10/31/2005

Bushco team Flying Blind - Newsweek

Dark days: Singed by the special prosecutor and rattled by the Harriet Miers mess, Team Bush is in turmoil.

Nov. 7, 2005 issue - The mood in the White House last Friday afternoon was grim, but eerily quiet. Dick Cheney was gone, off in Georgia giving yet another apocalyptic terrorism speech to yet another military crowd. The president, just back from his own rally-the-troops address, was eager to chopper to Camp David for the weekend. But, in the small dining room adjoining the Oval Office, he was doing something uncharacteristic: watching live news on TV.

"I don't read books, I read people," George W. Bush once said, half in jest, and so the figure on the screen spoke volumes to him: the Irish-American altar-boy visage; the off-the-rack attire; the meticulous, yet colloquial speech, a blend of the U.S. Code, Jimmy Stewart and baseball. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, Bush said to his aides, "is a very serious guy." And so was the charge he laid out: that I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the vice president's right-hand man, had lied repeatedly under oath about what might well have been a White House effort to vindictively tip reporters about the identity of a CIA agent whose husband was a critic of the Iraq war. Libby has denied wrongdoing, and his lawyer vowed a vigorous defense. But Bush, an aide indicated, was as impressed by Fitzgerald's case as by the man who brought it. "The indictment speaks for itself," said the aide, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the situation.

In a capital that fashions its gallows out of court papers, Fitzgerald also made news for what he didn't do—and for whom he didn't propose to try to hang. Importantly, he did not indict Libby for disclosing the identity of the agent, Valerie Plame, to reporters. In a tour-de-force press conference (Bush saw the initial 20 minutes), the prosecutor said that he couldn't conclude whether to take that step in part because Libby had covered his motives in lies. Nor, as of last Friday, had Fitzgerald decided whether to indict Karl Rove, the top presidential aide and close friend, who also talked to journalists about Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. There was relief but no joy inside the White House at these dodged bullets. "This is a White House in turmoil right now," said a senior aide, one of many who declined to speak on the record at a time of peril and paranoia. As for Rove, the aide said, some insiders believed that he had "behaved, if not criminally, then certainly unethically."

....

Now Fitzgerald's probe is aimed at the operational inner sanctum of Bush's "war presidency"—and, by extension, at Bush's anchoring view of what his administration has been about since the 9/11 attacks. As he prosecutes "Cheney's Cheney" for perjury, false statements and obstruction, Fitzgerald will inevitably have to shine a light on the machinery that sold the Iraq war and that sought to discredit critics of it, particularly Joseph Wilson. And that, in turn, could lead to Cheney and to the Cheney-run effort to make Iraq the central battleground in the war on terror. As if that weren't dramatic enough, the Libby trial—if there is one—will feature an unprecedented, high-stakes credibility contest between a top government official and the reporters he spoke to: Tim Russert of NBC, Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time magazine. Another likely witness: Cheney himself. White House officials were admonished not to have any contact with Libby about the investigation. That presumably includes the vice president...

Perhaps it's no surprise, therefore, that at least some administration officials—speaking on background, of course—have begun retroactively to dismiss Cheney's role. Even if they are rewriting history, the revision is politically significant—and an ominous sign for Cheney in a city where power is the appearance of power. As an aide now tells it, Cheney's influence began to wane from the start of the second term and effectively came to an end as the Fitzgerald investigation gained momentum in recent months. "You can say that the influence of the vice president is going to decrease, but it's hard to decrease from zero,"..



Flying Blind - Newsweek National News - MSNBC.com

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