'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Why Did Scott McClellan Lie So Poorly? 

A thread often lost in the details of the Plame affair, a news story about as baroque as these things ever get, is the reason Rove -- I guess we no longer have to say "the leaker" -- was peddling information about Joseph Wilson's wife in the first place.

There were two reasons actually.

The first was pure vindictiveness. Joseph Wilson publicly embarrassed the warmongers by writing in the Times that "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program" was "twisted" by the Bush administration "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat" -- and his words were implicitly supported by his position as a participant in the intelligence gathering, and therefore, a primary witness to the twisting and exaggerating. For this crime, Rove lashed out at Wilson by way of his wife, who Rove had deemed "fair game", and ended her career as a CIA field agent. This is the story that is usually told, and it's certainly true, but I think commentators tend to place undue emphasis on the revenge motive because it exemplifies so purely the extreme political viciousness that is the Bush administration's modus operandi. John Dean, for example, titled a Salon piece about the Plame affair "More vicious than Tricky Dick" referring, of course, to BushCo.

Besides simply wanting to hurt Wilson, however, Rove shopped around the story for a more rational reason: he wanted to discredit the idea that Cheney and the Whitehouse had anything to do with Wilson's trip to Africa. In his Times piece Wilson wrote

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 [ ... ] 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.

implying that his trip to Niger was a direct result of Dick Cheney's "questions". It was also widely reported that Cheney had been briefed about Wilson's findings when he returned. Cooper's emails to his bureau chief reveal that Rove was pitching a story attempting to discredit the connection between Cheney and Wilson and to paint Wilson's trip as a smalltime affair that came about due to nepotism. And, indeed, this is the motive that Rove's lawyer is citing to this day; Luskin says Rove's phone call with Cooper "was not an effort to encourage Time to disclose [Plame's] identity. What he was doing was discouraging Time from perpetuating some statements that had been made publicly and weren't true."-- the statements Luskin is referring to are statements implicating Cheney in the genesis of the Niger trip.

Now, here's the thing. This whole question about the teleological status of Wilson's trip -- did it come about because Cheney wanted it or did it come about because Wilson's wife was a CIA agent? -- reduces to a he-said/she-said situation between Joseph Wilson and the Bush administration, and, further, the Bush administration is probably lying. Take this exchange with Rice from 2003 recently posted on the First Draft:

Q Dr. Rice, when did you all find out that the documents were forged?

DR. RICE: Sometime in March, I believe. Is that right?

MR. FLEISCHER: The IAEA reported it.

DR. RICE: The IAEA reported it I believe in March. But I will tell you that, for instance, on Ambassador Wilson's going out to Niger, I learned of that when I was sitting on whatever TV show it was, because that mission was not known to anybody in the White House. And you should ask the Agency at what level it was known in the Agency.

Q When was that TV show, when you learned about it?

DR. RICE: A month ago, about a month ago.

Q Can I ask you about something else?

DR. RICE: Yes. Are you sure you're through with this?

in which Rice seems to be itching to say, "Wilson was sent to Niger by a smalltime CIA agent who happened to be his wife." (to plagiarize an Atrios commenter) Isn't this just a little bit much? -- BushCo has a smoking gun regarding Iraq's attempt to develop nuclear weapons and the National Security Advisor hears about a CIA trip to investigate the smoking gun's authenticity from a TV show? Look, based on our experience watching these people operate over the years, on watching Karl Rove operate, and specifically because of the strictness of the administration's message discipline regarding the genesis of the Niger trip and because of things like the evident desperation in the Rice quote above and the aggressiveness of Rove's multiple phone calls to multiple reporters, it looks to me like this whole line is just a big lie, and, of course, Joseph Wilson has maintained as much all along.

One of the things that amazed me about the revelation that Rove was Matt Cooper's and, presumably, Novak's primary source is the extent to which it proved that McClellan and various spokespeople, including Rove himself, were blatantly lying about Rove's involvement, unartful lying that led to this somewhat life-affirming sight yesterday. I know politicians often lie, but they usually lie indirectly -- nondenial denials, weasel words, etc. Understanding that the entire Bush administration at the time was focused on aggressively lying about the genesis of Wilson's trip provides context that helps explain the inelegance of its lying regarding the burning of Valerie Plame. McClellan was walking a maze of lies at the time -- that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger; that other evidence supported the reality of this transaction besides the forged documents; that this other evidence was known to British intelligence but couldn't be revealed to the public for security reasons; that even if there wasn't other evidence, Bush didn't know the documents were forged when he made the State of the Union speech that mentioned African uranium, that the Bush administration had nothing to do with Wilson's trip to Africa, etc. Given this context, McClellan's willingness to make statements like

Let me make it very clear. As I said previously, [Karl Rove] was not involved, and that allegation is not true in terms of leaking classified information, nor would he condone it.

probably just indicates that McClellan was too preoccupied with keeping other lies straight to split any hairs regarding Plame.

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