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Under Pressure

July 13, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: When George W. Bush ran successfully for governor of Texas in 1994, it was Karl Rove who made it happen. Two successful presidential campaigns later, Rove remains a close personal and professional confidante of this White House.

He now appears to be at the center of a leak investigation that has landed one reporter in jail and another before a federal grand jury. Time magazine’s Matt Cooper testified today. Newsweek reported and Rove’s lawyer confirmed over the weekend that Rove mentioned Wilson’s wife, but not by name, in conversations with Cooper.

Valerie Plame was then an undercover agent for the CIA. Identifying here would be a federal crime. Rove’s role has cast an unwelcome spotlight on the president’s political architect.

Here to talk about that are Ed Rogers, a former White House official under the first President Bush and President Reagan, he’s now a lobbyist here in Washington; and John Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Clinton, he is now president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

GWEN IFILL: Ed Rogers, based on what we know, what does this communication that has been confirmed between Karl Rove and this reporter tell you about Karl Rove and about this White House?

ED ROGERS: Well, there is much about that question, much about the introduction of the story that I would take issue with. I don’t think this is a gathering storm. I think this is a dissipating storm.

I don’t think Karl Rove is at the center of this investigation so much as he is at the center of a Washington political frenzy that tends to happen in the summer. This is a summer storm that I think will dissipate over a number of days, not weeks.

And also what we know is that Karl Rove took a call from a reporter about welfare reform. In an oh, by the way, moment at the end of that conversation, Karl gave guidance, appropriate and accurate guidance to that reporter from Time Magazine, Mr. Cooper, that said stay away about the disinformation you are being fed about the vice president or the director of Central Intelligence Agency having some role in this. Mr. Wilson, Ambassador Wilson, was sent there by his wife who works over at the agency.

And also I think it is now a matter of established fact that Mrs. Plame was not a protected covert agent, and I don’t think there’s any meaningful investigation about that. I think it’s taken another turn. And we also know that Karl is not a target of that investigation.

This is a summer storm. This will dissipate. If you are detached, if you look at the facts, I think you’ll feel that way.

GWEN IFILL: John Podesta, is it a summer storm or a dissipating storm, or whatever –

JOHN PODESTA: I think Ed’s both — has some wishful thinking there and I think that he definitely on the talking points from what’s coming out from the RNC, from Ken Melman and the White House –

ED ROGERS: The truth, the truth.

JOHN PODESTA: And when Ed talks about a call on welfare reform, there was only one person who knew that, and that’s Karl Rove. So he’s still directing this — what really is still an attack on Joe Wilson and I think after two years they would have learned their lesson that’s a bad strategy.

You know, I think the reason that there is so much heat around this is that in 1993 — I’m sorry, in 2003, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, went out and said, I talked to Karl Rove, he had nothing to do with this matter.

Well, at least we know that was a lie; that Karl Rove did have something do with the story that — about Mrs. Plame and the Joe Wilson story. And, you know, the underlying question here still remains that a CIA agent — and I dispute Ed’s point — I think the CIA referred this to the Justice Department as a criminal referral because she was a protected agent.

ED ROGERS: I don’t think that’s the case.

JOHN PODESTA: That’s what CIA said in 1993. Now maybe they, you know, maybe the administration has gotten them to change their story now, but that’s what they did say in 1993, so I think that it’s a very serious matter.

And the underlying facts, could you talk a lot about Mr. Wilson, but Mr. Wilson was right. When he went to Niger, he found there was no yellow cake uranium going to Iraq as the president said in the State of the Union. CIA directors admitted that was wrong; Condi Rice admitted that was wrong and it turns out Joe Wilson was right.

GWEN IFILL: You said 1993. You meant to say 2003.

JOHN PODESTA: I’m sorry, 2003, give or take.

GWEN IFILL: The president today said, when asked this at the White House by reporters, said I don’t want to talk about this while this investigation is ongoing. Was that a sufficiently, full-throated defense of his old friend Karl Rove?

ED ROGERS: I think it was absolutely what he needed to say and what was appropriate to say. This is an ongoing criminal investigation. He has spoken to the special counsel; Karl Rove has spoken to the grand jury three times.

Neither their lawyers nor the special counsel want any more public speculation about this matter to be thrown into the mix. Nobody wants this to be over quicker than Karl Rove. If this could be answered quickly by him going out and giving a press conference or whatever else, I’m sure he would do it.

Nobody wants this to be over quicker than him, but at the end of the day, there is going to be a special counsel — a very credible special counsel is going to answer these questions of fact and this matter will be put to rest.

GWEN IFILL: Did this sort of thing happen in the Clinton White House too, where high government officials, say yourself, might call a reporter, and say, by the way, I’m going to wave you off the story?

JOHN PODESTA: Well, I think people were waved off of stories but I think this is a very different circumstance. This is clearly dealing with classified information, it’s dealing with the — you know, the defense now is well, he didn’t name her name. He identified her and he identified her as Joe Wilson’s wife.

So I think that, in fact, you if you go back and look at the statute, the statute talks about the identification of the person not naming the name. And, you know, that’s a pretty narrow and legalistic defense.

But, sure, I think the White House has every reason to say look, you got — you may have your facts wrong on a particular story. That’s different, I think, than outing a covered agent at the CIA.

GWEN IFILL: You have known and worked with Karl Rove over the years. How central a cog is here in the White House political and policy machine?

ED ROGERS: According to the president, he is the architect of his election victories. And so, yes, that’s an important post.

And I think the fact that he is that important to this president’s political machinery, who has been victorious over the Democrats both in the last two presidential elections as well as the midterm elections, has made him a target. And I witnessed firsthand when the Democrats, for the same reason, went after Lee Atwater, went after Haley Barbour.

When you’re too successful, the Democrats go after you as a political optic. They’re so arrogant they never accept the legitimacy of their defeat. They never think it was a flawed message or a flawed candidate.

GWEN IFILL: Republicans do not go after Democrats?

ED ROGERS: People were too — name one –

GWEN IFILL: I’m going to ask –

ED ROGERS: They never acknowledge that their candidate or their message was flawed. It’s always that somebody was too mean, too tough –

JOHN PODESTA: Gwen –

ED ROGERS: Played against the rules –

JOHN PODESTA: I misspoke and mentioned and used the word the ’90s. I think Ed slept through the 1990s if he thinks that Republicans never attacked Democrats. You know, but the bottom line here is, again, that this is a very serious breach of national security. That’s why Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed. That’s why –

ED ROGERS: John –

JOHN PODESTA: Ed, it was. And the CIA referred this to the Justice Department. The Justice Department thought it was serious enough that they appointed Mr. Fitzgerald as a special counsel.

JOHN PODESTA: We don’t know what the facts are. We know about one conversation that Mr. Rove had with Matt Cooper. But, again, if you go back to the original story, it was Bob Novak who said I was fed this story, I was given her name, two administration sources gave that to me, so there was clearly an organized effort to put Ms. Plame’s name out there.

GWEN IFILL: So what should happen, based on what you know about Mr. Rove and his relationship with the president, do you think it is likely that he will go, or should he stay?

ED ROGERS: Oh, he’s going to stay because ultimately a special counsel is going to establish that there was no crime here that Karl Rove was associated with, and I think that’s going to be good enough for the president and ought to be good enough for everybody else. And like I said, this will dissipate the in days, not weeks.

GWEN IFILL: What do you think, John?

JOHN PODESTA: Well, I think in February Mr. Rove got out of the political world that Mr. Rogers has put him in and he accepted a job coordinating the Homeland Security Council and the National Security Council as deputy chief of staff.

And I actually think he would do a service to the president right now to step back and resign from the White House.

GWEN IFILL: John Podesta, Ed Rogers, thank you both very much.

ED ROGERS: Thanks for having us.

JOHN PODESTA: Thank you.