Telegraphing Cheney’s Exit?

One of the ways in which the Bush administration is dishonest is the way it complains regularly about how leak-prone Washington is, while using near-constant leaking itself as a tool for gaming the media and manipulating public perception.

The more general form of this dishonesty is the way they will often take two different types of things (chemical and biological weapons, on the one hand, versus nuclear weapons, for example) and lump them together into a big catchall category (WMD) that helps them pull off the logical equivalent of a bait and switch (saying “everyone agreed that Saddam had WMD,” while obscuring the fact that very much not everyone agreed that he had, or had the means to acquire, nukes).

Their alleged hatred of leaking is similar. There really are two sorts of things (at least) that can be described as “leaking”; a whistleblower divulging something that higher ups wouldn’t want divulged, doing it secretly to avoid reprisals; or divulging something with the full knowledge of higher-ups, pushing some piece of information on the sly to give an illusion of verisimilitude, while avoiding the potential for embarrassment if the information plays badly, or turns out to be a lie, or whatever. Plamegate is the canonical example of that, and it may well be the most egregious in terms of the potential legal consequences for the leakers, but my opinion is that the Bush team uses such officially-sanctioned faux leaking pretty much all the time.

Anyway, my suspicious nature leads me to believe that the following represent examples of that sort of “leak.” First, from Steven C. Clemons’ Washington Note: Bush gossip & tonight’s Ten Minutes on Air America’s Majority Report.

Barbara Bush is allegedly TICKED off at Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Andy Card, nearly all of them — except Karen Hughes — for how her boy is faring in the hearts and minds of Americans.

The matriarch of the Bush clan is colder than North Pole ice right now to those around her son who she thinks have undermined him. I’ll tell who my sources are if Patrick Fitzgerald gives a call and makes me — but the sources are very close to Poppa Bush (41), who has been traveling a bit with some of his old entourage, including Brent Scowcroft and others of the first Bush regime.

While TWN has been able to confirm that Laura Bush’s mother-in-law wants to do more than put coal in the stockings of the Vice President and the other top handlers of her son’s White House, we have not been able to confirm a slightly stronger bit of the rumor, which is that Barbara — not Laura — was planning to call on Nancy Reagan just to get a refresher lesson on how she took on and kicked out then Chief-of-Staff Donald Regan. (I embellish here; Barbara Bush is not going to take lessons from Nancy, it just sounded good. My source told me that Barbara was about to “pull a Nancy Reagan” on these attendants.)

Cheney may be tougher to dump than Don Regan, but then again, Barbara Bush is one of those wonders of nature (we hear) who knows no limits and can easily surge beyond category 5 hurricane winds.

Should be interesting to watch the role of the First Mother in the coming couple of months. Watch for a lot to change right after the State of the Union address, I’ve been told.

So, at the same time this rumor is circulating, the Administration-friendly folks at Insight on the News offer this: Bush takes Cheney out of the loop on national security.

The role of Vice President Dick Cheney as the administration’s point man in security policy appears over, according to administration sources.

Over the last two months Mr. Cheney has been granted decreasing access to the Oval Office, the sources said on the condition of anonymity. The two men still meet, but the close staff work between the president and vice president has ended.


“There’s a lack of trust that the president has in Cheney and it’s connected with Iraq,” a source said.

The sources said Mr. Bush has privately blamed Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the U.S.-led war in Iraq. They said the president has told his senior aides that the vice president and defense secretary provided misleading assessments on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, as well as the capabilities of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

As a result, the sources said, Mr. Cheney has been ousted from his role as the administration’s point man in the area of national security. They said presidential staffers have kept Mr. Cheney out of the loop on discussions on policy as the White House has struggled with the political and intelligence fallout from the war in Iraq.

Mr. Bush is not expected to replace Mr. Cheney unless the vice president follows the fate of his former chief of staff. The sources also said Mr. Rumsfeld is expected to remain in his post until U.S. troops are withdrawn from Iraq.

Personally, I think it is more likely than not that the only reason I’m reading these stories is that the White House wants me to be reading them. If that’s true, then what does it say about what’s really going on behind the scenes?

If I had to guess I’d say it’s Bush attempting to put political distance between himself and Cheney in anticipation of Fitzgerald’s investigation yielding more-damaging information about Cheney. And more generally, Bush’s attempting to begin the process of shifting blame for the Iraq war onto Cheney, in anticipation of Cheney’s stepping down as veep, and hopefully (in Bush/Rove’s eyes), taking some of the stench of Bush’s failed Iraq policies with him. I’d always suspected that the plan was for Cheney to leave after the 2006 midterms, to pave the way for Bush’s intended successor in the White House. But that timetable might have been accelerated in light of Bush’s deteriorating political situation.

Anyway, it’s interesting to see these little puffs of smoke pop up here and there, and try to figure out what’s actually smoldering beneath the surface.

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