Administration’s ethics could use some polish

Karl Rove’s name may have been washed from the front pages by last week’s nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, but that doesn’t mean President Bush’s chief political adviser has cleaned his hands of the CIA leak scandal.

Rove was the anonymous source who disclosed the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, argued that Rove did not actually reveal her name, but referred to her only as “Wilson’s wife,” in reference to Joseph Wilson, an administration dissenter who had done work for the CIA in Niger. Split enough hairs in your lifetime, and baldness – political or otherwise – will eventually catch up to you. Just ask Bill Clinton.

Bush, despite his vow a year ago to fire any snitch related to Plame’s case, has modified his stand. He now says he would fire anyone who “committed a crime” and will wait to see the findings of an investigation.

Some points for the president to consider:

* Whether Rove identified her as “Valerie Plame,” “Ms. Wilson” or “Wilson’s wife” makes no difference to common sense. Unveiling an undercover agent is a felony because it is a serious matter of security.

* Plame’s name was exposed after her husband had written an op-ed piece that debunked the Bush administration’s persistent claim that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from the African country of Niger so he could build a nuclear weapon. The CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to investigate the possibility, but he determined that Hussein had not sought uranium there. That apparently wasn’t what Rove and others in the administration wanted to hear.

* Top administration officials, including Rove, were informed by a classified memo on July 7, 2003, that Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent. It was just a week later that her cover was blown in a Robert Novak column.

Whether Rove committed a crime is for the legal system to decide. But that’s not the point. Outing a CIA agent in response to a spouse’s declarations of truth, if that’s what Rove did, shows an appallingly low ethical standard and a flagrant abuse of power.

The spotlight must continue to shine on Rove until all the facts regarding his involvement in this case are known. With his close adviser no longer hidden behind a screen of anonymity, President Bush, who once vowed to “restore honor and dignity” to the White House, faces serious personal choices in dealing with his longtime confidant.

The president needs to live up to the standards he claims to set. No more splitting hairs – the administration’s ethical hairline has receded enough already.

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