A religious right leader who in 1998 called on President Clinton to resign said it would be a mistake for President Bush to apologize for actions of White House aides in the Valerie Plame case.
On Friday a grand jury indicted Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, on five counts in the investigation of the leak of a CIA officer's identity. Karl Rove, the president's chief of staff, was not indicted but reportedly remains under investigation.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Sunday the president and vice president should "come clean with the American public" and apologize, and that Rove should step down.
But Gary Bauer, president of the conservative group American Values, said making an apology now would be premature, because the one administration aide indicted in the case is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
"It's bizarre for Senator Reid and others to call for an apology. It presupposes guilt, which at this point is an open question," Bauer said in the Washington Times. "So far, the only person who was clearly involved in some way is gone and, as far as we know, Rove was not involved, so he's done as much as can be expected."
Bauer, a former presidential candidate, in 1998 took out ads demanding that Clinton resign the presidency because of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
"We've gone from the first president of the United States, who could not tell a lie, to this president, who could not tell the truth," Bauer said at a Christian Coalition "Road to Victory" conference in 1998. "This has been the equivalent of a cultural oil spill. It's not just sea otters and ducks washing up on our shore covered with gunk, it is our kids."
When campaigning for president in 2000, Bush pledged to "restore honor and dignity to the White House" after Clinton's scandal-ridden administration. President Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice--two of the charges now faced by Libby. Clinton was acquitted in a Senate trial and finished his term.
The Lewinsky scandal was about sex and lying about it. The current scandal, nicknamed "Plamegate," is over allegations that the White House leaked the identity of a CIA operative in an effort to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
A grand jury did not return any indictments on the central issue of whether anyone broke federal law by revealing Plame's identity, but found evidence that Libby lied to investigators and the grand jury about when he first learned about her identify.
In accepting Libby's resignation, President Bush said: "Scooter has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country. He served the vice president and me through extraordinary times in our nation's history."
Cheney said he accepted his top aide's decision "with deep regret."
"In our system of government, an accused person is presumed innocent until a contrary finding is made by a jury after an opportunity to answer the charges and a full airing of the facts," Cheney said. "Mr. Libby is entitled to that opportunity."
On ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Reid, the Senate minority leader, complained about Cheney's "very terse statement praising Libby for all the things he's done" and about Bush going on camera and "calling him Scooter" and praising Libby as a patriot.
"There has not been an apology to the American people for this obvious problem in the White House," Reid said.
Wilson, the former U.S. diplomat whose wife is the center of the CIA leak case, said the White House should fire Rove.
"I don't believe that Mr. Rove should be permitted to resign," Wilson said at the National Press Club in Washington. "I believe this is a firing offense."
Bauer wasn't the only Christian conservative calling for Clinton's resignation during the Lewinsky scandal.
Paige Patterson, then president of the Southern Baptist Convention, called on Clinton to step down "for the sake of the country" and "before he is instrumental in corrupting all our young people."
In one interview, Patterson called Clinton "a serial liar" and said he was "no longer able to lead the free world effectively."
Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Clinton should resign his office if he desired "to do what is best for the country, for the presidency, for himself and for his family."
''It is impermissible to allow a perjurer to remain president,'' Land said. ''A man who is a perjurer without consequence sticks at the heartbeat of our justice system. He will be the first enabler of every perjurer. All will be tempted to lie when the truth would be hurtful.''
"A president's ability to lead is based upon his moral legitimacy to govern," Land said. "Clinton has so squandered his authority that we can no longer believe anything he says, such as an alleged need to bomb Iraq. It is time for him to go."
Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, issued a public call for Clinton to resign and for his congregation, Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., to exercise church discipline as mandated by Scripture.
In one article Mohler criticized "Bill's Baptist buddies," religious-left activists that a Newsweek article said enabled Clinton's lack of personal responsibility. The article "goes far in explaining the president's twisted moral worldview," Mohler wrote. "But it also serves as an indictment of the generation of liberal Baptist leaders who served as Bill Clinton's moral advisers, and are now his enablers in a lifestyle of gross immorality."
Neither Patterson, Land nor Mohler has commented publicly on Libby, the first sitting White House staffer to be indicted in 135 years, though Land has reportedly been in recent contact with Rove discussing the president's Supreme Court nominees.
"The religious right is wrong to remain silent about the evil spirit that infects the White House, causing senior administration officials to smear a man who challenged the primary justification for the preemptive war against Iraq and to lie repeatedly about what they did," said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
"The religious right demonstrates yet again that they are court prophets—prophets that do what the king wants and not what God requires," Parham said. "The biblical witness clearly identifies such prophets as false prophets. True prophets would speak forcefully to the White House about doing the right thing, instead of hiding behind legal arguments."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.