. What we do know, based on an e-mail that Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper wrote to his editor, is that Rove told Cooper that the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV worked for the CIA. Wilson had written a scathing opinion piece in the New York Times contradicting Bush's assertions about Iraqi efforts to buy "significant quantities of uranium from Africa," and Rove wanted Cooper to know that Wilson had been sent to Niger to investigate because of his wife's influence. The e-mail, written before columnist Robert Novak disclosed the identity of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is now in the hands of the grand jury looking into the matter.

Rove's actions probably do not amount to a violation of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act. The "architect," as Bush likes to call Rove, may not have named Plame, and the law may not apply in the case of a CIA analyst who is not currently working undercover.

Still, it's a telling moment when an administration retreats into a defense with something like: "There is no sign any law was broken." It's a far cry from insisting on the highest ethical standards. Whether Rove deserves to remain in the White House is a different question from whether he deserves to go to the jailhouse. Or it should be.

The White House cannot justify remaining silent by hiding behind the ongoing investigation. Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan, who once called the notion of Rove being the leaker "totally ridiculous," has looked ridiculous himself in recent days while dodging questions about the matter. Bush must order Rove to come clean about what he said to reporters, and when he said it. Otherwise, Bush will soon look "totally ridiculous" too.

The Democrats are naturally gleeful that a GOP administration has been caught playing politics with national security. We can only imagine how outraged Republicans would have been if the political guru-turned-insider caught bantering about CIA personnel had been Dick Morris under President Clinton's watch. Someone might have been charged with treason. As it is, a journalist Judith Miller of the New York Times, who is protecting her sources is sitting in jail, adding an element of urgency to the investigation and to the White House's need to come clean.

The questions that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is probably pursuing are these: Who gave Rove the information in the first place? Were there other White House officials who were gunning for Plame?

Bush owes it to the American people to order Rove to cough up some of the answers.