Politics & Policy

Plameologists in Crisis: With Rove Off, CIA Leak Fans Wonder What’s Next

The struggle to keep hope alive.

“Why are people so fascinated with this story?” asked Jane Hamsher, the blogger who regularly obsesses over the CIA-leak investigation on her website, firedoglake.com. “Why am I so fascinated with this story?”

For Hamsher, a movie-producer-turned-blogger — her credits include Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers — the answer is that the CIA leak story is a story. “It’s got all the elements of a classic drama and the thrill of a gradually unfolding mystery,” she told an audience last week at the YearlyKos conference in Las Vegas. “It’s got superlative villains: the petulant boy-king, the sneering gimp of a vice president, and their Machiavellian henchman…”

Bush, Cheney, Rove — bad guys galore. But who — other than, say, a producer of Natural Born Killers — would want a story with only villains? Not the crowd at YearlyKos. “It’s also a story with a great hero,” Hamsher continued. “Several heroes, in fact.”

Those heroes were, Hamsher said, seated beside her on the stage in a Riviera Hotel meeting room. The biggest hero of all, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was there. So was former CIA analyst Larry Johnson. The Washington Post’s online columnist Dan Froomkin was there, along with National Journal’s Murray Waas. Finally, there were three bloggers — sometimes known as “Plameologists,” after Wilson’s wife, the former CIA employee Valerie Plame — who have made names for themselves writing about the investigation: Marcy Wheeler, Hamsher’s blogging partner Christy Hardin Smith, and Hamsher herself.

They were there for a 90-minute discussion of the investigation and its related themes: the treachery and criminality of the Bush administration, the cowardice and submissiveness of the Washington press corps, and the courage and heroism of, well, themselves, in daring to expose it all.

The crowd was large and friendly; of all the panel discussions at YearlyKos, the CIA-leak panel attracted the biggest and most vocal audience. But as it turned out, the conversation was, despite the all-star cast, entirely unremarkable for anyone who has followed the left-wing blogosphere’s analysis of the CIA leak affair. Johnson called the actions of administration officials “treason.” Wilson gave his grand theory of the case. Froomkin called former New York Times reporter Judith Miller a “humiliated and discredited shill.” And Smith explained why she expected an indictment of Karl Rove. (I should add that, during the course of the panel, some of the participants made references to my reporting on the leak case. The short version: they didn’t like it.)

What no one seemed to have seriously considered was that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation might be winding down, rather than ramping up. Indeed, underlying much of the discussion was the assumption that there was more — much more — to come in the case. So much so that when the question-and-answer period opened, the first person up asked the following:

We’ve seen that the Republicans have pretty much taken corruption and criminality to a new level. And in fact, at this stage, almost every single top Republican, if the Constitution still has any integrity, could be indicted for a variety of things from treason to [inaudible]. As they start to get up against the potential of going to prison for the rest of their lives…what can we expect, as they get more and more desperate? They’re already wiling to subvert the Constitution to keep running the country, but when they face all these criminal charges, is there any limit as to what they might attempt to avoid prosecution? 

The panelists laughed among themselves, as if the poor fellow had gone a little over the top. But in the context of the discussion, it was an entirely reasonable question. Anyone reading the Plameologists’ blogs, or at least reading them uncritically, would think that, too.

The day after the panel, Marcy Wheeler, who writes under the name emptywheel, introduced herself to me and asked what I thought of the session. I said I thought there would be tremendous disappointment in the audience if Karl Rove were not indicted. Really? she asked. Yes, I said — I guessed that nearly everyone in the room was hoping that Rove would face charges.

Wheeler later wrote an account of our conversation — bloggers seem to write up everything — and by her own recall she said, “But don’t all reasonable people have hopes that Rove will be indicted?” I said no, I didn’t think so. Wheeler wrote, “As soon as I walked away, I wished that I had responded, ‘No, Byron, many of us have even higher hopes that Dick Cheney will pay for his obvious involvement in this case.’”

First Rove, then Cheney: Those were very high hopes. But then, less than a week later, Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, released this statement: 

On June 12, 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove.

In deference to the pending case, we will not make any further public statements about the subject matter of the investigation. We believe that the Special Counsel’s decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove’s conduct. 

One might think the news would be devastating to a group that had invested so much hope in the prospect that Rove would be, in the words of Joseph Wilson, “frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.” But in fact, Luskin’s statement didn’t put much of a damper on the Plameologists’ spirits. Some of them simply speculated that there is an ongoing, blockbuster court proceeding — all very, very, secret — that will blow the lid off everything, once it is finally made public.

Back in the 1990s, the conservative philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife famously told the New York Times that the death of White House aide Vincent Foster was “the Rosetta Stone to the whole Clinton administration.” Decipher it, and you understand everything. Today’s Plameologists appear to believe something similar about the CIA-leak case. If it is just investigated enough, if someone can just get to the bottom of it, then all will be revealed. Who wouldn’t get a little carried away by a scandal so immense, especially one with a petulant boy-king, a sneering gimp of a vice president, and a Machiavellian henchman? “I allowed myself to become totally obsessed by this story,” Wheeler told the audience. “Probably more than is healthy.” 

Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.

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