When did President Bush learn that Karl Rove, his senior adviser, leaked intelligence information to at least one reporter about the identity of a CIA agent in July 2003?
Did Bush ask Rove two years ago, when Rove’s name first surfaced with the leak, if he had disclosed confidential information only available to those with a high-level of national security clearance?
If not, why didn’t the president ask that question of one of his most trusted, long-tenured friends? If he did, and Rove told him the truth, did Bush ask Rove what motivated such an action?
When Bush said that his staff was expected to cooperate fully with investigators, did he really mean what he said, and does mean it now?
After Rove was revealed as the source of secret information leaked to a Time magazine reporter, did Bush ask Rove this week why he had lied repeatedly about his involvement?
Please don’t read these questions as legal questions. Read them as moral questions.
The central moral concern here is whether Bush will practice what he preaches about an era of personal responsibility.
The talk-but-no-walk ethic is an example of moral relativism. When leaders fail to do what they say, their credibility diminishes, and that contributes to the erosion of a moral society.
“My first goal is to usher in the responsibility era,” said presidential candidate Bush in Cedar Rapids in 1999. “An era that stands in stark contrast to the last few decades, when the culture has clearly said: If it feels good, do it. If you’ve got a problem, blame someone else.”
Candidate Bush said: “Some people think it’s inappropriate to draw a moral line. Not me. For our children to have the lives we want for them, they must learn to say yes to responsibility, yes to family, yes to honesty and work. I have seen our culture change once in my lifetime, so I know it can change again.”
When the Justice Department announced in September 2003 that it was investigating the CIA leak, at the request of the CIA, Bush said, “If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business.”
Asked if he had talked to Rove, Bush said he wanted people “who have got solid evidence” to “come forward and speak out.”
“We’ll get to the bottom of this and move on,” he promised. “But I want to tell you something—leaks of classified information are a bad thing.”
In June 2004, Bush was asked if he would fire a staff member who leaked the name of a CIA agent. He answered, “Yes.”
Yesterday, with Rove sitting behind the president’s left side in the White House conference room, Bush told reporters, “I will be more than happy to comment on this matter once this investigation is complete.”
He said, “I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation.”
Bush has had more than enough time over the past two years to resolve this matter with Rove and to take appropriate action. His failure to do so discloses a half-hearted commitment to usher in the responsibility era in his own administration. If Bush is unwilling or unable to get his own administration to be responsible, then how can he influence the nation?
At the heart of the Rove scandal is the integrity of the Bush White House, which already hangs by the thinnest shreds of moral credibility resulting from the war in Iraq, where this whole sordid matter of leaked national security material to discredit a war critic got started.
Bush needs to do the right thing, not stonewall and hope that the American public loses interest.
The restoration of moral credibility begins with acts of integrity.
Robert Parham is executive director of the BaptistCenter for Ethics.