There’s certainly a lot of “chatter” on the Bush-hater weblogs about what Patrick Fitzgerald might or might not be getting ready to hand down in the way of indictments. Some of that speculation apparently centers on the activities of the “White House Iraq Group,” or WHIG, a team including Karl Rove and Scooter Libby that was set up in August 2002 to run the PR campaign that (as the Downing Street Memos told us, after the fact) was under way at that time as part of fixing the intelligence around the administration’s Iraq-invasion policy.
Joshua Micah Marshall has some interesting commentary about this: There are certainly a lot of hints…
If Karl Rove goes down in this investigation it’ll be a disaster for the president, both in terms of the damage occasioned by such a high-level White House indictment and, frankly, because he needs the guy like most of us need legs.
But this WHIG thing is a whole ‘nother level of hurt.
This group was the organizational team, the core group behind all the shameless crap that went down in the lead up to the Iraq war — the lies about the cooked up Niger story, everything. If Fitzgerald has lassoed this operation into a criminal conspiracy, the veil of protective secrecy in which the whole operation is still shrouded will be pulled back. Depositions and sworn statements in on-going investigations have a way of doing that. Ask Bill Clinton. Every key person in the White House will be touched by it. And all sorts of ugly tales could spill out.
As I said back in July (Corn, Marshall on Rove/Plame. And I see an elephant.), if Fitzgerald goes for it, the truth will be out there. The reality, I am convinced, is that there was a criminal conspiracy to out Plame, followed by a criminal conspiracy to cover up the outing. But in exposing those relatively limited crimes, Fitzgerald would also be highlighting the Bush administration’s much larger crime of fudging the case for war.
And note the results of this poll: Americans favor Bush’s impeachment if he lied about Iraq.
If Fitzgerald brings indictments, Bush’s lies on Iraq are going to be front-page news for months on end. We’re going to get all kinds of detail on just how those lies were sold to the public. It won’t be the president’s hand-picked commission on Iraqi intelligence, or the kid-gloves inquiry by Pat Roberts’ Senate intelligence committee, with the most-embarrassing-to-Bush parts of the investigation deferred to a hypothetical “phase 2.” It will be an aggressive federal prosecutor making the strongest case he can, working in the high-intensity spotlight of a Watergate-level criminal investigation.
What will Congress do in such a situation? Remember, this stuff will be on television. If the public reacts with the same sort of outrage with which they reacted to Bush’s strumming while New Orleans drowned, there is going to be incredible pressure on Congress to do something. Would a Republican Congress actually impeach Cheney? Would it impeach Bush?
I can’t believe it would. But in the aftermath, would there be a backlash from voters? A year ago I would have said yes, of course. But my faith in the American electorate was shaken by the 2004 presidential election.
My sense is that this stuff is already being fought tooth and nail by the Bush people, just out of sight. They are preparing whatever they can for the PR campaign, and I don’t doubt for a second that if cornered, they’re going to go nucular. If this really does go down, it’s going to get really, really ugly. Rove will have no choice but to try to engineer the Swift-boating of Fitzgerald. And I just don’t see how he could pull that off.
But then, he’s surprised me in that area before.