11/02/2005 06:16 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Republicans: Is a Nixon Moment on the Horizon?

I once interviewed a Republican who, during the Watergate years, worked as a civilian employee at the Pentagon. Everyday at lunch he and his colleagues would argue about whether Richard Nixon had actually done anything wrong. As the Watergate investigation progressed, the number of people who took Nixon’s side dwindled until this gentleman was the only one left. One evening he returned home after work and asked himself why he was continuing to defend Nixon. He concluded that the only reason was that Nixon was a Republican. He also decided that Nixon was bad for the Republican Party. The next day he went to work and announced that he now agreed that the president should be impeached.

I don’t think that most Republicans today are quite there yet with George Bush. But Bush did allow his chief political advisor and his vice-president to out a CIA agent because her husband challenged the factual basis of Bush’s rationale for sending American soldiers to war. That strikes me as a more appalling action for a U.S. president to take than anything Richard Nixon ever did during the Watergate Affair. I suppose that Bush’s defense will be that he knew nothing about what was going on. After all, his own father, while vice-president, slithered out of Iran-Contra culpability by saying that he was “out of the loop.” When logs proved that Bush Senior had been present at numerous meetings at which the subjects of trading arms for hostages and funding the Nicaraguan contra rebels had been discussed, Bush explained that by “out of the loop” he had meant that he had no “operational role.” Later that year, Bush Senior was elected President of the United States. So the current President Bush need look no farther than his own father to see an example of a White House executive lying about his involvement in dubious activities and getting away with it.

One day, President Bush will have to hold another press conference and actually face questions from the media about his own awareness of the decision to publicly expose the name of a CIA agent with covert status. He will probably respond by saying that he will not comment on an ongoing case. Nonetheless, it should be possible to construct questions that are not covered by this answer. Here are some samples for starters:

• Mr. President, do you believe it is ever proper for someone to expose the name of a CIA employee who has access to classified material when that employee’s CIA connection is not generally known?

• Mr. President, will you remove from your administration anyone who leaked the name of a CIA employee, even if that administration member is not indicted?

• Mr. President, will you remove from your administration anyone who provided the classified information that allowed someone else to expose a CIA employee?

• Mr. President, on October 7, 2003, when the Department of Justice investigation began, you were asked if you thought the investigators would find the person who leaked Valerie Plame’s name to Robert Novak and other reporters. You replied, “I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration and there's a lot of senior officials.” Since you said that, have you ever asked Karl Rove if he knew anything about this?