CBS' Sunday Morning featured commentary -- without rebuttal -- from contributor and former Nixon aide Ben Stein, who defended White House senior adviser Karl Rove despite reports of mounting evidence that Rove may have been illegally or improperly involved in the outing of former covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. Stein, who identified himself as a friend and longtime supporter of President Bush, compared Democrats to bloodthirsty wolves and advised Bush to stand by Rove because "he did nothing wrong in the Valerie Plame case." Stein asserted that Rove committed no crime because Plame "was not a secret overseas agent" and she "worked at a desk at the CIA headquarters."
Had CBS broadcast a contrary view, it could have included several points:
- Stein's assertion that Plame was not a "secret overseas agent" because she "worked at a desk at the CIA" is pure speculation on his part and is contradicted by a recent letter to Congress from former CIA officials. While the extent of Plame's overseas travel is unclear, the letter refers to Plame as "an undercover CIA officer" and refutes the notion that an agent working at a desk could not be under cover.
- While Stein presumably does not know whether Plame meets the definition of "covert agent" for the purposes of determining whether a violation occurred under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, federal special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald could well be investigating other possible criminal acts. As Plame's identity was secret, Fitzgerald may be investigating wrongdoing under the 1917 Espionage Act (see sections 793 and 794), which prohibits the release of classified defense-related information, as Newsweek contributing editor and National Journal senior writer and columnist Stuart Taylor noted on NBC's Meet the Press on July 24.
- News reports indicate that Fitzgerald might also be investigating perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
- In addition to possible criminal charges, Rove may have violated the nondisclosure agreement signed by government officials with access to classified information.
From the July 24 broadcast of CBS' Sunday Morning:
STEIN: Dear President Bush, may I presume upon our friendship and my longtime support to offer you some thoughts about Karl Rove?
First of all, I just had a very thorough exam of my prostate by a Democrat doctor, so I have a good idea of what you both are going through, and it's not fun. But I worked for a president named Richard Nixon who was an extraordinary genius but who handled this kind of thing totally wrong, so maybe we can learn from him.
Let's begin with the obvious:
Karl Rove did nothing wrong in the Valerie Plame case. He did not "knowingly" out her as a CIA secret overseas undercover agent because, among other things, she was not a secret overseas agent. She worked at a desk at Langley, Virginia, at the CIA headquarters. That ain't secret overseas work. So he didn't commit any kind of crime at all.
Next, he's incredibly important to you and to the whole conservative agenda. You called him the "architect" of your victory over Sen. [John] Kerry [D-MA], and you were right to call him that.
It's most questionable whether you'd be sitting in the Oval Office without him. The liberals know that. That's why they're after him. They know he's vital to you and to the whole movement you represent. If you fail to give him your entire support, if you throw him overboard to the [Sen.] Chuck Schumers [D-NY] and the [Senate Minority Leader] Harry Reids [D-NV], you accomplish nothing. They, who loathe you and everything you stand for, will just chase you even harder with more of a scent of blood in their nostrils.
I saw this happen with Mr. Nixon when I worked for him decades ago. Whenever Mr. Nixon tossed an aide off the sled for the wolves to eat, the wolves just got hungrier. Nixon's enemies' target was Nixon, not his aides. Once they devoured his helpers, the enemies just got stronger and Nixon got weaker. There's a lesson there for you: Chuck Schumer's after you, Mr. President, not Karl Rove.
If you do not give Karl Rove your full support, which he has earned in spades, you signal weakness, not strength, to your enemies. With him gone, they'll find a way to attack you, and he won't be there to protect you or your agenda. Learn from the mistakes of my old boss, Mr. Nixon. Don't try to please the ones who are going to hate you no matter what. Use your strength to protect Rove and both of you will come out of this with smiles on your faces. Throw him to the wolves and you embarrass yourself before history, and you'll live to regret it.