Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
At a news conference on October 17, President George W. Bush dropped a rhetorical bomb: "I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
Now that bomb has turned into a rotten egg, for the U.S. intelligence community yesterday released a National Intelligence Estimate that concludes that Iran halted a secret nuclear weapons program in 2003, that Tehran is "less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," and that Iran probably could not produce enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon until the 2010-2015 timeframe. That is, it seems there is no immediate reason to fret about Iran going nuclear and triggering World War III. This NIE may well make it impossible for hawks in and outside the administration to pull the trigger on any military action against Iran.
At a press conference this morning, Bush, looking comfortable, tried to deal with this new reality. He repeated a mantra: Iran was dangerous before the new NIE, and it's dangerous now. Nothing has changed, he insisted. He said over and over that if Iran transferred knowledge it has about enriching uranium to a "hidden" nuclear weapons program, that would pose a danger to the rest of the world. If. He was pressed by White House reporters asking whether his credibility--whatever existed of it following the Iraq WMD fiasco--was tarnished by the NIE? Of course, he refused to concede any such thing.
The issue is not just that his saber-rattling was not in sync with the intelligence but that Bush did not take care to vet his hyperbole before displaying it in public. At the press conference today, NBC News' David Gregory referred to Bush's World War III comment, noted that the Iranian program had apparently long been suspended before Bush uttered that remark, and asked Bush, "Can't you be accused of hyping this threat."
Bush replied by noting he had only been made aware of the NIE last week. But Bush went on to explain that intelligence czar Mike McConnell had told him in August that the intelligence community had developed "new information" on Iran. (This was obviously intelligence indicating that Iran was not operating an active nuclear weapons program.) McConnell, though, didn't tell Bush what this "new information" was. According to Bush, McConnell said it would take time to analyze the data.
Is the Bush administration preventing Congress from further investigating Rove's role in the Valerie Plame leak case and doing the same regarding the White House?
The answers: Yes, and it seems so.
Let's start with the first question. On November 21, Charlie Rose conducted an interview with Rove during which Rove claimed disingenuously that congressional Democrats in 2002, not the Bush White House, pushed for a pre-election vote on a resolution authorizing George W. Bush to attack Iraq. This comment kicked up a controversy. But in one portion of the Rose interview cut out of the TV-edit that appeared, Rove tossed out another whopper. This excerpt was posted by the Charlie Rose show on YouTube, and it covers questions Rose posed to Rove regarding former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's recent hullabaloo-causing statement about a key episode in the CIA leak case. If you just awoke from a coma, McClellan said,
I...publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. There was one problem. It was not true. I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration "were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the president himself.
Rove claimed to Rose that McClellan had emailed him a few notes maintaining that these few sentences had been misinterpreted. Rove added that he would not have anything else to say on this until a "more full disclosure" appears in McClellan's book, which is scheduled to be published next spring. But Rove went on to insist that he had not misled McClellan, and he claimed total innocence:
I did not knowingly disclose the identity or name of a CIA agent.
Wait a minute. Let's look at an email (first disclosed by Michael Isikoff of Newsweek) that Matt Cooper, then a Time correspondent, sent to his editors on July 11, 2003--three days before the name and CIA employment of Valerie Plame Wilson was first disclosed in a column by Robert Novak.
Karl Rove needs to work on his reading comprehension skills. I can say so because he's been disingenuously citing me.
During the past week, the Bush-guru-turned-Newsweek-columnist has been on the defensive regarding the claim he made during a Charlie Rose interview that the Bush White House "was opposed to voting on" the Iraq war resolution right before the 2002 congressional elections. He insisted, "We didn't think it belonged within the confines of the election." Asserting that "we thought it made [the vote] too political," Rove said that it was the congressional Democrats who pressed for the vote in the middle of the political season.
As Michael Isikoff and I reported in our book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, President George W. Bush met at the White House with congressional leaders on September 4 and told them he wanted a quick vote on a resolution that would grant him the authority to use military action against Saddam Hussein. Bush insisted he wanted this vote within six weeks. Senator Tom Daschle, then the majority leader of the Senate, wondered why the rush? He suspected that Rove was orchestrating a fast vote to put the Democrats on the spot right before the mid-term election. In fact, a day earlier, Daschle had been in a smaller meeting with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. During that get-together, he had asked Bush, wouldn't it be better to postpone the vote until after the election and take politics out of the debate? Bush turned toward Cheney, who shot the president a look that Daschle later described as a "half smile." Then Bush told Daschle, "We just have to do it now."
Rove now says none of that happened and he will explain all (of course) in a book yet to be written. But not only Daschle has challenged Rove's account. Former White House chief of staff Andy Card did the same, quipping, "Sometimes [Rove's] mouth gets ahead of his brain." And former White House press secretary Ari Fleishcer also chimed in, saying, "It was definitely the Bush administration that set it in motion and determined the timing, not the Congress. I think Karl in this instance just has his facts wrong."
Despite all this, Rove has stuck with his story and has gone so far as to cite me. I've been reliably informed that Rove has been pointing to an article I posted on September 25, 2002, to defend his remarks. In that piece, "Democrats Whine About War Debate", I did write that House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Daschle were "pushing for a fast vote on Bush's war resolution in order to have a chance to address other subjects prior to the November 5 congressional elections." But the article made clear that Bush (and Rove) had pushed them into the corner with a demand for a fast, pre-election vote.
The article cited examples of how the Bush gang, in the run-up to the election, was politicizing the war vote:
Wednesday night's CNN/YouTube Republican debate contained no Hillary Moment--that is, no time when a leading candidate muffed an answer in a manner that created an opportunity for the others to pile on. (Remember Clinton's triple-reverse answer to that question about issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants?) But this latest face-off did produce telling moments.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had the most difficult ones. He froze more than once--which is odd, considering he's had ample opportunity to ready himself for this Republican Party-sponsored debate. In one video query, a fellow named Joseph from Dallas held up a Bible and said, "How you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?" The question first went to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He seemed unsure of how to start, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who was ordained as a Baptist minister, quipped, "Do I need to help you out, Mayor, on this one?" Giuliani recovered quickly and offered the obvious answer: It's "the greatest book ever written....I read it frequently," some parts are "allegorical," some are "meant to be interpreted in a modern context."
Then came Romney's turn. "I believe," he said, "the Bible is the word of God, absolutely." CNN's Anderson Cooper reminded him of the question: "Does that mean you believe every word?" Romney stuttered: "You know--yes, I believe it's the word of God, the Bible is the word of God." He then repeated that answer twice and said, "I don't disagree with the Bible." In other words, he stumbled through a question about the Holy Book. When Huckabee fielded the question, he handled it, naturally, with natural aplomb: "As the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite god, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small." For any social conservatives who care about a candidate's relation to the Bible, Huckabee had slammed Romney.
Later in the debate, Romney hit another bad spot in an exchange during which Senator John McCain shined. A college student from Seattle named Andrew offered this question: "Senator McCain has come out strongly against using waterboarding as an instrument of interrogation. My question for the rest of you is, considering that Mr. McCain is the only one with any firsthand knowledge on the subject, how can those of you sharing the stage with him disagree with his position?" Romney went first: "I do not believe that as a presidential candidate, it is wise for us to describe precisely what techniques we will use in interrogating people. I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way, shape or form." It was a non-answer, and Cooper pressed him: "Is waterboarding torture?" Romney repeated himself: "I don't think it's wise for us to describe specifically which measures we would and would not use."
John Edwards has generally gone easy on Barack Obama. His wife Elizabeth in August did call Obama "holier than thou." Edwards has gently questioned Obama's commitment to establishing a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and he has wondered aloud about Obama's willingness to fight special interests and lobbyists, citing Obama's talk about bringing people together and rising above the political fray. But following a key rule of politics, Edwards has shot most of his arrows at front-running Hillary Clinton. That may be changing.
Obama has taken the lead in the most recent poll in Iowa, a do-or-die state for Edwards, who lags in third place behind Clinton. So today Edwards, who just last week was defending Obama from an Clinton's mockery, took direct aim at Obama. In a statement, Edwards denounced Obama's health care plan:
We need true universal health care reform that covers every single man, woman, and child in America. It is wrong to leave anyone without the care they need. A universal system will work better for all of us delivering better care at lower cost. Barack Obama's plan leaves out 15 million people. The truth is that some people will choose not to buy insurance even though it's affordable, knowing that the rest of us will pay for their emergency room visits.
Edwards is jumping into the fight that has been going on between Clinton and Obama regarding their respective health care proposals. It's not a tremendous blast. But is this a sign that Edwards will be gunning for Obama and that the Democratic race, as the Iowa caucuses approach, will turn into a circular firing squad--which is what's been happening on the Republican side? In politics, as in much of life, a threesome can get quite complicated.