Wednesday, 13 July 2005

Bush Passes on Public Endorsement of Rove

By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 15 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - President Bush passed up a chance Wednesday to express confidence in senior aide Karl Rove in a political fight over a news leak that exposed a endorsement surprised some White House officials who had been told Bush would back his embattled friend.

Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, later asserted that Rove had "cooperated fully" in the federal investigation, had done nothing wrong and was prepared to provide additional information to a special prosecutor if needed.

"This is a serious investigation," Bush told reporters after a Cabinet meeting, with Rove sitting just behind him. "And it is very important for people not to prejudge the investigation based on media reports."

Later in the day, White House spokesman Scott McClellan insisted that Rove did have Bush's support. "As I indicated yesterday, every person who works here at the White House, including Karl Rove, has the confidence of the president," McClellan said.

Bush said he would not discuss the matter further until a criminal investigation is finished.

Across town, a federal grand jury heard more testimony in its probe into whether anyone in the administration illegally leaked the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame in July 2003. Her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the administration's rationale for invading Iraq, has said the leak was an attempt to discredit him.

Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who wrote an article that identified Plame, appeared before the grand jury for 2 1/2 hours.

"I testified openly and honestly," Cooper said outside the courthouse, without divulging details. "I have no idea whether a crime was committed or not. That's something the special counsel's going to have to determine."

Wednesday evening, Luskin, Rove's attorney, issued a statement saying that Cooper's testimony would "not call into question the accuracy or completeness of anything Rove has previously said to the prosecutor or the grand jury."

"Rove has cooperated completely with the special prosecutor, and he has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of the investigation," said Luskin. "Rove has done nothing wrong. We're confident he will not become a target after the special prosecutor has reviewed all evidence."

If special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald "seeks additional information from Rove in light of Cooper's testimony, Rove will promptly provide it," the lawyer's statement said.

The dispute has taken a toll on the White House and its allies, threatening to jeopardize the president's domestic agenda and leading to an aggressive GOP campaign to blunt Democratic calls for Rove's firing or resignation. With urging from the White House, Republican congressmen lined up in support of Rove and most GOP politicians outside Washington followed suit.

"It's a tempest in a teapot," said Denzil Garrison, former state GOP leader in Oklahoma. But some Republicans said Rove may need to go. "I think he should resign," said Jim Holt, a Republican state senator in Arkansas who is running for lieutenant governor. "I hope Karl Rove doesn't come gunning for me."

Bush previously had suggested he'd fire anyone found to have been a leaker in the case.

Bombarded with Rove questions for a third straight day, McClellan said, "I think we've exhausted the discussion on this the last couple of days." Joking about the toll of the controversy, he said, "It may not look like it, but there's a little flesh that's been taken out of me the past few days."

McClellan said Bush had not expressed confidence in Rove in the Cabinet session because no one had asked him that directly. The question put to Bush was whether he had spoken with Rove about the Plame matter, whether he believed Rove had acted improperly, and whether it was appropriate for the White House to say in 2003 that Rove was not involved in the leak.

McClellan said Bush agreed with Laura Bush, who earlier Wednesday told reporters traveling with her in Africa that Rove was a good family friend.

"I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation," Bush said. "We're in the midst of an ongoing investigation and I will be more than happy to comment further once the investigation is completed."

The failure by Bush to publicly back Rove left some White House advisers privately wondering whether the president was distancing himself from his longtime adviser.

The White House has previously said Rove was not involved in the leak. But an internal Time magazine e-mail disclosed over the weekend suggested Rove mentioned to Time reporter Cooper that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent.

She was first publicly identified by name as an operative in a July 2003 opinion piece by syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak. Rove, through his lawyer, has confirmed that he talked to Cooper but has denied providing Plame's name or leaking classified information.

Each political side intensified its attempts to discredit the other on Wednesday, producing a flurry of press releases and news conferences.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and three other Senate Democratic leaders — Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan — sent a letter to Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, asking him to release results of an initial internal investigation into the leak and to begin a new probe "to explain public inconsistencies."

MoveOn, a liberal advocacy group, announced its members would stage a protest in front of the White House on Thursday to demand Rove's firing. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Democratic attacks on Rove "out of control and entirely inappropriate ... accusations based on rumor and innuendo."

Monday, 6 June 2005

The secret Downing Street memo


From: Matthew Rycroft
Date: 23 July 2002
S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell


Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August.

The two broad US options were:

(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were:

(i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.

(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.

(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.

The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN.

John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.


(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.

(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.

(c) CDS would send the Prime Minister full details of the proposed military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week.

(d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam.

He would also send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.

(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.

(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers.

(I have written separately to commission this follow-up work.)


(Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy aide)