Smear Pattern

On July 15, 2003, ABC News aired a story about the plummeting morale of U.S. troops in Iraq. It quoted soldiers questioning the war and the judgment and candor of their commanders. One frosted GI even went on camera to call for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign.

It was a devastating report, and the White House went into orbit over it. Rather than address the issues the soldiers raised, angry White House officials devised a plan to attack the messenger – the ABC correspondent who filed the story, Jeffrey Kofman.

He’s gay, officials whispered to cyber-gossip Matt Drudge, a reliable Bush toady. Not only that, they sneered, he’s not even an American. He’s a Canadian.

Drudge, no longer the gadfly he once was during the Clinton years, dutifully posted a banner smear of Kofman on his Web site the day after the powerful ABC story, which had made national headlines. Drudge, who supports the Iraq invasion, later acknowledged the White House tipping him off, remarking that it "has become slightly more aggressive about contacting reporters."

Indeed it had.

Just four days earlier, Vice President Dick Cheney devised a scheme to attack the credibility of another messenger of bad news regarding Iraq – Ambassador Joe Wilson. The previous week, Wilson had blown the whistle on the White House’s bogus claim that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy fuel for nuclear weapons from Niger.

Cheney hatched the plan with top aide Scooter Libby aboard Air Force Two during a flight from Norfolk, Va., on July 12, 2003. That same day Libby leaked to Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time magazine the secret identity of Wilson’s CIA wife.

Also that day, another administration official who hasn’t been identified publicly called Walter Pincus of the Washington Post to point out that Wilson’s fact-finding trip to Niger was a "boondoggle" set up by his CIA wife, Valerie Plame. You can’t trust what he’s saying, he suggested; it’s nepotism.

July 2003 was a bad month for the White House. The Iraq insurgency was growing. U.S. troop morale was flagging. No weapons of mass destruction had been found. And people were starting to come forward to question the White House’s story in selling the war.

So the White House went into full attack mode. The marching orders issued by Cheney and President Bush were clear: Trash and smear whoever got in the way of their wholesale campaign of deceit. Kofman, Wilson, anyone.

And yet now, with Libby’s indictment, the White House expects us all to believe that smearing a key war critic was the furthest thing from their minds. Why, they just wanted to correct the record about who sent Wilson to Niger, because it wasn’t Cheney as Wilson said in his New York Times piece.

Never mind that Wilson never said that. And never mind that White House officials launched a whisper campaign, which is a pretty odd way to go about correcting the public record.

The White House also expects us to believe that asking the CIA about the secret employment of Wilson’s wife and then leaking it to several reporters and columnists was perfectly innocent and routine White House business. And no one blew Plame’s cover – c’mon, it was all just harmless gossip!

"There was no underlying crime. I mean, it really is ridiculous," grumbled Fox News analyst Bill Kristol on a recent Sunday show. "The notion that there was a concerted administration effort to smear its enemies I think has been utterly discredited."

Or so Kristol wishes.

The neocon acolyte of superstatist Leo Strauss helped Libby and his White House co-conspirators sell the "noble lies" that got us into war in Iraq. Now they’re in trouble for viciously (and illegally) attacking the CIA wife of a critic who helped expose their lies, and Kristol has dutifully taken up the cudgels for them, knowing that his reputation is yoked to theirs.

Such remarks are designed to suspend disbelief about their treachery. But they are wholly unconvincing against the pattern of smearing war critics that was going on in the Bush White House that month in 2003.