Senior White House officials over the weekend warned President George W. Bush to “prepare for the worst” in the ever-deepening Valerie Plame scandal, laying out a scenario that includes indictments of top officials and detailing a direct involvement by the Administration in a concentrated effort to destroy the credibility of Ambassador Joseph Wilson and then conceal the actions from investigators.
Chief of Staff Andrew Card cancelled a weekend schedule of appearances and events to spend the weekend with Bush at Camp David and deliver the bad news personally, White House insiders tell Capitol Hill Blue.
With indictments expected against Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Richard Cheney’s chief of staff, and possibly White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Card told Bush that both will have to resign if the administration is to salvage any chance of recovering from the scandal.
“We’re hip deep in this and the sharks are circling,” Card told the President.
According to multiple White House sources, Card laid out a detailed scenario of White House involvement in a staff-directed campaign to destroy administration critic Wilson. That scenario includes:
- A concentrated effort directed by Libby to monitor Wilson’s travel, speeches and activities and develop talking points to attack his credibility and plant false stories about the Ambassador’s activities, statements and motives. Libby’s plan included “outing” Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative. Card told Bush he believes Vice President Cheney was aware of Libby’s activities.
- Approval of the program by Rove who helped spread the information to “administration-friendly” reporters, including conservative columnist Robert Novak and New York Times reporter Judith Miller who has since publicly admitted helping spread false administration-based information claiming the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a claim now discredited.
- Attempts by White House personnel to cover up administration involvement in the Plame affair, including Rove-directed public statements by press spokesman Scott McClellan claiming “no White House official is involved” in the leaking of Plame’s name.
Indeed, indictments the grand jury convened by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald are expected to hand down focus more on the cover-up than the actual leaking of Plame’s name to the press, sources close to the investigation say.
With pressure mounting against the White House, even Republicans are looking for ways to distance themselves from the growing scandals surrounding the Bush administration. GOP campaign consultants are advising elected officials and candidates for public office to call for resignation of anyone indicted in the scandal.
Virginia GOP Sen. George Allen, a Bush loyalist, told NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that any administration official indicted in the scandal should resign.
“I think they will step down if they’re indicted,” Allen said.
In another development, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller admits his newspaper aided and abetted the Bush administration’s false claims of existence of weapons of mass destructions in Iraq.
“I wish we had dealt with the controversy over our coverage of WMD as soon as I became executive editor,” Keller said in a memo to Times reporters and editors. “By waiting a year to own up to our mistakes, we allowed the anger inside and outside the paper to fester… If we had lanced the WMD boil earlier, we might have damped any suspicion that THIS time, the paper was putting the defense of a reporter above the duty to its readers.”
Keller admitted reporter Judith Miller has been an administration pawn in the Plame affair.
“Until Fitzgerald came after her, I didn’t know that Judy had been one of the reporters on the receiving end of the anti-Wilson whisper campaign,” he said. “But in this case I missed what should have been significant alarm bells.”
Criag Pyes, a reporter who worked with Miller on other stories, told Times editors in an internal memo that she should not be trusted.
“I do not trust her work, her judgment, or her conduct,” Pyes wrote. “She is an advocate, and her actions threaten the integrity of the enterprise, and of everyone who works with her.” In the memo, Pyes said Miller took “dictation from government sources” and tried to “stampede it into the paper.”
“That charge resonates today, of course, because that’s exactly what people suspect Miller did with her inaccurate WMD reporting in the run up to the Iraq war,” says Douglas McCollam, a lawyer, former Washington correspondent for American Lawyer, and contributing editor to Columbia Journalism Review. “Miller’s sources weren’t just wrong, they spun her dizzy and in the process badly damaged the credibility of America’s best and most important newspaper.”
Times columnist Maureen Dowd says Miller was a stooge for those who wanted to sell the Iraq war to a gullible public.
“Judy’s stories about WMD fit too perfectly with the White House’s case for war,” Dowd wrote in her Times column Saturday. “She was close to Ahmad Chalabi, the con man who was conning the neocons to knock out Saddam so he could get his hands on Iraq, and I worried that she was playing a leading role in the dangerous echo chamber that former Senator Bob Graham dubbed ‘incestuous amplification.’ Using Iraqi defectors and exiles, Mr. Chalabi planted bogus stories with Judy and other credulous journalists.”
Concludes Dowd on Miller: “She never knew when to quit. That was her talent and her flaw. Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, she was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers. She more than earned her sobriquet ‘Miss Run Amok.’”
In another ominous sign, special prosecutor Fitzgerald set up a web site for the investigation just a week before his investigation is slated to end.
“You don’t open up a Web site if you’re ready to shut down an investigation,” former attorney general Richard Thornburgh said on CNN’s Late Edition.
Thornburgh also said indictments that deal with a cover up are “serious business.”
“If there is false testimony given or there’s an attempt to corrupt any of the witnesses or evidence that is presented to the grand jury, that’s a very serious offense because it undermines the integrity of the whole rule of law and investigatory process,” he said.