Leader Blues

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

WEDNESDAY EDITORIAL >> Rove is off the hook

A single terrorist who has murdered and maimed at will for three years around Baghdad while mocking the U.S. military and thousands of intelligence agents is finally crushed by bombs, and then the president’s top aide learns that he will not go to prison. No one ever needed a good week more, and for President Bush those two events pass for a stellar week.

Bush could hardly have enjoyed better news than the special prosecutor’s announcement that he will not seek indictments of Karl Rove, unless it were the mass conversion of Iraqi insurgents to a peaceful Shiite faith. Keeping your brain trust out of jail is not a lot to brag about unless absolutely nothing has gone your way for 18 months. Bush must feel that he has a new lease on his political life.

That should be a healthy thing for the country, which does not need a completely neutered president for two and a half perilous years. For our sake, may he make the best of it.

But he and the country should keep Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald’s notice in perspective. Rove is not exonerated and the damage that he and whoever guided him did to the country and the presidency cannot be recompensed by a no-indictment letter. President Bush said he would fire anyone involved in leaking the identity of a secret agent, and Rove publicly and solemnly declared that he had absolutely nothing to do with it and had no knowledge of it. But it turned out that it was he who directed the operation from the White House. Still, the president did not fire him or anyone else in the gaggle of insiders who participated.

Fitzgerald would have had a hard time making the case that Rove violated the spirit of national security law if he was following even the unstated wishes of the single person who had the power to declassify national secrets, the president. It was all a nasty, devious and corrupt affair, and Bush had run in 2000 on the promise of hounds tooth honesty and integrity.

Rove, Vice President Cheney and others in the old White House and the national security apparatus will still have to testify about exactly what they did and why they did it when Scooter Libby goes on trial for lying to agents and the grand jury about the Valerie Plame affair. But that, conveniently, will not be until January 2007 or even later, after the midterm elections will have determined just how long Bush’s new lease on life will be. The no-indictment letter means that Rove will be free now to use his considerable talent to see that those elections turn the Republicans’ way.

We would feel better about this reinvigorated White House if it gave signs its public discourse would be different. But in the evening after learning of his reprieve, Rove was in New Hampshire blasting patriots like Rep. John Murtha, the Korean War hero, as cowards because they called for a calibrated withdrawal of forces to the perimeters.