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Monday, July 25, 2005

Tripping Them Up

Josh Marshall points out today that Senator Pat Roberts (R- Partisan Tool) has decided that the congress must waste no time holding hearings on whether the CIA is properly protecting its covert agents. After all, if Karl Rove and Scooter Libby can find out who they are, how safe can they be?

The only other possibility -- one which I've referred to jokingly in the past -- is to argue that she wasn't covert enough. That is to say, maybe she was covert to the CIA. But she really wasn't covert up to the standards of say, Bill Safire or Tucker Carlson or Bill O'Reilly.

And this, understand, is the premise of the new Roberts' hearings. Was she really covert enough? And does the CIA really know how to define 'covert'. Asked about a bankrobber caught red-handed outside the bank, Sen. Roberts response would be to say, "But how much real claim did the bank have to that money? Did they really earn it? And what did they do to protect it?"

Roberts is one of the more reprehensible hacks in the GOP caucus and that's saying something. That he's chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee is frankly scary. His little addendum to the SSCI report on Iraq pre-war intelligence is one of the most amazing examples of partisan smearing we've ever seen coming from a committee that is usually held up as the model of bi-partisan seriousness.

But his appearance on CNN yesterday had him dancing like he was challenging Ricky Martin to a samba contest. And, unfortunately, my senator, Dianne Feinstein made little effort to trip him up.

BLITZER: How big of a deal in your assessment is the fact that the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak of that covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame? Is this a big deal in your opinion, releasing the identity of an undercover CIA officer?

ROBERTS: Why yes, it is a big deal. And in the Intelligence Committee, we're going to go into quite a series of hearings in regards to cover. You cannot be in the business of outing somebody, if that's the proper word.

BLITZER: I ask the question because some are suggesting she really wasn't undercover any more. She had been working at the CIA in nonproliferation. She really wasn't a technical...

ROBERTS: There's a five-year period, OK? And whether or not that five-year period had been reached or not is still questionable. And I must say from a common sense standpoint, driving back and forth to work to the CIA headquarters, I don't know if that really qualifies as being, you know, covert.

But generically speaking, it is a very serious matter although it obviously dovetails now into the issue of the day in regards to Karl Rove and the First Amendment, and all of that.

BLITZER: The fact that the CIA asked for this criminal investigation, this probe into who leaked her name to Bob Novak, what does that say to you, Senator Feinstein?

FEINSTEIN: Well, it says to me that the CIA values this as extraordinarily important. If they can't protect their agents, they can't survive as an agency. And I've been distressed to even see in the newspapers, I believe this morning, about what some of the undercover placements were, listing them rather generically.

BLITZER: Have you been briefed, has the committee been briefed by the CIA about the potential damage that has been done, if any lives have been endangered, her contacts, undercover spies, if you will, as a result of her name being made public?

FEINSTEIN: I have not been briefed.

BLITZER: Have you been briefed on that?

ROBERTS: We are going to have those hearings, or those briefings, pardon.

BLITZER: But have you received a preliminary assessment of damage? Because usually when someone has been exposed like this, they do a damage assessment.

ROBERTS: I'll tell you what we have done in the 511 page document that we've released from the WMD report: We went into considerable detail in regards to the veracity of Admiral Wilson's testimony.

BLITZER: Ambassador Wilson.

ROBERTS: Pardon me. Admiral. All of a sudden, I've got him in a different, you know category. But the ambassador. And I'm just going to be very blunt about it. I don't think the White House had any need to discredit him. He discredited himself. He was all over the lot.

Now, I'm not going to say anymore about that because that's one issue.

I want to know basically who assigned him and what role she played. And then obviously we want to find out exactly what happened in regards to her covert status.

Now, we're going to have to wait on that in regards to the special prosecutor. But overall, Dianne is exactly right. If we're in the business now where somehow, through some means, a covert officer working in the CIA, if that becomes public, that just can not happen. And so that is why the committee is going to be so aggressive in really taking a look at it.

BLITZER: Should the president's top political adviser, the deputy White House chief of staff, Karl Rove, who has now apparently, according to sources close to him, acknowledged speaking to reporters about Valerie Plame Wilson, should his security clearances, based on what you know, Senator Feinstein, be revoked?

FEINSTEIN: Well, based on what I know, I think yes for the time being. I think you have to look at this: Who had opportunity, who had means, and who had motive? And if you look at those three things, you see the White House somewhere, some way figures into it.

Now, the details and the precise statements are being analyzed by the prosecutor, very well-regarded Mr. Fitzgerald. It's going to be very interesting to see what he comes up with. But in the meantime, I mean, you have somebody that quite possibly either corroborated or volunteered information that shouldn't be in the public sector.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the new Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts.

ROBERTS: I had another comment by the way, but...

FEINSTEIN: I figured you would.

BLITZER: Well, go ahead. Briefly comment and then we'll move on to John Roberts.

ROBERTS: Well, I think you're presumed innocent until proven guilty. And I think we ought to wait on the special prosecutor. If you go down a laundry list of leaks in this town as to who was involved and who wasn't, you'd probably have 10 or 12 people, and some of them are in the CIA. And there's been leaks from the CIA.

You know, in this town, when there is a leak, nobody gets wet until there is a leak. And right now we're about up to here on this particular issue. So let's wait on the facts.

Roberts refused to say if he'd been given a damage assessment, which is kind of interesting. But, he's just a blunt tool, not a very sharp one, so it could be that he was just rushing to the next talking point. But he was all over the map with that little exchange, ending with the "everybody leaks classified information so what's the big deal" excuse.

Dianne said that Rove should probably have his security clearance revoked for the time being and that the white house had the means and the motive to leak Plame's name. Well, doesn't that just blow the lid off this thing? As if we don't know that the white house was involved ferchirstsake. She wasn't well prepared, as usual.

She and all the Democrats should be trying to tie these guys up in knots with the obvious contradiction that the tough-guy national security Republicans have been caught red-handed being loosy-goosy with classified information for political reasons. They should always bring up the president. This isn't too difficult to do.

Imagine if Feinstein had said in reponse to Wolf's question about revoking Rove's security clearance, "Well, Wolf, it is well established already that Karl Rove was involved in leaking Valerie Plame's identity to the press. His lawyer admitted just this week that he was one of Robert Novak's two sources. I have every faith that the special prosecutor will find out if there is evidence that he or anyone else broke the law by doing this. But I think that even Pat here would have to admit that regardless of whether it was legal or illegal, Karl Rove and others in the White House have shown an appalling lack of judgment. As the man in charge, the president has a responsibility for the actions of his staff. He should have called Karl Rove into his office and demanded an explanation and withdrawn his security clearance the minute it was found that he was involved in this. Breaking the law isn't the issue here, Wolf. This is about national security. We're at war. The president shouldn't be playing politics with this stuff."

It would be helpful to show Bush as being either impotent to deal with Karl Rove, or covering for him, because it is imperative for Democrats over the long haul to begin to show the Republicans as being unable to deal responsibly with national security. If you look at what Roberts was saying it was basically, "Joe Wilson is a liar and his wife worked in Washington and anyway everybody leaks." Hardly the stuff of a macho "never complain, never explain" warrior, is it? This is an opportunity for Democrats to change the long standing narrative that the Republicans have built up about their national security prowess. If the Commander in Chief can't even call his own staff on the carpet when they screw up, then how tough is he?

This is the second time in 25 years that we've had a two term GOP president who has to be portrayed as dumb, distanced and out-of-it in order to cover for his staff running amuck. They're always out of the loop, aren't they? Never quite in charge when the bad shit happens, only the good. It's time for the Democrats to start tying this into a bigger narrative about national security. These tough guys, these people who are going to keep us safe, seem to continually elect presidents who are cluelss about what's going on around them. Or, at least, that's what they are always forced to use as an excuse when they fuck up.

It takes time to build new storylines. Even if this one isn't very good, we really need get started on something. And that means that Democrats have to agree among themselves on a basic framework of criticism for Republican national security policy and practice. They need to internalize it so that when a guy like Roberts starts blathering, they can respond with vigor and authority without having to think too much about it. Vague, off-point pablum like Feinstein's is exacerbating our problem. We look weak because we won't confront a blowhard like Roberts. And we are weak because we refuse to take every opportunity to show the American people that the Republicans are screw-ups on national security. That last should actually be pretty easy, because it patently true.