- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 17, 2005

You can almost hear the baying of the hounds. It has been a while since this administration’s more automatic critics were so sure, so dead-certain they had their prey cornered, trapped and convicted. Remember the overheated presidential campaign of 2004? Then it was George Bush who was guilty of AWOL, desertion, draft-dodging and maybe double parking, too.

And why shouldn’t the president’s critics have been a little overconfident, not to say over-the-top, back in that distant time not a year ago? They had documents to prove it.

Or at least Dan Rather and CBS had them. And they were mighty impressive documents, too — for about an hour or two, which is about all it takes these days for some blogger out there in the great ether to notice the slightest discrepancy, and soon enough point out what looks rock-solid is really quicksand.

In the end, Mr. Bush wasn’t driven from office but the crusty old “newsman” himself. Pride had gone before the usual fall.

But if you can’t get the king, strike down his vizier, or, in these less than royal times, his campaign manager. In this case, his Svengali, Mark Hanna and Jim Farley all rolled into one. Now it’s Karl Rove who’s in the hunters’ sights, and the usual overeager types are already measuring his impressive head for a prominent spot on their trophy wall.

This time it’s not AWOL that’s the charge but knowingly revealing the identity of a covert CIA agent, which, as Richard Nixon once said all too hastily about perjury, is a hard rap to prove. But what, a partisan like Hillary Clinton worry? Sentence first, verdict afterward, to borrow a line from Lewis Carroll. Off with his head.

No need to go into detail, like proof. Never mind it’s not at all clear if Valerie Plame — the Madame X in this case — was a covert CIA operative or just another desk jockey at Langley. How secret can a secret agent be if she gets in her car every day and drives over to CIA headquarters like any other midlevel corporate exec?

The law Karl Rove is accused of breaking was passed to protect undercover station chiefs abroad who were being deliberately exposed at the time by some creep who had confused himself with a crusading journalist. No one, at least no one without a political ax to grind, would have mistaken Miss Plame/Mrs. Joseph C. Wilson IV for a Mata Hari at the time.

But never mind all that. To those eager to see a case that hasn’t been made yet, Karl Rove is guilty, guilty, guilty. And besides, they never liked him anyway.

Back at the U.S. Senate, the mob is forming. The usual suspects are demanding Karl Rove be rounded up. Mrs. Clinton, who in another life never had a good word for special prosecutors, has joined John Kerry in demanding this president fire his right-hand man. The hunt is on. And senators rush in where special prosecutors have yet to tread.

Strangely enough, the other senator from New York — Charles Schumer, who leads the partisan mob — has made the daring suggestion we all suspend judgment till the evidence is in. Goodness, let’s hope the senator is feeling all right. He doesn’t sound at all like himself. Can his legal training have gotten the better of his sheer animus for once?

It sounds like such a quaint practice: suspending judgment till we know the facts. Was there ever a time when that was actually the case? Probably not in American politics, which ain’t beanbag, to borrow a line from the sage Mr. Dooley.

Here’s my own fearless conclusion: We stand on the verge of (a) another scandal, (b) another nonscandal, or (c) something in-between. And until we know, let’s not rush to judgment.

But all those talking heads have air time to fill and a partisan agenda to carry out, and they aren’t about to be deterred by a little thing like elemental fairness — or simple prudence. They might remember just two words of caution: Dan Rather.

Of course this isn’t only a legal matter. Quite aside from whether Karl Rove broke the law, did he break faith with the president? Did he mislead the boss, and lead the White House to believe he had nothing to do with this leak? One needn’t break a law to violate a trust.

What happens if Mr. Rove, a k a the Architect (of the president’s electoral victories), becomes more of a hindrance than help to this president, and to his presidency? He will need to go. It wouldn’t be the first time he was suspected of leaking to the press, and fired from a Bush team. (Back then, it was Bush 41’s disastrous campaign in 1992.)

Once the facts are in, George W. Bush may have to exhibit what Fiorello La Guardia once called the first quality of a successful leader — a monumental ingratitude to his friends — and learn how to get along without the political mastermind who put him in the White House.

But let’s wait till all the facts are in before we grease the guillotine, shall we?

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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