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The Rove Distraction

In a Web-only update, CBS Chief News White House correspondent John Roberts weighs in on the CIA Leak trail leading to President Bush's key adviser Karl Rove.

The White House took a baby step toward lifting the cone of silence that it has placed around the Karl Rove controversy on Tuesday, offering in response to a question that "yes", President Bush continues to have confidence in his deputy chief of staff and top political advisor.

And in answer to demands from Democrats that Rove's security clearance be revoked, the White House intoned that he has the "appropriate" security clearance.

Politically, though, the White House needs to have something else to say besides "we are not going to comment on an ongoing investigation."

They have commented on it extensively in the past.

On Sept. 29, 2003, and again on Oct.10, 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan served up a spirited defense of Karl Rove, Lewis (Scooter) Libby and Elliot Abrams, all of whom, McClellan said, assured him that they had nothing to do with the leak of a CIA agent's name.

And long after that -- after McClellan now alleges prosecutors asked the White House to stop talking about it -- President Bush rang in, asserting that he would fire anyone at the White House associated with the leak. That came on June 10, 2004.

As a result of their silence, during the first two daily briefings this week, the poor press secretary was basically hung up on a clothesline and beaten like a dusty rug.

According to his attorney, Robert Luskin, Rove is in no danger of criminal charges. Luskin told me that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald assured Rove that he is not a target of the investigation. Whether the disclosure of the e-mail exchange with Time reporter Matt Cooper changes this remains to be seen, but Luskin insists that there is nothing in the e-mail that Rove has not already discussed with prosecutors and the grand jury.

Rove's more immediate problem, it would seem, is the President's pronouncement that he would fire anyone associated with the leak. Rove may not have said the words "Valerie Plame" to Matt Cooper, but according to the e-mail, he did disclose that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife "apparently works" at the CIA.

As many people have pointed out, any good reporter could easily find out who Joe Wilson is married to. Does it amount to a leak of "classified" information? The President must weigh degree and intent of what Rove was attempting to do -- which Rove's attorney says was nothing more than to steer a reporter off of potentially bad information.

In the political world of the White House, though, perhaps Rove's greatest transgression is that he has become a "distraction" for a President who is desperately trying to stay on message this summer -- to get a significant piece of his second term agenda through Congress before the August recess.

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