On Constructing Presidential Deniability. . .


George Bush says that he looked into the hearts and souls of his staff regarding the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson and that none of them said that they were “involved.”
It is clear that a number of his key staff either lied to Bush — or he was in on it all along.
Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei lay out the stakes in an insightful piece this morning on the Patrick Fitzgerald-led investigation:

As the investigation into the leak of a CIA agent’s name hurtles to an apparent conclusion, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has zeroed in on the role of Vice President Cheney’s office, according to lawyers familiar with the case and government officials. The prosecutor has assembled evidence that suggests Cheney’s long-standing tensions with the CIA contributed to the unmasking of operative Valerie Plame.
In grand jury sessions, including with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Fitzgerald has pressed witnesses on what Cheney may have known about the effort to push back against ex-diplomat and Iraq war critic Joseph C. Wilson IV, including the leak of his wife’s position at the CIA, Miller and others said. But Fitzgerald has focused more on the role of Cheney’s top aides, including Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, lawyers involved in the case said.

And more. . .

is not clear whether Fitzgerald plans to charge anyone inside the Bush administration with a crime. But with the case reaching a climax — administration officials are braced for possible indictments as early as this week– it is increasingly clear that Cheney and his aides have been deeply enmeshed in events surrounding the Plame affair from the outset.
It was a request by Cheney for more CIA information that, unknown to him, started a chain of events that led to Wilson’s mission three years ago. His staff pressed the CIA for information about it one year later. And it was Libby who talked about Wilson’s wife with at least two reporters before her identity became public, according to evidence Fitzgerald has amassed and which parties close to the case have acknowledged.

By most accounts then, what we know at a minimum is that Scooter Libby — during a time of “war” — discussed a covert CIA agent’s name and role with a reporter. Who cares at this point where Libby got the information. He was discussing a CIA agent with members of the press.
Karl Rove did the same — exactly the same.
The question at this point must be what did President Bush and Vice President Cheney KNOW about this. I remember when the Plame scandal broke, and Bush went on television full of indignation that anyone on his staff would stoop so low and commit such a heinous crime against the national security interests of this nation.
And yet, two of the most powerful players in the White House were “involved.” It is inconceivable that their respective bosses were not aware all along.
Or did they construct some byzantine system of plausible deniability? If so, then that is worse because it implies Presidential awareness of their misbehavior and recklessly illegal acts.
Bill Clinton deserves to be rebuked for the public statements he made that he “did not have sex with that woman,” in the Monica Lewinsky case. However, President Bush’s crimes are far greater if he pretended to know nothing about the Plame outing — and in fact knew that Rove, Libby and his team were enmeshed up to their necks in a vindictive scheme to get Joe Wilson back for unveiling the Niger Uranium scam.
Bush AND Cheney had to know what was up — and if not, then this scandal reflects on their management.
How does the Oval Office’s deniability scam work? If indictments follow this next week or two, hopefully we’ll learn more.
— Steve Clemons