In a July 13 New York Times article, staff writer David Sanger advanced the White House spin that President Bush could decline to fire White House senior adviser Karl Rove over Rove's apparent outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame and still comply with his pledge to take "appropriate action" against leakers in the Plame case.
In advancing this spin, Sanger selectively quoted from a press conference in which Bush responded to a question about whether he stood "by his pledge to fire anyone found" to have "leaked the agent's name." Sanger then quoted unnamed White House officials saying that if Rove merely identified Plame -- which Rove reportedly did when he told Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper that former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's wife worked at the CIA -- rather than "named" her, and Bush took no action, he would not be violating his pledge to fire the leaker.
But in repeating the White House officials' assertion without challenge, Sanger ignored several instances in which Bush and White House press secretary Scott McClellan made a broader pledge that anyone leaking classified information -- and not just the actual name of a CIA agent -- would be fired.
From the July 13 New York Times:
Mr. Bush was asked in June 2004 whether he would fire anyone who leaked Ms. Wilson's name. Without hesitation, he said "yes." But if Ms. Wilson was discussed -- but not named -- current and former White House officials say Mr. Bush may not feel he is violating his pledge by keeping the political engineer who, as deputy chief of staff, is now formulating much of the domestic policy agenda of Mr. Bush's second term.
It is true that on one occasion, Bush was asked specifically whether he would fire anyone found to have leaked the agent's "name." At a June 10, 2004, press conference, the president was asked, "Given recent developments in the CIA leak case, particularly Vice President [Dick] Cheney's discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent's name? ... And, and, do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?" Bush replied by saying "Yes."
But Bush and McClellan have made broader statements that went beyond pledging to fire anyone who leaked "the agent's name." On September 30, 2003, Bush stated that he would "take appropriate action" against "anybody in my administration who leaked classified information."
McClellan also indicated that Bush would fire anyone who was involved in leaking Plame's identity. McClellan did not limit his statement to whether the leaker specifically named Plame.
From a September 29, 2003, White House press briefing:
Q: Scott, has anyone -- has the president tried to find out who outed the CIA agent? And has he fired anyone in the White House yet?
McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, that's assuming a lot of things. First of all, that is not the way this White House operates. The president expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing.
McCLELLAN: The president has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.
In the same article, Sanger also claimed that "[t]he entire contretemps at the White House this week centers on whether Mr. Rove tried to discredit Mr. Wilson by suggesting that his mission to Niger was the product of nepotism, and that Ms. Wilson had arranged for it." By purporting to offer a distillation of "the entire contretemps" that entirely omits the national security concerns arising from Rove's apparent outing of a covert CIA officer -- and apparently false statements about the affair by senior government officials -- Sanger bolstered Republican claims that the "contretemps" is merely a partisan dispute.