October 02, 2003

The Biggest Headache So Far

The Biggest Headache So Far

Is that, for some reason, the press is still stressing a possible Rove role in the whole Plame affair. We'd expect that from the Guardian--who continue to go full throttle on a possible Rove role.

But, more worrisomely (as we are dealing with a serious newspaper rather than the Guardian), take a look at this NYT piece. It concentrates on Ashcroft's potential conflicts of interest given his ties to Rove.

Sure, it's predictable fare coming from the gang over at W. 43rd St. But they're running copy that is still hanging out a good-sized shingle that Rove might still have been involved in all of this. They wouldn't do that lightly, I'd wager, at least post-Raines.

So why would this still be a story given White House press spokesman Scott McClellan's denial of Roves' involvement in this whole mess?

Well, for one thing, Bush's enemies (amidst the political and media classes) are smelling blood. And yeah, you've kinda got the "perfect storm" conditions brewing.

An election is approaching. All know that Bush, especially sans active Karen involvement, needs Rove big time.

And then, there's something about Scott McClellan's initial handling of what might be called the "it ain't Rove" angle that wasn't totally convincing:

Here's the key exchange:

"QUESTION: Ambassador Wilson has said that he has information that Karl Rove condoned this leaking, and I've seen your comment that that's absolutely false -- [my emphasis]

McCLELLAN: It is ridiculous. It's ridiculous.

QUESTION: What do you --

McCLELLAN: And keep in mind, I imagine that only a limited number of people would even have access to classified information of this nature.

QUESTION: So he doesn't have information?

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

McCLELLAN: Yes, go ahead. And, Helen, you may always follow up. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What, then, do you think the -- given that you say Rove condoning this is ridiculous, what do you think Ambassador Wilson's motivation is for leveling such a scurrilous charge?

McCLELLAN: I can't speculate about why he would say such a thing. I mean, I saw some comments this morning, where he said he had no knowledge to that effect. But I can't speculate why he would say that.

QUESTION: Did Rove say, "ridiculous"?

McCLELLAN: I did, for him.

QUESTION: Did you speak with him about it?

McCLELLAN: Yes, I've spoken to him.

QUESTION: But he told you, "ridiculous"?

McCLELLAN: No, I said -- I told some of your colleagues that it was ridiculous. And, remember, I said this back -- what, July and September this issue came up, and said essentially what I've said now.

QUESTION: Can you characterize your conversation with him about this?

McCLELLAN: I talk to him all the time, so --

QUESTION: About this?

McCLELLAN: No, about a lot of issues.

QUESTION: But can you characterize your conversation about this subject with him?

McCLELLAN: I don't think there's anything to characterize. I mean, I think that what I said speaks clearly, that the accusations just simply are not true."

Note that McClellan is calling Rove's condoning of the leak ridiculous--not the allegation that Rove himself was the leaker. A pretty strong denial.

And yet. I didn't like the part where McClellan is getting into a debate about whether he or Rove used the word "ridiculous."

I mean, so what did Rove have to say about it? Well, nothing, at least on the record, it appears.

Which smells a lot like a laywer told him to clam up. Sage advice, doubtless, but gets you curious, doesn't it?

Back to McClellan. The back and forth at the press conferences was a bit awkward. You might chalk this up to a relatively new press spokesman handling his first full-blown Beltway scandal.

At least I hope that's what explains it. And that there isn't some murkiness that's being papered over in terms of Rove blessing a lower-level staffer's decision to out Plame--that may have been corroborated by a stray E-mail or handwritten annotation somewhere. And so on. You get the drift...

Well, as they say, this one sure's developing.

Posted by Gregory at October 2, 2003 08:36 AM

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