BUSH LAWYER A BOMB SHELL WAITING TO EXPLODE?
By: John LeBoutillier
When CBS News broke the story - immediately confirmed by the White House - that President Bush is “consulting” with a criminal defense attorney, the entire scope of the Valerie Plame/CIA leak investigation fundamentally changed.
This investigation is now on the front burner inside the DC Beltway - and may very well play a central role in this year’s presidential campaign. While it is way, way too early to talk of Watergate analogies, it is already clear that this story will radically expand. When a president retains a criminal lawyer, it is a serious matter.
The White House has tried to play this down by parsing their words. Instead of claiming that he has hired the lawyer, they said he is “consulting” a lawyer and, if called to the Grand Jury, he would then hire him. In fact, the minute Mr. Bush first talked to this lawyer, Jim Sharp, attorney-client privilege kicked in and for all intents and purposes he is now Mr. Bush’s lawyer.
In the eyes of many, when a president hires a criminal lawyer it is a serious matter.
President Nixon hired James St. Claire to defend him during the Watergate matter. Bill Clinton hired Bob Bennett for the Paula Jones case and subsequent matters.
Let us explore some of the ramifications of this potentially explosive story:
1) Who leaked this to CBS News?
CBS News had it before anyone else which suggests the White House did not intend it to be disclosed. Rather, someone inside - either the White House or the investigation itself - leaked it.
Could it be someone in the White House, afraid of being made a scapegoat for the illegal leak of Plame’s name, “threw the snake” on Bush to deflect attention away from him or her?
Or did the leaker do it to let others know that Bush himself is in trouble?
2) What signal does this send?
For White House staffers - none of whom make a lot of money - they, too, may have hired expensive criminal lawyers. As in other White Houses under siege, this places huge pressure on these staffers - and some of them break and begin to cooperate with the federal authorities.
Mr. Bush hiring this lawyer also must mean that they have good reason to believe that Special Counsel Fitzgerald indeed is going to want to question the President.
Politically, if a President of the United States is asked or subpoened to a Grand Jury, that is big political news. To some, it also connotes guilt.
If Mr. Fitzgerald - brought in after Attorney General Ashcroft recused himself - did not yet know that the president had a lawyer, he does now. And he may read that as the president being worried over something he had previously denied any involvement in.
3) Where does this go from here?
Maybe nowhere. Maybe this just goes away.
Or maybe it grows into a bigger story than anyone had anticipated.
Because Fitzgerald seems so dogged and has had a Grand Jury working for five months, this may also become a major political story - even potentially a scandal.
Already NBC’s Tim Russert and a TIME MAGAZINE writer have been subpoened about their conversations with White House officials. Both have indicated that they will resist.
Valerie Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson claims that three high level White House aides were involved in the smearing of his wife: Karl Rove, Elliot Abrams and Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby.
Here is the key question for President Bush: could these three men - or any of them - have leaked Plame’s name to DC reporters without the President knowing about it?
In this super-controlled-from-the-top White House, with its MBA crispness, could an orchestrated campaign to tear down an administration critic - Wilson - be conducted without someone at the top - Bush, Cheney, Chief of Staff Card or Rove - knowing about it?
John LeBoutillier is a former U.S. Congressman and a nationally recognized political commentator. He has been a frequent guest on many national talk show programs and is author of the book Harvard Hates America. He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.
Published in the June 4, 2004 issue of Ether Zone. Copyright © 1997 - 2004 Ether Zone.