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Taking Back America

I'm just back from Washington, DC, where the Campaign for America's Future staged its fourth annual Take Back America conference at the Hilton hotel near DuPont Circle. Bringing together close to 2,000 of the country's most dedicated progressive activists and strategists for a series of speeches, conversations, panels, workshops and parties, TBA showcased a raft of innovative policy proposals, initiatives and projects. Also on hand to make speeches was much of the Democratic Party leadership, including Senators Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Russell Feingold and House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

Unfortunately, the story out of the conference, according to most media accounts, was the division in the progressive community, demonstrated by the booing Senator Clinton received as she defended her opposition to a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. I was at the speech. Though she did get static on Iraq, the general response to her talk was overwhelmingly positive. She garnered five enthusiastic ovations by my count, and by the end of her speech--mere minutes after she supposedly alienated the crowd--she left to a standing ovation much, much, much louder than the earlier booing.

Now I'm not saying that the positive reaction was necessarily a good thing. My feeling was that she was able to win a legitimately progressive crowd over far too easily with hollow progressive rhetoric. (And this isn't a call for heckling either. I think it's worth listening to people with whom you disagree. You just don't have to cheer them madly!) But people's reactions are complicated. My only point is that I didn't leave the conference feeling the story was "the widespread disagreement among left Democrats," as a particularly egregious piece in the New York Sun reported yesterday, and as the Washington Post and New York Times have echoed in dispatches this week.

I thought the story was the remarkable set of new ideas being passionately detailed by a klatch of determined activists of varied political stripes. The energetic and intelligent remarks of Robert Biko Baker in the opening plenary had me checking my laptop for info on his organization, the National Hip-Hop Political Convention. Baker's group is working to develop a political agenda and an organizational infrastructure for the hip-hop generation. The NHHPC's broad goal is to increase civic and community involvement among young adults between the ages of 16 and 35. Its national convention takes place in Chicago from July 20 to 23.

Led by the dynamic Rev. Lennox Yearwood, the DC-based Hip Hop Caucus is working with a similar constituency. Yearwood spoke at a panel I saw on Tuesday morning about the failed federal response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign, which is basically about trying to force the government to address the plight of the hundreds of thousands of American citizens stranded without jobs, housing or hope by a government that is somehow blind to their fate. (Full disclosure: We're pleased to say that Rev. Yearwood will be joining the next Nation cruise as a guest speaker.)

Because I spent much of the session in the Katrina panel, I missed most of the concurrent blog discussion. But I did catch a little of the hyper-articulate blogger Glenn Greenwald, who is also a constitutional attorney with a New York Times best-seller out. The book, How Would A Patriot Act?, published by Working Assets, has shot to the best-seller lists through internet word-of-mouth and the power of the blogs. It's essentially one man's story of being galvanized into action to defend America's founding principles against an extremist administration run amok, and its success offers an instructive model for how a book can become a huge success while bypassing traditional means of distribution and promotion. Every other single blogger on the panel -- Chris Raab, Jerome Armstrong, Matt Stoller, Louis Pagan and Christy Hardin Smith -- is a master of the craft. If you're investing time in reading blogs, you should definitely be reading them.

The last panel I saw before leaving the conference a half-day early was smart and serious and the ideas put forth, if adopted, could help save America, and probably the world. Speaking generally about energy independence and more specifically about the Apollo Alliance, a broad coalition within the labor, environmental, business, and faith communities in support of good jobs and energy independence, the panel made a highly intelligible case for a radically revamped energy policy which would cut our addiction to oil, improve our national security, and, most importantly, give us a chance to stave off the terrors of global warming.

As people like Joel Rogers, Billy Parish and Jennifer Ito explained, the answers to our energy crisis are out there -- in fuel cells, in solar power, in wind technology, in hybrid synergy, in biofuels, in "green" buildings and in areas we don't yet know about. The popular will is out there too, as demonstrated partly by the great success of Parish's Campus Climate Challenge. The question, starting with this November's elections, is who will lead us there.

Finally, on my way out to catch a train, I was lucky to meet the talented Annabelle Gurwitch, an actress and author of a hilarious new book. Fired has deservedly received great press since its release last month. If you haven't heard about it, it's a collection of stories by people--including Felicity Huffman, Andy Borowitz, Morgan Spurlock, Harry Shearer, Anne Meara, Bill Maher and Jeff Garlin--recounting times in their lives that they've been fired. It's very cathartic really. And funny! Gurwitch's essay is one of the best and her experience of being fired from an off-Broadway play by Woody Allen is the wrenching, hilarious catalyst for the book. She nicely gave me a copy and I finished it before the Amtrak arrived in New York.

There's also a new film version--a first-person documentary written and directed by Gurwitch featuring stories from many of those in the book as well as an amazing rant from Ben Stein and some interesting observations from Robert Reich (who also contributes to the book.) But more than anything, the film takes the project a step further by trying to understand the increasing insecurity of the American worker in the global economy. Gurwitch attended job fairs, career retraining classes, met with human resource directors, took outplacement workshops and spent time with recently laid-off UAW workers. It's grim stuff but our guide never loses her sense of humor, her empathy or her grace.

The doc is available on DVD and will be broadcast on the Sundance cable channel. Check out the Fired website for info on how you can watch this highly creative project, and click here to tell Gurwitch your own story of being fired.

Profiles in Cowardice

Back in November, after Jack Murtha shocked the political establishment by calling the Iraq war "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion," Congress rushed to vote on his resolution.

Murtha's proposal called for the redeployment of US forces "at the earliest predictable date" with an "over-the-horizon presence of US Marines" deployed in the region so the US could "pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy." But the House never got to vote on Murtha's resolution. Instead, Congressional Republicans rewrote it to read: "It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately."

It was a sham vote, pure and simple, that reached its climax when Republican Jean Schmidt called Murtha a "coward" on the House floor. "I thought the tone was a bit over-the-top," House Majority Leader John Boehner said later. "And frankly, I wasn't very comfortable with how it was done and some of the words that were used."

But now Boehner is pulling the same stunt today, urging Congress to "debate" on an incredibly slanted resolution while circulating talking points labeling Democrats as "weak," "dangerous" and ready to "concede defeat."

No wonder Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina, one of three Republicans who forced the debate in the first place, calls Boehner's move "nothing more or less than really a charade."

Republican Wayne Gilchrest, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star honoree, took it a step further. "While you were in combat, you had a sense of urgency to end the slaughter," Gilchrest told the Washington Post. "And around here we don't have the sense of urgency."

Most of Gilchrest's colleagues didn't want any debate in the first place. "When the country is war-weary, when the violence is still playing on TV, I don't know why we want to highlight all that," said Ray LaHood of Illinois.

When there's a festering problem, why provide a solution?

No, gay marriage, the estate tax, indecency fines and flag-burning take precedence. Congress today is a profile in cowardice, offering no hope for our troops, no answers for the American people and no future for Iraqis.

Jim Webb, the former Secretary of the Navy who's challenging George Allen for a Senate seat in Virginia, summed it up best. "They're sending other people's kids to war," Webb said of the Republican Congress. "They're allowing other people's kids to suffer from bad schools, outsourced jobs, crime-ridden neighborhoods, deflated futures, no health insurance. They've lost sight of why they should be in government in the first place."

Wanted: A New And Improved Deal

Just hours after the army of bloggers left Las Vegas, the beleaguered United Auto Workers opened its convention in the same town. But this week there were no lavish bashes, no big-ticket politicians clamoring to speak to a union whose membership fell from 1.5 million in 1979 to less than 600,000 last year. The UAW's convention's tone was somber--in sharp contrast to the triumphalist mood of the Daily Kos convention.

I say, all power to the participatory politics that the Internet is bringing to our anemic democracy. But I wish a few bloggers had stayed behind to report on how the UAW's members are faring and feeling. I wish a few of them had used their laptop power to hold politicians' feet to the fire for failing to think big about how to rebuild an economy that would provide opportunity to America's ravaged working poor and middle class. And at a moment when the mainstream media, the rightful target of so many bloggers, devotes fewer column inches to labor coverage than at any time in modern history (and has shown the door to almost all its labor reporters), what better role for crusading bloggers to fill?

But UAW President Ron Gettelfinger's searing words about this administration's grotesque assault on the working class, and his appeals to politicians to address the structural changes required to counter a predatory global economy, were given almost no attention in the blogosphere and too little in the mainstream press.

To his credit, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne was one of the few who paid attention--using the UAW's crisis to lay out what he believes is "the greatest challenge facing the American center-left." How do progressives, he asked, "keep their core promise to expand opportunities for the middle class and the poor"? How do we repair a shredded social contract to provide dignity and work for those who seek it?

How do we rebuild or "renegotiate" the bargain in which corporate power is effectively countered "by a large public sector and a unionized industrial sector that provided social insurance, education, pensions and health care"? For now, as Dionne argues, because people are clearly seeking a "better economic bargain, the words 'New Deal' never sounded more up to date." But, as if he could hear those pollsters and strategists, ones I've heard before cautioning politicians about using "New Deal" because it seems so retro, E. J. rightly replies: "... if the marketing specialists insist, A New and Improved Deal would do just fine."

Whatever you want to call it, if you're seeking provocative, creative and humane ideas about how to build a new social contract, read William Greider's article in The Nation's current issue. What Greider likes to call his "not-ready-for-primetime" ideas should attract the attention of all political leaders who care about addressing the deterioration of work and wages, and who believe that our country's greatness lies in nurturing people and society first, ahead of corporations and capital.

Possibly the Stupidest Press Release We've Ever Received

If you've been scratching your head, trying to parse the political significance of Brad and Angelina's baby, look no further. Just in: a press release promoting conservative author Katherine DeBrecht, author of Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed! (endorsed by Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist)and its rollicking sequel, Help! Mom! Hollywood's in My Hamper. DeBrecht is outraged over "Angelina and Brad going to Africa, a country that is plagued with AIDS, famine and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, to demonstrate that is it perfectly acceptable and even glamorous to have a baby outside of the context of marriage?" Hang on: Africa is a country?

If you rely for your information on the liberal media, you probably think that people in the "country" of Africa are suffering because of disease, underdevelopment, famine and war. You're wrong, of course. Their problem, according to DeBrecht, a mother of three who was a co-captain of Security Moms for Bush, is all the babies being born to moms who lack marriage certificates. Forget nutrition programs from the evil United Nations: feed those black children some moral fiber for breakfast!

DeBrecht is furious that Shiloh Jolie-Pitt is "unapologetically born and celebrated" despite being conceived by an adulterous couple. But shouldn't every baby be celebrated? And why should any child apologize for being born? Doesn't that contradict the idea of a "culture of life"? I'm not sure why the public gets so excited about celebrity babies (or why Brangelina named its baby after a bloody Civil War battle. So many unanswered questions). But compared with DeBrecht's far-right mean-spiritedness, the media obsession with Shiloh's birth seems almost touching. If it's not too late, maybe I'll go buy that issue of People right now, even though, like everyone else in the world, I've seen the pics on Gawker .

On War: Boos for Clinton, Cheers for Kerry

At the Campaign for America's Future "Take Back America" conference in Washington Tuesday, two U.S. senators with 2008 presidential ambitions addressed a large audience of mostly liberal Democrats from around the country.

New York Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who voted for the 2002 Senate resolution authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq, told the crowd, "I have to just say it: I do not think it is a smart strategy either for the president to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government, nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interest of our troops or our country."

Clinton, who otherwise earned a warm reception, drew boos and hisses for that remark.

Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, who also voted for the 2002 resolution, followed Clinton to the podium later in the day. He offered the crowd a decidedly different line. "Let me say it plainly," the Democratic party's 2004 presidential nominee began. "It's not enough to argue with the logistics or to argue about the details or the manner of the conflict's execution or the failures of competence, as great as they are. It is essential to acknowledge that the war itself was a mistake, to say the simple words that contain more truth than pride. We were misled. We were given evidence that was not true. It was wrong, and I was wrong to vote for that Iraqi resolution."

Kerry, whose failure to use such language during the 2004 campaign frustrated anti-war Democrats, has recently joined Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, another potential 2008 contender and scheduled speaker at the "Take Back America" conference, in advocating for an exit strategy. At Tuesday's session, he spoke of the need to "end a war in Iraq that weakens the nation each and every day it goes on."

The Massachusetts senator drew sustained cheering and applause for acknowledging past errors and for advocating the course correction that Hillary Clinton still refuses to support.

Another Blank Check for Perpetual War

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives maintained its track record of providing absolutely no checks and balances on the Bush administration's warmaking this week, when it voted 351-67 to authorize another $66 billion in "emergency" spending for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

While the House will hold a symbolic "debate" on the Iraq imbroglio Thursday, that endeavor has been so constrained by the House Republican leadership that it will be of no more consequence than the discourse in a mock legislative exercise for high school students – although, in fairness to the students, a mock Congress would undoubtedly take the Constitutional imperative of shared responsibility for warmaking more seriously than does the actual Congress.

What was truly frustrating about the House vote on the emergency funding was the general failure of the Democrats – who have again delayed announcement of their agenda for this year's election campaign – to mount a coherent opposition to a war that an overwhelming majority of Americans characterize as a mistake.

Of the 351 votes to continue no-strings-attached funding of the Bush administration's wars, 204 came from Republicans while 146 came from Democrats. Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders cast the final vote in favor of the "emergency" funding package, which also included $28.5 billion for Hurricane Katrina assistance, border security and farm subsidies.

Democrats who voted in favor of the spending included Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel, D-Illinois. Fresh from a primary campaign in which she made anti-war sounds in order to fend off a challenge from the left, California Democrat Jane Harman returned to her pro-war voting pattern. And Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, who is locked in a tight Democratic primary contest for his state's open Senate seat with anti-war candidate Kweisi Mfume, also voted to hand the Bush administration another blank check.

Voting against giving the administration everything it asked for and more were 48 Democrats and 19 Republicans. The Democrats included most of the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including co-chairs Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, both of California. The Republican votes came from two camps: war foes such as Texan Ron Paul, Tennessee's John Duncan and North Carolina's Walter Jones Jr., and budget "hawks" such as Arizona's Jeff Flake and Wisconsin's James Sensenbrenner, who opposed what they saw as pork-barrel spending in the disaster-relief expenditure.

A few of the Republican fiscal conservatives were courageous enough to complain about the blank-check character of the war funding. "I support our troops, I support the war on terror, but I do not believe we should finance the war through emergency supplemental appropriations," Texan Jeb Hensarling said when explaining his "no" vote. "That approach evades whatever spending discipline we have."

More pointed were the remarks of anti-war Democrat Dennis Kucinich, of Ohio, who began his remarks on the House floor by declaring, "Mass death on the installment plan. That's what this supplemental vote to keep our troops in Iraq is all about."

Kucinich, who recently one a landslide Democratic primary victory against an aggressive and well-funded challenger, argued that, "The Administration went into Iraq without an exit strategy not because they are incompetent, but because they have no intention of leaving.

"We are spending hundreds of millions building permanent bases in Iraq. The Administration recently announced deployment of no less than 50,000 troops in Iraq far into the future. We are looking at the permanent occupation of Iraq.

"And so the long cadence of lies has led to Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Haditha, soon to be replaced by more lies and more tragedies."What can you say when you are watching your nation descend, sleep walking, into something like the lower circles of hell in Dante's Inferno?

"You can say stop it! You can say enough blood is enough blood!

"You can stop it! Bring our troops home!

"You can say no to any more funds for this war! And then we can begin a period of truth and reconciliation about 9/11 and Iraq. Begin the healing of the soul of America."

While the bases will be permanent, the period of truth and reconciliation has been indefinitely delayed.

Pick a Team

I had lunch yesterday afternoon in a casual restaurant in the heart of Washington, DC. It wasn't a sports bar but there were three TVs tuned into the US/Czech World Cup match. The surprising thing was that my fellow patrons were rooting against the United States. It wasn't the whole restaurant but it was the majority of those who seemed to care about the outcome. And it didn't appear to be a Czech thing--this was no middle European crowd hoisting steins of lager. So if this is any example, people are taking a complex approach in deciding who to cheer for during this year's World Cup.

The most popular sporting event in the world, and one that--in our globalized times--is increasingly impinging on the consciousness of Americans, the World Cup is passionately followed by tens of millions of people around the world, all rooting for their compatriots. But how do you choose who to cheer for when your own team isn't playing (or if it didn't qualify)? You could pick the country with the coolest flag (Brazil)? Maybe the best holiday destination or food (got to be Italy or France)? Perhaps the place where you've spent your best vacation? Or you could go the political route by refusing to support countries involved in the war in Iraq or with bad human rights records. How about rooting for the team that gives the most aid to poor countries? Perhaps cheering on the country that spends the most on healthcare? Or booing the nation with the largest per capita weapons budget? You get the idea.

These suggestions are drawn from the World Development Movement website, which is highlighting a nifty tool to help soccer fans choose who to shout for when their own team isn't on the pitch. Using ten relevant criteria, the tool allows you to compare things like income inequality, carbon emissions and military and health spending. It's a neat way to learn a little something while you go about deciding which country to root for in a given contest.

And speaking of soccer, my colleague Carl Bromley, the intrepid editor of Nation Books, would kill me if I neglected to plug a great new book he's just released by Financial Times correspondent Simon Kuper. After traveling to twenty-two countries to watch and play soccer, Kuper has produced an astonishing study on the frightening intersection between soccer and politics. His book's title gives away his thesis--Soccer Against the Enemy: How the World's Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions And Keeps Dictators in Power--but his powerful prose will keep even non-fans at the edge of their seats.

Now, What About Cheney?

Now that the long speculation about whether White House political czar Karl Rove would be indicted for the role he played in exposing the identity of a CIA operative is done, perhaps the investigation of the Bush administration "hit" on Iraq War critic Joe Wilson can focus in on the fundamental questions that have been raised by the machinations of key players in the administration with the apparent goal of punishing a former diplomat for exposing White House misstatements and misdeeds.

The attention to Rove's involvement in the effort to reveal the identity of Wilson's wife, veteran Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame -- after Wilson, a former ambassador, revealed that key players in the Bush administration had to have know that elements of their "case" for attacking Iraq had been discredited -- was always something of a distraction. Of course, as David Corn and others have ably illustrated, Rove's actions demanded scrutiny. But the fury that so many Democrats feel toward Rove caused them to obsess on the question of whether he would be indicted, rather than to recognize that the critical indictment was that of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff and a key advisor to President Bush on national security matters.

It is Libby who faces trial in January 2007 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. And it is Libby, the neoconservative true believer who was the administration's willing henchman in defense of the Iraq endeavor, who connects this scandal to his old friend Cheney in a way that Rove, the political puppeteer, was unlikely ever to have connected it to Bush. Thus, from the time of Libby's indictment, the question that always mattered most was not: Will special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald indict Rove? It was always: Will Fitzgerald connect the dots that lead to Cheney?

No top office within the administration was better positioned than Cheney's to gather the information that was used to attack Wilson and his wife and to peddle that information to the press. In fact, as Joe Wilson told me in an interview about the leaking of his wife's name that we did early in 2004, "With respect to who actually leaked the information, there are really only a few people -- far fewer than the president let on when he said there are a lot of senior administration officials -- who could have done it. At the end of the day, you have to have the means, the keys to the conversations at which somebody might drop my wife's name -- deliberately or not -- a national security clearance, and a reason to be talking about this. When you look at all that, there are really very few people who exist at that nexis between national security and foreign policy and politics. You can count them, literally, on two hands."

Wilson added that, without a doubt, "the vice president is one of those people."

We now know just how right Wilson was. Libby has been indicted. And that documents related to that indictment are filled with references to meetings with Cheney on the very day that Libby began calling reporters as a part of a push to discredit Wilson. We have a copy of a column Wilson wrote for The New York Times with notes from Cheney attacking the former ambassador and making reference to his wife. We have transcripts of Libby saying that he acted with "approval from the President through the Vice President" when he distributed previously classified information -- specifically, portions of a National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons -- to the media as part of the move to discredit Wilson.

At this point, it is unclear whether Fitzegerald will see his investigation through to its logical conclusion. But there can be no question that, with Rove off the hook, the administration and its media echo chamber will be doing everything in their power to constrain the special counsel. The White House wants this inquiry shut down.

But shutting it down now would prevent an examination of what Representative Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, correctly refers to "the heart of the CIA leak case."

Hinchey leads a group of several dozen House members who have urged Fitzgerald to officially expand his investigation to include an examination of the motives behind the leaks by Libby, focusing in particular on the question of whether the administration's intent was to discredit Ambassador Wilson's revelation that Iraq had never sought uranium from Niger or other African countries. If that is proven to be the case, Hinchey has argued, "President Bush and other top members of his administration knowingly lied about uranium to the Congress, which is a crime."

The New York congressman, who is the most determined Congressional watchdog with regard to the administration's misuse of intelligence information, was never one of those who waited for the Rove shoe to drop.

After the April revelation that Cheney's former chief of staff said he was authorized to go after Wilson by the president and vice president, Hinchey said: "If what Scooter Libby said to the grand jury is true, then this latest development clearly reveals yet again that the CIA leak case goes much deeper than the disclosure of a CIA agent's identity to the press. The heart and motive of this case is about the deliberate attempt at the highest levels of this administration to discredit those who were publicly revealing that the White House lied about its uranium claims leading up to the war. The Bush Administration knew that Iraq had not sought uranium from Africa for a nuclear weapon, yet they went around telling the Congress, the country, and the world just the opposite. When Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Valerie Wilson's husband, publicly spoke out with proof that the administration was not telling the truth on uranium, the administration engaged in an orchestrated plot, which now reportedly includes President Bush, to discredit Ambassador Wilson and dismiss any notion that they had lied about pre-war intelligence."

As Hinchey has argued for months, Libby's testimony about the authorization he received from Bush and Cheney must be seen in the context of a mounting body of evidence that rules, regulations and laws were bent far beyond the breaking point by the administration. The fact that Karl Rove has not been indicted does not eliminate that body of evidence. Nor does it resolve questions about Cheney's involvement in the scandal, or about the motivations of the president, the vice president and others who sought to discredit Ambassador Wilson for telling the truth. And it ought not serve as an excuse for shutting down an inquiry that has yet to examine "the heart of the CIA leak case."

Karl Rove Escapes Prosecution

Early this morning, Robert Luskin, Karl Rove's lawyer, told reporters that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald had sent him a letter stating that Rove would not be indicted in the CIA leak case. In a statement, Luskin declared, "We believe that the Special Counsel's decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove's conduct."

Bush administration (and Rove) advocates will spin this news as vindication for the mastermind of George W. Bush's presidential campaigns. But there is no need for baseless speculation to conclude that Rove was involved in the leak and that the White House misled the public about his participation and broke a pledge to fire anyone who had leaked information about Valerie Wilson, the CIA officer married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the administration.

Here is what is known about Rove and the leak.

On July 9, 2003--three days after Joe Wilson published a New York Times op-ed piece disclosing that he had been sent to Niger by the CIA to check out the allegation that Iraq had been seeking to purchase uranium there and had reported back that such a transaction was highly unlikely--Rove confirmed to columnist Robert Novak that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. By this point in time, the White House--particularly Dick Cheney's office and Scooter Libby--had been gathering information on Wilson, his wife, and his trip for weeks. (In May and June, stories had appeared in the media quoting an unnamed ambassador who had gone to Niger and found nothing to substantiate the uranium-buying charge, which Bush had alleged in his 2003 State of the Union address.) And when Rove spoke to Novak--who had first heard about Valerie Wilson from another administration official--the White House was engaged in an effort to discredit Wilson. Cheney and others believed that if Wilson's mission to Niger could be depicted as a junket or boondoggle arranged by Wilson's wife, Wilson and his findings would be undermined. Spending a week in one of the poorest countries in the world for no pay would hardly qualify as a junket, but the White House was trying to use whatever they could.

Two days after Rove spoke to Novak and gave the columnist the confirmation he needed to proceed with a piece that would out Valerie Wilson as an undercover CIA officer working on weapons of mass destruction, Rove spoke to Matt Cooper of Time. According to an email Cooper wrote immediately after this conversation, Rove told him that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and had sent Wilson to Niger. This conversation occurred three days before the Novak article appeared.

So Rove spoke to two reporters about Valerie Wilson. Her employment status at the CIA was classified. Rove was not merely gossiping, he was disseminating secret information, whether he realized it or not.

After the leak appeared in Novak's column on July 14, 2003, Scott McClellan, who had just taken over as White House press secretary, said of the leak, "That is not the way this President or this White House operates."

He was wrong. It was precisely how the White House had operated. Scooter Libby--according to Fitzgerald's legal filings, Cooper's account, and the account of New York Times reporter Judy Miller--had also discussed Valerie Wilson's CIA connection with Cooper and Miller before the Novak column was published.

After the news broke in late September 2003 that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of the leak, McClellan declared that he had spoken to Rove and that "he was not involved" in the leak. McClellan also asserted that the vice president's office had not leaked the information about Valerie Wilson. He noted, "If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration." Bush affirmed that Rove was uninvolved and said, "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action."

Rove--with or without the knowledge of the president and other White House aides--kept his leading role in the leak a secret for almost two years. In the summer of 2005, Newsweek revealed the Cooper email. And Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby months later disclosed that Rove had told Libby that he had spoken to Novak about Joe Wilson's wife.

The White House responded to these revelations by stonewalling, claiming that it could not answer any questions about Rove and the leak while a criminal investigation was underway. And it maintained that it could not even explain its previous--and false--statements about Rove and Libby.

McClellan's promise--made on behalf of the president--that anyone involved in the leak would be booted from the administration--was not honored. Nor was Bush's statement that action would be taken against anyone who leaked classified information. The evidence was clear. Rove had conveyed classified information about Valerie Wilson to two reporters as part of a White House effort to undercut Joe Wilson.

Fitzgerald had a high burden of proof in the Rove case. To win a prosecution under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act--which makes it a felony to disclose identifying information about a covert officer--Fitzgerald would have had to prove that Rove definitely knew that Valerie Wilson was not just a CIA employee but an undercover CIA employee. If Rove could raise doubt about his state of knowledge on that point, he would be able to mount an effective defense. Fitzgerald had kept Rove in the crosshairs for so long because he suspected that Rove had lied to FBI agents and his grand jury when Rove said at first that he had not spoken with Cooper about Valerie Wilson. It was only after a Rove email emerged--under somewhat puzzling circumstances--that noted that he had talked to Cooper that Rove acknowledged that he had a conversation with Cooper (though he still said he did not recall it).

Fitzgerald spent over a year-and-a-half trying to determine if he could prosecute Rove for perjury or obstruction of justice, as Rove's lawyer tried mightily to explain the delay in producing that one email. In the end, Fitzgerald concluded his case was not strong enough. Given his pursuit of Libby and the time he kept Rove hanging, it's reasonable to assume that Fitzgerald rendered a good-faith judgment based on the law and the facts he had in hand.

Which brings us back to the Democrats' early mistake. From the start, they called for a special counsel--as if that would get to the bottom of the controversy. But Fitzgerald's mission was to investigate possible crimes and then mount prosecutions if he had the evidence to do so. His job was not to be a fact-finder for the public. He is not compelled to release any report detailing what he discovered about the leak and the White House role. Independent counsels in the past were required to write public reports. But the law establishing independent counsels expired years ago, with the consent of Democrats angry at Kenneth Starr. A special counsel has no obligation to report on what he or she discovered. Congress was the body that should have investigated the leak--not as a criminal matter but as an issue of White House conduct--and it did not. Senior congressional Democrats did not push that point when they had the chance.

That means now that the whole story of the leak has yet to be disclosed. And it may never be--in an official sense. (Stay tuned for a book I am writing that will be out in the fall.) But several essentials are well-established: Rove leaked classified information that may have harmed national security; the White House said he hadn't and that leakers would be fired; Rove remains at the president's side today.

Not all wrongdoing--not all lying--in Washington is illegal. Rove escaped prosecution. But the episode has revealed the way the Bush White House really operates.