Rove and Libby court more troubles for a beleaguered administration

Sydney Morning Herald
October 29, 2005

The President may be about to become a lame duck, writes Michael Gawenda in Washington.

The timing of the announcement by President George Bush that he was withdrawing the nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court was meant to get all the terrible political news out of the way as quickly as possible.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case, was widely tipped to announce within hours that indictments would be issued against senior White House officials.

The New York Times, citing lawyers close to the case, has already reported that Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, is expected to be charged. The report goes on to say Karl Rove, Mr Bush's closest political adviser and friend, will not be indicted at the same time, but could be indicted at a later date.

The Bush Administration, some observers said, decided that if the Miers nomination was dead in the water it was better to get it out of the way at the same time as the Fitzgerald indictments were handed down.

That apparently was the view of Mr Cheney, who, it seems, managed to stop worrying for a while about whether Mr Libby, was about to be indicted, and urge Mr Bush to get the Miers withdrawal over and done with quickly. Unfortunately for an increasingly embattled Mr Bush, who cannot seem to take a political trick at the moment, the biggest news from Mr Fitzgerald was that he took a short break from a day spent consulting with his staff to get a shoe-shine.

In a big news break, the Press Association managed to obtain an exclusive interview with the owner of the shoe shine operation. "He was very friendly and he looked happy," he is quoted as saying after requesting anonymity.

Mr Rove and Mr Libby had both turned up for work at the crack of dawn following their usual routine: Mr Rove meeting White House political aides and Mr Libby attending an intelligence agencies meeting.

Meanwhile, Mr Bush jetted off to South Florida to check out how the recovery from the damage of Hurricane Wilma was going. He ignored questions about Ms Miers and Mr Fitzgerald and in every television shot was smiling broadly, but saying nothing.

He had little to smile about. The withdrawal of the Miers nomination just 23 days after he made the announcement was perhaps the most humiliating moment of his presidency.

Even though Ms Miers in her statement said she had asked Mr Bush to withdraw her nomination, all the evidence suggests that he asked her to do so.

The announcement came after a day of consultation between Mr Bush, senior Republican senators and White House officials, including Mr Cheney, who was not involved in the nomination of Ms Miers. The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, bluntly told Mr Bush that the Miers nomination was in trouble in the Senate, with a significant proportion of Republicans saying they were likely to vote against her confirmation.

That gloomy prediction by Mr Frist, as well as Mr Cheney's judgement that if the nomination was in trouble something should be done quickly, convinced Mr Bush that he had no alternative but to accept that the Miers nomination was in terminal trouble.

White House officials said Mr Bush was furious at the way Ms Miers had been treated.From the time he announced her nomination, leading conservatives and even leaders of evangelical Christian anti-abortion groups, whose support Mr Bush thought was assured given that she was a born-again Christian with an anti-abortion record, went after Mr Bush, accusing him of cronyism.

For more than three weeks, the campaign against Ms Miers did not let up, while Mr Bush continued to support her, insisting that he would not withdraw her nomination, almost begging his supporters to stop criticising her and to give her a "fair chance to show the sort of person she is" at the Senate confirmation hearings. Few listened. A weakened Mr Bush simply could not muster the authority - or the trust - to silence his own supporters.

For Mr Bush, a man known for his loyalty to those close to him and for refusal to admit mistakes or to back down, having to ditch a long time political confidante must have been painful.

There may well be more pain just ahead.There is nothing about Mr Bush's record to suggest that he is capable of changing course, rebuilding his administration, admitting mistakes and then working to get his presidency back on track. But most observers agree that unless he manages all this, he will be a lame duck president only a year into his second term.


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