Come clean

July 13, 2005

SO, WHAT Washington suspected all along turns out to be true. Karl Rove, political mastermind of the Bush administration, tried to squelch a report that undermined President Bush's rationale for going to war in Iraq by secretly discrediting the critic who wrote it.

A nasty tactic in any circumstances. But one that could have been dangerous, even deadly, in this case because it resulted in the outing of a CIA undercover agent.

Whether Mr. Rove can be charged with a crime has not yet been determined by the special prosecutor investigating the leak. But it's clear that while Mr. Rove may have stayed within the letter of the law, he certainly violated its spirit, as well as the supposedly high standards of conduct the White House has said the president sets for his staff.

Mr. Rove, now deputy chief of staff, should resign or be fired. Dismissal was the fate Mr. Bush and spokesman Scott McClellan said a year or more ago would await anyone in the administration who unmasked an undercover operative. Mr. McClellan also had dismissed Mr. Rove's involvement as a "ridiculous suggestion." This week, though, the White House is suddenly silent on the subject, with Mr. McClellan sounding, with his stonewalling at press briefings, for all the world like his Nixon-era predecessor, Ron Ziegler.

Two years have passed since the intrigue unfolded following the disclosure by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that he had investigated and found no basis for the claim that Iraq had sought to obtain nuclear materials in Africa - one of the administration's reasons for going to war.

Mr. Rove tried to steer at least one reporter away from the story, according to Newsweek magazine, by disclosing that Mr. Wilson had been sent to Africa at the urging of his wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA operative who dealt with issues relating to weapons of mass destruction.

Ms. Plame was not identified by name; in fact, Mr. Rove has said he never knew her name. But revealing that Mr. Wilson was married to a CIA agent outed her just as effectively, and may well have endangered her. How revolting it is to hear the tortured parsing of words that passes for Mr. Rove's defense in the matter: that he never "named" Ms. Plame.

Mr. Rove never came forward through all the White House denials and protestations of his innocence because he figured he could discredit Mr. Wilson to reporters and get away with it. Instead, the president's credibility suffers each day that Karl Rove remains on the White House staff.

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