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Rove Scandal: Distractions and Disinformation | The Nation

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Capital Games

 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

Rove Scandal: Distractions and Disinformation

I first posted the following on my blog: www.davidcorn.com. If you're obsessed with the Rove scandal, visit that site for more news, analysis, and gripes.

Now that I've been sucked into the right-wing disinformation machine, I am struck by how unrelenting it is. Cliff May posted a dumb column claiming that Joe Wilson told me on background that his wife was an undercover operative and that I was the first person to really out Valerie Wilson (nee Plame). I debunked that nonsense here. But pesky May still sent me email asking me to explain what I had already explained. By not accepting my explanation--and by claiming that what I've written previously is misleading--he is essentially calling me a liar. I take such things personally. (This fellow once asked me if I would be willing to be his partner in a right/left cable-TV face-off. I'm glad it never came to pass.) And there he was again yesterday on CNN expanding his web of fabrication. He said:

You can say what you want about Bob Novak. He has insisted since the beginning that he didn't know she was a secret agent. He just knew she worked at the CIA. Nobody told him that. And if he had known she was secret, he wouldn't have published her name. Now who did publish her name first was David Corn of "The Nation," and he was the first one to say she was a secret agent, and he did that in a conversation with, guess who, with Joe Wilson.

How does one combat repeated silliness of this sort? Who knows what Novak would have done had he been told Valerie Wilson was an undercover officer? And maybe he was told. All we know is that Novak claims the CIA informed him it would prefer if he not name her but did not go ballistic about it. This tale may be true; it may not. (In his own account, Novak still turned down the CIA.) Moreover, Novak did publish her name first. It's right there in the column that prompted the CIA to ask the Justice Department to investigate the White House. CNN anchor Carol Costello should have stopped May and told the audience he was either lying or misspeaking. And May states as a fact that Wilson told me his wife was an undercover officer, even though he has no evidence of this and I have said precisely the opposite. What chutzpah! He doesn't even have an anonymous source to rely on. Is this the sort of journalism he learned when working at The New York Times? Or did he perfect his smear skills when he subsequently served as a spokesperson for the Republican Party? In his absurd article, he at least had the courtesy to present his bogus charge as the product of his own deductive reasoning (as defective as it was). On CNN, he stated as a fact that Wilson had spilled the beans to me about his wife--which is not true.

Having responded fully to his initial piece, I was not going to fuel this sideshow with further comment. But yesterday, I was on a public radio program--Warren Olney's To The Point--discussing the Rove scandal with Byron York, a columnist for the National Review. And as our segment was ending, he piped up and said, Well, Bob Novak didn't really out Valerie Wilson as an undercover official; it was David Corn. The show was ending, and I barely had time to exclaim, "Preposterous," and refer listeners to my website. But this is what happens: one person launches an unfounded smear and then others employ it. The point: I'm now thrown on defense, and, perhaps more importantly, a distraction has been achieved.

Disinformation, distraction--that's the plan, as trouble-causing details emerge from the investigation that threaten Karl Rove and other senior Bush aides. For GOP operatives, it's all-hands-to-the-deck time. And the strategy is to fire whatever ammunition the have, whether it is real or a dud. They want to turn this into a partisan mud-wrestle, realizing that much of the public turns off to such cat-and-dogs nastiness. They try to make the victims the culprits, calling Joe Wilson the biggest liar of all time and making claims about Valerie Wilson that are unsupported by the known facts (e.g., she was no more than a desk jockey). Change the focus to anything but what Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and other White House aides did and whether the White House and the president has covered up for them.

One could spend all day responding to the disinformation and misinformation--and that's their goal. A few days ago, The Washington Times put into circulation a quote from a former CIA officer who once supervised Valerie Wilson and who claimed she wasn't really a covert officer. The newspaper wrote:

A former CIA covert agent who supervised Mrs. Plame early in her career yesterday took issue with her identification as an "undercover agent," saying that she worked for more than five years at the agency's headquarters in Langley and that most of her neighbors and friends knew that she was a CIA employee.

"She made no bones about the fact that she was an agency employee and her husband was a diplomat," Fred Rustmann, a covert agent from 1966 to 1990, told The Washington Times.

"Her neighbors knew this, her friends knew this, his friends knew this. A lot of blame could be put on to central cover staff and the agency because they weren't minding the store here....The agency never changed her cover status."

Mr. Rustmann, who spent 20 of his 24 years in the agency under "nonofficial cover"--also known as a NOC, the same status as the wife of Mr. Wilson--also said that she worked under extremely light cover....

"She was home for such a long time, she went to work every day at Langley, she was in an analytical type job, she was married to a high-profile diplomat with two kids," Mr. Rustmann said. "Most people who knew Valerie and her husband, I think, would have thought that she was an overt CIA employee."

The newspaper didn't emphasize that Rustmann knew nothing about Valerie Wilson's CIA duties after he left the agency in 1990. Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst who went through training with Valerie Wilson at the CIA, told me that "my understanding is that Valerie went undercover after 1990." If that's true, then quotes from Rustmann are rather irrelevant. Yet I saw his remarks scattered across the Internet, as the distracters and disinformationalists look for any stone to hurl. Even The Washington Times partially refuted Rustmann's remarks when it quoted one neighbor of the Wilsons--David Tilloston--who said he did not know she worked at the CIA and thought she was an economist.

So much to disabuse, so little time. Let's turn now to Victoria Toensing, a Republican lawyer and commentator who was involved in drafting the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. I've had pleasant dealings--professional and social--with her over the years, and many moons ago I was friendly with her daughter, a wonderful photographer. But Toensing sure is doing her duty for her side. Here's a bit from today's Washington Post:

Victoria Toensing, a lawyer and longtime Republican who helped write the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, which is at the center of this case, said Bush is now saying what he probably meant to say when the leak investigation was launched. "Of course you are going to be concerned if a law was broken," she said. "But what is it that somebody did wrong if they didn't break the law?"

Toensing has been in Washington long enough to realize that not all wrongdoing in Washington is criminal. But she's now toeing the White House line: only aides convicted of a crime will be fired. (In Washington, when the supertanker White House changes its course, all the tug boats have to follow.) Compare her observation to a portion of a New York Times article published today:

Elaine D. Kaplan, who from 1998 to 2003 was head of the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that investigates complaints of prohibited personnel practices, said: "Government employees and officials who are negligent with classified information can lose their jobs for carelessness. They don't have to be convicted of intentionally disseminating the information. Crime has never been the threshold. That's not the standard that applies to rank-and-file federal employees. They can be fired for misconduct well short of a crime."

Much of the attention has (justifiably) been on the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But as Representative Henry Waxman has recently noted, when Rove shared Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA--which was classified information--he might have violated Executive Order 12958, which says:

Officers and employees of the United States Government...shall be subject to appropriate sanctions if they knowingly, willfully, or negligently....disclose to unauthorized persons information properly classified.

So the Bush/Toensing standard--leaking classified information that outs a CIA undercover officer and then not coming clean about it is not a firing offense; you're in trouble only if you break the law--is not based in law. Shouldn't she know that?

But truth is not the issue at hand. Winning is. For the right, that means firing up the fog machine and creating as many smokescreens as possible. This comes as no surprise. Still, I find it disheartening. (I can only imagine how Valerie Wilson feels.) Larry Johnson says it's a sign of how desperate the White House and its pals are. He quips, "I love the smell of fear in the morning. It smells like victory." Perhaps. A conservative journalist I know recently emailed to say he was coming to Washington and to ask if I wanted to have drinks with him (which we have occasionally done in the past). I told him I'm in no mood these days. He has yet--as far as I know--not pushed Cliff May's ridiculous Corn-did-it trash. But I need some way to vent my anger and disappointment at folks like May, York and Toensing. This episode is causing Bush's defenders to go to the most ugly extremes. Maybe Larry Johnson is right.

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there..

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