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                                       politics + culture

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

notes from outside the beltway

Random thoughts having read today's and tonight's news:

The only people who really know what Fitzgerald is up to...outside of his office...would be those who have testified, received a target letter or made a plea bargain...and their lawyers...so, although there's a sense of anticipation when we see talking points and speculative headlines that say..."indictments expected" or..."plans for a post-Rove White House made"...in my view, it should also all be taken with a grain of salt.

When I see Bill Kristol working "grim expectations" talking points. I think for a second. When I read that there are "rumors" swirling that anyone will resign. I step back.

They are fighting this, they have been fighting this, and they will fight this. You don't get the President to publicly change his employment criteria if you've been hung out to dry, or cut out of the loop. If Fitzgerald comes out with "narrow charges" and the White House has played it up to be bigger than that...maybe those charges won't look so bad. We can be sure that anything negative coming down the pike will be fought intently by this White House. (Bush's GOP approval is still strong.)

I have no idea what Fitzgerald has, or doesn't have, and I don't know of any source that reports facts on this in a concrete way, even though there is very interesting, valid and plausible speculation being done. Of course, Fitzgerald's targets do have some clue. And that's something I try to keep in mind in these hours of waiting.

If I had to guess at this point (and, yes, this is a blog...lol):

-I would say that there are serious and comprehensive charges being considered.
-I would say that the political effects of any indictment touching the White House are a huge unknown. But it's a safe bet that any indictment would create extensive cascading after-effects. Especially given Bush's early promises of forthrightness and action, and the fact that we have had, in the interim, a Presidential election.
-I find it hard to think Fitzgerald's probe will encompass the lead-up to the war and WMD given reports we've read so far
-It does seem likely that a "CIA / White House" battle is being investigated seriously, but it also seems Fitzgerald could decide that the evidence is inconclusive and only be prosecuting the "cover up"...in fact, there are some signs of this. (Miller's limited testimony and the emphasis on Libby's letter to Miller in her GJ testimony.)
-It's possible Fitzgerald could ask for an extension, which would torture us all, but would be a sign of truly serious trouble for the White House.
-At some point, in addition to this being a legal story, this will become as much an investigative story as well...characterized by extensive leaking from high level sources and interviews. (Powell on 60 minutes again?)
-Whatever Fitzgerald does, including asking for an extension, will mark the beginning of that journalistic explosion.
-Unless this becomes a major journalistic story that looks at the roots of the war in Iraq, this process is only half complete.
-There needs to be a Congressional investigation.
-The lead up to the war and the White House Iraq Group...is this story. And the White House knows that. They can take a political hit to senior staffers. The can't take a hit to WHIG and the case for the war.

Doubts and concerns: Novak's easy sailing and boasting. Miller's engaging in eccentric and rogue behaviour. (Her oddness would seem to discredit her potential for being a good witness in a criminal trial...that Libby rodeo line is a bad omen if you ask me. I wouldn't want a witness talking in code before an indictment.) The possibility that Libby's water-muddying, and its leaking, might have been a distraction to create just such a situation. Joseph Wilson's freely given interviews. The fact that Wilson communicated with the NYT and wrote a piece after giving an ultimatum to the White House about writing such a piece. (ie. it seems to me that there is some weight to saying that, once receiving an ultimatum from a former official, that that official could have expected a public battle and a loss of privacy and some kind of "looking into". ie. the State Department briefing.)

Strong indications of seriousness: Miller's second testimony. The hidden evidence that led to Miller's contempt citation and reviewed by the judges. The fact that the White House is preparing at all for indictments. Fitzgerald's seriousness and lack of grandstanding...and his forthright questioning about Cheney. The quiet testimony of so many figures large and small. The fact that the WSJ and WaPo have both been reporting on this story using "serious language" that encompasses the Vice President.

Bottom line: I think Fitzgerald has brought a high seriousness to this process that will command respect for whatever outcome it generates. That being said, a great deal depends on the one group of people who also know the most about this story, Fitzgerald's grand jury. What they decide was important and indictment-worthy in what Fitzgerald has presented to them is, at the end of the day, what we are all really waiting for...and my bet is that the Vice President's (and Rove's) political future depends on what that grand jury is thinking.

Like most of you, it seems to me, based on Miller's article, that Libby is toast. I can't speak to any of the other figures: Bolton, Hadley, Fleischer et al. I just haven't read anything beyond suggestive (hence interesting but untrustworthy) nuggets. Of course, if firm news arises that any one at all has made a plea agreement then that is very bad news for the Bush White House team as a whole.

One final thought: George W. Bush has a get out of jail free card that no one else has. His father is an ex-President with many powerful friends...and an eyewitness knowledge of all the ins-and-outs of...um..."legal difficulties" in one's second term. If this really goes poorly for BushCo....'team Bush' could launch a preemptive rehabilitation a la Reagan...and bring in a rescue team from outside the White House...in an attempt to steer this away from bringing down the President.

Expect that type of thing if Cheney hits trouble.

Of course...if Cheney hits serious trouble...all bets are off for BushCo.

{Finally, I'd like to thank Wendell Gee for ably doing "breaking info alert" duty here; sometimes my job takes me away from the internet entirely...(thank god)...so it's nice to have someone get my back, and keep you all up to date. Thanks, wg!}

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