James Moore is an Emmy-winning former television news correspondent and the co-author of the bestselling, Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential. He has been writing and reporting from Texas for the past 25 years on the rise of Rove and Bush, and has traveled extensively on every presidential campaign since 1976. This piece originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.com and is reprinted with permission.
If special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald delivers indictments of a few functionaries of the vice president’s office or the White House, we are likely to have on our hands a constitutional crisis. The evidence of widespread wrongdoing and conspiracy is before every American with a cheap laptop and a cable television subscription. And we do not have the same powers of subpoena granted to Fitzgerald.
We know, however, based upon what we have read and seen and heard that someone created fake documents related to Niger and Iraq and used them as a false pretense to launch America into an invasion of Iraq. And when a former diplomat made an honest effort to find out the facts, a plan was hatched to both discredit and punish him by revealing the identity of his undercover CIA agent wife.
Patrick Fitzgerald has before him the most important criminal case in American history. Watergate, by comparison, was a random burglary in an age of innocence. The investigator’s prosecutorial authority in this present case is not constrained by any regulation. If he finds a thread connecting the leak to something greater, Fitzgerald has the legal power to follow it to the web in search of the spider. It seems unlikely, then, that he would simply go after the leakers and the people who sought to cover up the leak when it was merely a secondary consequence of the much greater crime of forging evidence to foment war. Fitzgerald did not earn his reputation as an Irish alligator by going after the little guy. Presumably, he is trying to find evidence that Karl Rove launched a covert operation to create the forged documents and then conspired to out Valerie Plame when he learned the fraud was being uncovered by Plame’s husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson. As much as this sounds like the plot of a John le Carre novel, it also comports with the profile of the Karl Rove I have known, watched, traveled with and written about for the past 25 years.
We may stand witness to a definitive American moment of democracy. The son of a New York doorman probably has in his hands, in many ways, the fate of the republic. Because far too many of us know and are aware of the crimes committed by our government in our name, we are unlikely to settle for a handful of minor indictments of bureaucrats. The last thing most of us believe in is the rule of law. We do not trust our government or the people we have elected but our constitution is still very much alive and we choose to believe that destiny has placed Patrick Fitzgerald at this time and this place in our history to save us from the people we elected. If the law cannot get to the truth of what has happened to the American people under the Bush administration, then we all may begin to hear the early death rattles of history’s greatest democracy.
Fortunately, there are good signs. Fitzgerald has reportedly asked for a copy of the Italian government’s investigation into the break-in of the Niger embassy in Rome and the source of the forged documents. The blatantly fake papers—which purported to show that Saddam Hussein had cut a deal to get yellowcake uranium from Niger—turned up after a December 2001 meeting in Rome involving neocon Michael Ledeen, Larry Franklin, Harold Rhodes and Niccolo Pollari, the head of Italy’s intelligence agency SISMI and Antonio Martino, the Italian defense minister.
If Fitzgerald is examining the possibility that Ledeen was executing a plan to help his friend Karl Rove build a case for invading Iraq? Ledeen has long ties to Italian intelligence agency operatives and has spanned the globe to bring the world the constant variety of what he calls “creative destruction” to build democracies. He makes the other neocons appear passive. He brought the Reagan administration together with the Iranian arms dealer who dragged the country through Iran-Contra, and shares with his close friend Karl Rove a personal obsession with Machiavelli. Ledeen, who is almost rabidly anti-Arab, famously told The Washington Post that Karl Rove told him, “Any time you have a good idea, tell me.”
The federal grand jury has to at least consider whether Ledeen called Rove with an idea to use his contacts with the Italian CIA to hatch a plan to create the rationale for war. Ledeen told radio interviewer Ian Masters and his producer Louis Vandenberg, “I have absolutely no connection to the Niger documents, have never even seen them. I did not work on them, never handled them, know virtually nothing about them, don't think I ever wrote or said anything about the subject.” It is strictly coincidence then that some months after he and his neo-con consorts and Italian intelligence officers met in Rome that the Niger embassy was illegally entered and nothing was stolen other than letterhead and seals. And equally coincident that forged papers under those letterheads were slipped to Elisabetta Burba, a writer for an Italian glossy owned by Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister, and a backer of the Bush invasion scheme. Unfortunately for the pro-war neocons, even an Italian tabloid would not publish the fake documents and turned them over to the CIA and US government in Rome.
The other American attendees at Ledeen’s Roman Holiday are also worthy of scrutiny. Larry Franklin was recently arrested for leaking classified US government information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Ledeen sprang quickly to his defense but Franklin faces prosecution next year and is most probably cooperating with prosecutor Fitzgerald. Harold Rhode, the other American actor in this tragicomic affair, worked the Office of Special Plans (OSP) at the Department of Defense for Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Characterized as a “counter-intelligence shop,” OSP simply interpreted intelligence in a manner that fit the need for evidence that Iraq had WMD. If the CIA gathered data that said otherwise, OSP analyzed it differently or ignored the facts and then reported to the vice president precisely what he wanted to hear. Rhode also was the liaison between Ahmed Chalabi, the convicted embezzler the Bush administration was using to feed information to them and Judy Miller about the distortions and lies required to fuel the rush to war.
No great extrapolation is necessary to assume that OSP, sitting inside the CIA, got early word that Joseph Wilson was being dispatched to Niger to investigate the sale of low-grade uranium to Iraq. Rhode needed only to pick up the phone and call the vice president’s chief of staff Scooter Libby, who would tell his boss and Karl Rove. How hard is it for even Republicans to believe, at this point, that Rove is capable of launching a plan to discredit Wilson and punish him by exposing his wife? Rove and his boss were not simply in danger of losing the prime cause for the war; they faced an even graver political wound of being discovered as covert agents who defrauded the government and the public.
I have seen the spawn of Rove’s tortured mind and watched a hundred of his political scams unfold and I am confident I know how this one played out. Rove might have brought it up with his fellow big brains in the White House Iraq Group, a propaganda organization set up to disseminate information supporting the war. There was likely a consensus to move the plan to smack down Wilson out of the White House. Rove always keeps a layer of operatives between himself and the person he gets to pull the trigger. Libby was probably told to manage it out of the VP’s office to protect the president because Karl always takes care of his most prized assets. Libby then likely ordered John Hannah and possibly David Wurmser to call the ever-friendly Judy Miller at The New York Times and columnist Robert Novak to give them Valerie Plame’s identity. Rove knew that Miller would call Libby of Aspen for confirmation and his old friend Novak was certain to call Rove who, as an unidentified senior White House official, would confirm the identity on background only. Because Novak is a partisan gunslinger, he wrote more quickly than Miller and when she saw the firestorm his story created, she backed off and has since been trying to cover for herself and Libby. Miller’s later claim that she cannot remember who gave her the “Valerie Flame” name is as much dissembling as Rove’s unconvincing argument that he “forgot” he met with Time reporter Matt Cooper. Karl Rove can remember precinct results from 19th-century presidential elections. He neither forgets nor forgives.
There you have it, Mr. Prosecutor. To quote an unreconstructed former Republican presidential candidate, “You know it. I know it. And the American people know it.” We expect you also to have sufficient evidence to prove all of this. There are many of us who are on the verge of losing faith in our democracy. We are convinced that there are people within the highest ramparts of American government who are willing to put our country at great risk to advance their geopolitical vision. We want our country back. And all we have left is the power of the law. From what we know, you are the right man come forth at the right time.
Prove to us we still live in a democracy and a nation of laws.