Karl Rove’s saving grace: Joe Wilson

Posted: Jul 18, 2005 12:00 AM

The virtual vigilantes circling Karl Rove have everything lined up for the brand of justice they see fit for “the Architect”: public humiliation, all-out character assassination, firing, near-fatal damage to the White House, and if they get the cherry on top, “frog-marching” the President’s closest advisor from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to a federal prison.

There’s just one hitch: their entire political case rests on the quicksand known as Joe Wilson.

As part of the cynical campaign to destroy the man who guided Bush to four straight electoral victories, the Left has hailed Wilson as a hero.  At first blush, the idiocy of exalting the man with a well-documented credibility problem would seem to rival the decision to roll the cameras as Dukakis gave the thumbs-up while riding in a tank.

But the Left’s entire rationale for the “Fire Rove” tidal wave is that revealing Valerie Plame’s status as a CIA employee was nothing more than a “shameful,” “despicable,” and “disturbing” act of “retaliation,” “retribution,” or “revenge.”  If they admitted that Wilson layered lies upon lies, then logic dictates that Rove did no more than encourage a reporter not to be hoodwinked.

Which helps explain why New Republic editor Peter Beinart, who is neither a peacenik nor blinded by Bush hatred, appeared incredulous when I pointed out in our CNN debate last Wednesday that Joe Wilson was not exactly credible.  “Joe Wilson is not the one with a credibility problem here,” he snapped.

Though—as left-wing blogger Josh Marshall has noted ad nauseum—Wilson didn’t directly say that he was sent by the Vice-President’s office, the implication couldn’t have been clearer.  “The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer,” Wilson wrote in his now-infamous New York Times op-ed.

Thus, the defense of Wilson’s credibility boils down to skilled parsing: he didn’t say that Cheney’s office sent him, he only implied it.  Sounds an awful lot like the semantic acrobatics of which Wilson’s defenders accuse Rove’s supporters being guilty.

Even if you give Wilson the benefit of the doubt on that count, though, the career diplomat still has not been on speaking terms with the truth.

Just over one year ago, the man married to the retired CIA operative formerly known as Valerie Plame was exposed as an opportunist who lied at almost every turn in an audacious bid to grab his 15 minutes—and a seven-figure book deal. 

He was outed not by Rove, the White House, or some right-wing outfit, but by the bipartisan Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

According to the report, Plame “offered up” the services of her husband.  She believed that intelligence surrounding Niger and yellowcake was bogus—she called it a “crazy report”—making it highly likely that her husband went there looking to confirm that conclusion.  He did.

Or did he?  The bipartisan conclusion of the committee was that Wilson's findings, if anything, served to support the belief that Saddam was actively seeking uranium for a nuclear program.

But Wilson revealed himself as the headline whore he is by grabbing the spotlight when the story first emerged about Niger and forged documents purporting to show illicit sales to Saddam.  From the July 10, 2004 Washington Post:

He said then that he concluded the Niger intelligence was based on documents that had clearly been forged because “the dates were wrong and the names were wrong.”

“Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports,” the Senate panel said. Wilson told the panel he may have been confused and may have “misspoken” to reporters. The documents—purported sales agreements between Niger and Iraq—were not in U.S. hands until eight months after Wilson made his trip to Niger.

Obviously, Wilson’s apologists don’t much like the bipartisan report.

Retired CIA officer Larry Johnson, who entered the agency in the same class as Plame, attacked the bipartisan report as “biased.”  Marshall, despite being one the Left’s best bloggers, went one step further in writing that it was filled with “disinformtation.”

Wilson, for his part, pandered to the stupid and/or willingly blind—his base—by denying that his wife’s letter had anything to do with his trip to Niger.  “I don’t see it as a recommendation to send me,” he said about his wife’s memo.  Never mind that the day after she sent it came the cable to an officer overseas that set the whole thing in motion.

While Wilson’s penchant for prevarication does not put Rove in the clear legally if, as it does not yet appear, he actually knew that Plame was undercover before he talked to Bob Novak and Time’s Matt Cooper. 

Each piece of evidence that trickles out, however, suggests just the opposite.  Today’s New York Times reports that Novak testified that he called Rove—just as Cooper had—and that Rove did not give any indication that Plame was undercover.  The Times further reports that Novak testified Bush’s right-hand man was merely his second source.  If true, this explodes the Left’s theory that Rove was shopping the story for any willing taker.  It also adds credence to the likelihood that he had no clue Plame’s status at the CIA.

Rove’s warning to Cooper, as Newsweek reported, not to “get too far out” on Wilson’s Niger claims was, with hindsight, absolutely correct.  And it helped expose the shaky credibility of the man who was attempting to snooker the American public.

Which brings us back to the fundamental problem faced by the “get Rove” crowd: they need Wilson to be credible.  He’s not.  That’s all Rove was pointing out to Cooper—and only after the Time reporter asked him about it.

Who again is the one with the credibility problem?