Actually, two separate Rove trains have left the station (and, no, this isn't going to be one of those old algebra problems they used to give us). The legal train and the political train -- heading along two very separate tracks. But it's now clear that the White House damage control team has decided to try and link the two. (Maybe this is one of those algebra problems: "If two trains leave the White House heading in opposite directions, one leading to a federal courthouse and the other to political Siberia, can even a Boy Genius keep both of them from going off track?")
The White House strategy is actually a very smart one. As Lawrence O'Donnell has explained in detail, the bar is set very high on proving Rove broke the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. As Victoria Toensing, who was chief counsel to the Senate intelligence committee when the law was enacted, put it, "We made it exceedingly difficult to violate." (Wonder if she passed this tidbit on to her good pal Bob Novak before he outed Plame?)
Indeed, according to the New York Times, only one person has been prosecuted under the relevant statute -- a CIA clerk in Ghana who ID'd two CIA agents to a boyfriend (some kind of strange pillow talk? "Yeah, tell me who's covert, baby!").
By linking the potential political fallout to the legal issue at hand, the White House can then hem, haw, and stall -- claiming that we need to let the legal system run its course -- and then hope that if special prosecutor Fitzgerald can't clear the high legal bar and indict Rove, it'll be able to claim that he's somehow been exonerated for his political sins as well.
Which, of course, is utter nonsense. Because while the legal jury may be out, the political jury is definitely in… Whether someone in a position of power and authority has acted inappropriately is not a matter of narrow legal definitions and fine semantic distinctions. Given what we already know about Rove's conversations, we can, right now, without even a single new revelation, and without reservation, say this: he is guilty of behavior that dishonored the White House and that placed the dirty politics of vindictive retribution over national security.
Ethics isn't just about what is legal or illegal. It's about what is right and what is wrong. And what Rove did was wrong -- and no amount of legalistic hair-splitting will change that.
So the question is: will the press buy into the White House's attempt to put the two Rove trains on the same track? Perhaps… but after ignoring the story for weeks (hell, years!), it looks like the MSM are smelling blood in the water. ABC's Terry Moran, CBS's John Roberts, and NBC's David Gregory were all aggressive in their questioning of McClellan at today's press briefing, and even Tim Russert weighed in on the Today show (wearing what Crooks and Liars called "his super double secret serious face" -- see for yourself), saying, "One Republican said to me last night, 'If this was a Democratic White House, we'd have Congressional hearings in a second.'" (Don't you just love it when Tim slips on his ultimate insider status and models it like a sexy negligee?)
Here's the bottom line: let’s imagine for a moment that Fitzgerald does not indict Rove. Does this in any way mitigate, excuse, or erase what Rove did? Does it take the onus off President Bush's promise to fire the White House leaker? Of course not. Rove leaked -- and he should be fired. The Turd Blossom Express has reached the end of the line.