President Bush should resist Democratic calls for an apology over the CIA leak scandal because he followed through on his pledge that those involved would no longer work in his administration, conservatives said yesterday.
While Sen. Harry Reid demanded yesterday that the president and Vice President Dick Cheney “come clean with the American public” and apologize for the actions of their aides in the Valerie Plame case, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said doing so would be ill-advised.
“What he has to say is that he has said all along that anybody who was implicated would be gone — they are; that the standard he intends to set is exactly the standard he campaigned on; and that the U.S. attorney did his job,” the Georgia Republican said.
“It would be a reaffirmation of Bush’s commitment to honesty, not an apology, which implies that the president has not been honest.”
Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council, said making an apology now would be premature because the one administration aide indicted in the case is presumed innocent until proved guilty.
“It’s bizarre for Senator Reid and others to call for an apology. It presupposes guilt, which at this point is an open question,” he said. “So far, the only person who was clearly involved in some way is gone and, as far as we know, [Bush aide Karl] Rove was not involved, so he’s done as much as can be expected.”
The president said July 18 that “if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.”
The special counsel investigating the CIA leak, Patrick Fitzgerald, returned five indictments Friday, all against I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff. Mr. Libby immediately resigned.
There were no indictments on the charge that began Mr. Fitzgerald’s probe — the “alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity.”
Although the prosecutor said that his probe is “not over,” he added that the “substantial bulk of the work of this investigation is concluded.” After weeks of speculation that Mr. Bush’s top adviser, Mr. Rove, would be indicted in the probe, few Washington insiders now expect that.
After the indictments, Mr. Cheney called his aide “one of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever known.” Mr. Bush said Mr. Libby “has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country.”
But Mr. Reid, the Senate minority leader, yesterday demanded that the president and vice president say more.
“There has not been an apology to the American people for this obvious problem in the White House. …
“The vice president issues this very terse statement praising Libby for all the great things he’s done. Then we have the president come on camera a few minutes later calling him Scooter and what a great patriot he is,” Mr. Reid said. “This has gotten way out of hand, and the American people deserve better than this.”
When campaigning for president in 2000, Mr. Bush pledged to “restore honor and dignity to the White House” after the scandal-plagued Clinton administration. President Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice — two of the charges Mr. Libby faces.
Three former White House chiefs of staff, appearing yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” also called on Mr. Bush to apologize.
“He’s really got to approach the American people — and I would do it first thing Monday morning — is to have [White House spokesman] Scott McClellan go forward and say, ‘We apologize to the American people for having misled the people about the fact that no one in the White House was involved in this leak situation,’ ” said Leon Panetta, President Clinton’s chief of staff.
Others noted that President Reagan apologized to the American people after the Iran-Contra affair.
But Mr. Gingrich said those apologies came in “totally different situations.”
“In Reagan’s case, the question was whether or not there was an ongoing deliberate effort to violate the law on behalf of foreign policy. In Clinton’s case, the question was whether or not the sitting president of the United States had committed perjury in front of a sitting federal judge,” Mr. Gingrich said.
“Now, nobody says that George W. Bush has committed perjury.”