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Rove Defense Team | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Rove Defense Team

It appears that no one in Washington has bothered to ask why it is that the Republican National Committee is leading the defense of Karl Rove. But it's a good question.

If Rove is really the president's deputy chief of staff in charge of policy, as opposed to a political hack operating within the White House and using taxpayer money to do the work of the Republican Party, wouldn't it make sense that his defenders would be current and retired policy specialists? And since the controversy in which he is embroiled has something to do with national security, wouldn't it be at least a little more assuring if a former Secretary of Defense, National Security Adviser or chief of the Central Intelligence Agency were to speak up on his behalf?

But, no, as the controversy about his leaking of classified information heats up, Rove is being defended, for the most part, by RNC chair Ken Mehlman, a political operative who has never been seriously involved in policy matters – let alone national security issues.

Mehlman is a second-string hack, a veteran of the losing presidential campaigns of George Bush I in 1992 and Mr. Elizabeth Dole in 1996.

To the extent that Mehlman has a reputation is it as a professional "spin doctor" – a party operative who is paid to warp the truth.

That's precisely what Mehlman is doing in his defense of Rove. Instead of trying to muster a defense of Rove's leaking of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame to reporters -- apparently in an effort to punish Plame's husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, for exposing the administration's lies regarding Iraq and weapons of mass destruction – Mehlman and his team have been busy spreading lies about Wilson.Attacking Wilson is currently mission critical for the RNC. The latest display items on the committee's website are headlined "Joe Wilson's Top Ten Worst Inaccuracies And Misstatements" and "In Case You Missed It: Excerpts From RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman on FOX News' ‘Fox And Friends,' – a Friday morning appearance in which the RNC chair essentially repeated the list of supposed inaccuracies and misstatements.

Here's the problem: It is the RNC, not Wilson, which is guilty of spreading inaccuracies and misstatements. The RNC claims that Rove told Time magazine writer Matthew Cooper that "Wilson's wife" had OK'ed the former ambassador's 2002 mission to Niger in Africa to check out claims that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis had been attempting to buy materials that might be used to develop WMDs. In fact, it was not Plame but the CIA's Directorate of Operations for the Counterproliferation Division, which sent Wilson to Niger.

The folks at the watchdog group MediaMatters, who are working hard to set the record straight, state that, "The Los Angeles Times reported on July 15, 2004, that an unnamed CIA official confirmed that Plame was not responsible for the CIA's decision to send Wilson to Niger, saying: ‘Her bosses say she did not initiate the idea of her husband going. ... They asked her if he'd be willing to go, and she said yes.'"

The second big lie that the RNC is spreading suggests that Rove was leaking information to Time's Cooper in order to prevent the reporter from repeating a supposed false claim by Wilson – that he was sent on the Niger mission by Vice President Dick Cheney.

This is just pure fantasy. Wilson has always been exceptionally precise about how he ended up in Niger. He laid things out in the original op-ed piece for The New York Times in July, 2003, where he explained,

"In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake -- a form of lightly processed ore -- by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office."

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