Monday, July 18, 2005


If you read this blog regularly, you'll note that I've said nary a word on the Rove/Blame controversy currently all the rage on the blogosphere (I particularly like John Cole's quest for a "consensus." Good luck, John!). There are several reasons for this. The most important is that I detest Karl Rove. He is one of the most repulsive men alive in American politics today. I reject everything he stands for. I'd like nothing more than to see him marched off into prison (or ignoble exile, or whatever). Ergo, I can't give him a fair hearing. Normally, I wouldn't care so much--blogging, like all opinion writing is, after all, merely the process of putting ones biases down into print. But the standard is higher when we're talking about criminal activity. So I'm not commentating. I'm breaking that today, of course, but I don't think I'm really making a legal judgment, as you'll see.

The second reason is that I don't really like the positions taken by either side here. On the one hand, the legal case against Rove seems a bit weak. As far as I understand it, under the statute everyone is talking about, for Rove to have broken the law he'd have had to knowingly blow an agent's cover with the purpose of causing harm to America. The odds of being able to nail him on that are slim to none.

Andrew Sullivan points to an alternative statute which might be used on Rove. The relevant passage, to me at least, is the following:
(d) Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it...
(e) [same, but for those having unauthorized access to the material]
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

"[H]as reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States" is a far easier standard to meet, but even there I think it's only 50-50. So I'm not going to jump on the blood bandwagon when I'm not positive Rove has committed a crime.

However, "committed a crime" is not the same as "did something wrong," and that's why I'm not going to swing the other way and defend Rove. There a disturbing Borg-like mentality amongst those defending Rove--all parroting the same excuses and justifications as if they are part of a giant GOP hivemind, not independent, rational thinkers. After Bush appeared to shift the standard on accountability (I'm with Amy Sullivan: Flippity-flop), we see the partisans falling over themselves to explain why really, nothing changed. As Andrew Sullivan argues, the point isn't whether or not they can make the argument. The point is they are parsing on a level that would make Billy Clinton proud.

The point is, whether a "crime" was committed or not, Rove still was wrong. Ethics transcend law. I come down with Matthew of the Centrist Coalition:
Maybe what Rove did technically wasn't illegal, maybe the accusations that he is a threat to national security are overblown, and certainly the call for criminal proceedings are premature at best; however, that doesn't change the fact that his discussion with Cooper was inappropriate, irresponsible, unethical, and wrong. Furthermore, what he did certainly goes against the spirit of what the President and his Press Secretary previously claimed was the standard for the administration. To me, the words "Valerie Plame" have little meaning.... For a senior adviser of the most powerful office in the world to have a discussion with a news reporter about the work of a CIA agent, regardless of the seriousness or importance of that work, is the action of a man who clearly sees politics at any cost as a means to an end.

Ultimately, this issue does not lie at the extremes. Whether Rove committed a crime is obviously important, but at the same time it is entirely unimportant. When Bush (by way of Scott McClellan) said that:
If anyone in this administration was involved in it [the improper disclosure of an undercover CIA operative's identity], they would no longer be in this administration

he demonstrated that right and wrong was the operating point, not lawful and unlawful. In the two years that have passed, that standard appears to have been lost.


Anonymous said...

I think you were hurting the community by not giving your opinion just because of assumed personal bias, and I support the GoP position. Everyone has some personal bias - it's through the culmination of so many biased viewpoints that the truth, if it exists anywhere in small pieces, can be made obvious.

You should, however, note that Sullivan's proposed attack plan does have a few flaws. For example, previous uses of the law's fifth section (the second one in the quote you provide) have had a lot of difficulty being used. And that is the section that would need to be applied - Rove was only a paid political operative as of 2003, which doesn't give him any significant security clearance.

The nature of intentional unauthorized access obviously gives better laws to be thrown around, and unintentional access often makes it nearly impossible to prove that clause about "information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation." Unless Rove did an illegal access version of Sandy Berger, which would give the Grand Jury much better ammo than it seems (to me) to have.

David Schraub said...

I'm unaware of any precedents related to 18 USC 793(f) (the section you cite). I do enjoy becoming better informed on these sorts of things, so if you'd provide the links I'd be delighted.

Anonymous said...

The problem I have with this whole scandal is that it depends on Plame having been a covert agent - yet several members of the press have indicated that they already knew Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

Now, if the prosecutor ends up saying "Rove gets off because we can't prove he broke the law" then that's one thing - but if the prosecutor ends up saying "Plame was not covered by the relevant laws" then I see no reason Rove should be fired (ethically, that is - politically he's such a lightening rod that Bush should have moved him out of the limelight a long time ago).

N Forseti said...

I commend you on seeing the forest as well as the trees on this issue. It seems that others have forgotten to do the same.

Anonymous said...


Your issue comes down to whether or not Rove acted improperly. This is a controversial point, upon which it seems that rational people can disagree.

You dismiss without analysis the conservative arguments, which form the foundation for what they believe is a rational conclusion that Rove has not acted improperly.

You present your own preferred conclusion with a woefully incomplete supporting rationale; indeed, you simply quote other blogger's conclusions, again without analysis.

Your admirable admission of extreme bias against Rove, plus your total unwillingness to attempt a rational analysis of the facts and their interpretations, makes your posted opinion meaningless.

If you're not even going to try to present an argument that stands on its own merits, apart from your own bias, then you'd be much better served by adhering to your former policy of keeping silent.

Opinion blogging is great. "I hate Karl Rove, and I agree with those who think he's wrong--they said it, I believe it, that settles it"? Not so much.

Anonymous said...

One leaker seems to have been Plame herself, certainly to her husband with the "incorrect numbers" matter, later misremembered, but also perhaps to the NY Times or others... One has to consider the entire context, including the hot presidential election compaign. It's possible the NY Times has a Dan Rather problem here it cannot admit. And the Wilsons were much more interested in defeating George Bush than in learning the truth about African yellowcake. They do not seem above telling a few lies to abet that effort, either.