Debra J. Saunders

Just as the New York Times reported that Bush guru Karl Rove disclosed to a Time magazine reporter that Bush-hater Joseph C. Wilson was married to a CIA operative -- without naming her -- the Times had a real scoop: Valerie Plame "prefers" to be known as Valerie Wilson. Funny, for years, the Times and her husband referred to Mrs. Wilson as Valerie Plame. Now that reports say Rove mentioned that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, Plame is Valerie Wilson -- a fact that conveniently further damns Rove.

 America now knows that Rove told a reporter that former ambassador Wilson, an official in the Clinton administration, was sent to Niger to investigate reports that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium for nuclear weapons -- and on the recommendation of his wife, who worked for the CIA. After Wilson wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about his mission, Rove questioned his credibility.

 I understand the front-page treatment in the Times and The San Francisco Chronicle when it came out that Rove spoke about Plame with Time’s Matthew Cooper. President Bush made the mistake of saying he would fire any staffer who leaked “classified” information -- a Clintonesque pledge and hedge. Bush owes the public an explanation. If he doesn’t fire Rove, he should explain why.

 There is no evidence, however, that Rove broke the law, as he seemed completely unaware that Plame was a covert operative. He wasn’t out to punish Plame, but rather to discredit her husband, who discredited the Bushies.

 Now, Rove critics argue that Rove was wrong to leak anything to the press, not because he might have broken the law, but because those White House denials undermine the Bushies’ credibility.

 This is funny, because Wilson has been caught in some truth-twisting himself. While the media focus on White House discrepancies, discrepancies in Wilson’s story go underreported. While Wilson denied that his wife recommended him for the Niger trip, a Senate bipartisan Select Committee on Intelligence found a memo in which Plame recommended sending her husband to Africa.

 More important, Wilson’s report did not debunk the Niger story, as he asserted, but instead bolstered the story’s credibility to the CIA, although State Department officials were skeptical.

Debra J. Saunders

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