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Monday, October 10, 2005

"The B-Team is in charge."

Okay, now it is officially getting good. Two days in a row, Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC has featured guests and commentary on how much trouble Rove and others in the President's inner circle are likely to be facing in Traitorgate.

On Friday, Michael Isikoff previewed tidbits from his article in Newsweek (even though they didn't come out and say there was a short article in the offing), along with panel discussions with The Washington Post's John Harris and The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes. The transcript for this segment of the show is on the Hardball website and makes for some intriguing, if very much read-between-the-lines reading.

Isikoff made clear that Rove's grand jury testimony and Cooper's were not matching up, at least according to what we know publicly and from what we read in Cooper's release of his e-mail. Isikoff expressly says that the big issue as he knows it is whether or not Karl is being truthful in his testimony. And, from Isikoff's article in Newsweek from Sunday, we also know that there was a substantial question about veracity with regard to what he may or may not have told the Preznit.

John Harris made a point that bears repeating: It is unclear whether it was Rove/Luskin pressing again for the opportunity to testify before the Grand Jury this week (after the initial request/offer to go back that they made in July following Matt Cooper's testimony and subsequent reporting, an offer that Fitzgerald declined to taken them up on at the time), or whether Fitzgerald has requested specifically that Rove come back now and address specific (and perhaps newly raised and/or outstanding) issues.

The interesting thing that Harris intimated was that Rove may have said things that were "too cute" or "too smart aleck" in his three previous appearances (No way! That's not the Turdblossom we all know and love!), and that this is a chance for Rove to go in and appear less, for lack of a better term, asshole-ish. Ahem.

Either way, as Harris clearly stated, it is highly unusual to offer to go before the grand jury for any reason (although, as he also pointed out, Chuck Robb used just such an appearance a few years ago to talk his way out of a perjury charge and that perhaps that is the last ditch hope for Rove and Luskin, but I've discussed that before here, so I'll leave that for now). Interestingly, Stephen Hayes seemed to indicate that he also was expecting charges in some form for Rove, but more along the lines of perjury -- perhaps he was trying to minimize and the Weekly Standard is expecting worse, but for him to publicly talk about any charge at all for Rove is...well, kind of telling, I think.

Today, they had Hardball on at 5 pm ET for some reason. (Have they changed the time again?!?) The show began with a fantastic summary of the whole Traitorgate mess by Chris Matthews and an exceptional report by David Schuster, putting this case in the plainest, starkest terms. Crooks and Liars has a great clip of the opening segment of the show on the website -- if you didn't see it live today, it is a MUST watch. I mean it, go watch it -- even the Tweety haters out there will be impressed. It is as good as I have ever seen Chris Matthews today, and Shuster is spot on. This is a clear, concise summary that lays the facts out so plain that even the freepers will have to admit...well, nah. They won't. But still, it's really good.

Guests were Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair, James Moore of "Bush's Brain," and Howard Fineman of Newsweek. First off, Chris Matthews finally spilled the beans on who told Dick Cheney about the Miers nomination. It was Andrew Card. (Remember last week when we were all buzzing about Cheney finding out the news from one of the Preznit's assistants? Well, it was Card who did the deed.)

A lot of the talk on the show in this segment centered around the fact that Cheney and Rove are being deliberately cut out of the loop at the WH -- presumably, according to Matthews and the panel, because indictments are coming down the pike. According to Fineman, "The B-Team is in charge..." at the White House these days. Rove is no longer "Reconstruction Czar" for the Katrina reconstruction (and Fineman seemed to insinuate that perhaps he hadn't ever had the job, that the announcement had just come out but there was no there there, even though the job would have been perfect for Rove's skills.)

There was also quite a bit of speculation about the "divide" between the Andy Card-Dan Bartlett segment of the staff and the Rove/Libby/Cheney segment of the staff. Neo-cons out, cons in sheep's clothing in, I suppose. (At least where Bartlett is concerned, he gives me the smarmy willies every time he speaks.) This conflict has apparently been percolating for quite some time, mainly over how and when and even if we should have gone to war in Iraq.

From the tone of the discussion between the panelists, it sounds like the long knives are coming out. Rove has made a lot of enemies outside the GOP, but his tactics and machinations have apparently made even more within the walls of the White House itself. Machiavelli be damned, in this case, the ends and the means may be intersecting in one long bout of personal payback. All this time, I thought that Dan Bartlett was a Rovian acolyte, but according to Fineman, at least, the dagger may be sharpening even in his hands. Et tu, Bartlett?

Following the panel discussion, Matthews had a one-on-one with David Gregory (for my money one of the best reporters working the White House beat these days, if not the best). It was refreshing for its level of honesty, if nothing else. (And how sad is it that I can say that about a journalist and we all sit up and take notice?) David Gregory said flat out that Rove had a very long leash to be able to take care of any opposition for the WH -- that this was common knowledge. And that it was also very well known -- "no question" -- that Rove went after Joe Wilson publicly.

One wonders how long the "B-Team" has been in charge. Before the Harriet Miers pick? Before the disastrous Katrina response? And how was this accomplished -- does Andy Card just start freezing Rove out of meetings? If so, that would certainly explain his absence (and Cheney's freeze out as well) in so many ways. Do Libby and Rove still have their security clearances? And if so, why is that exactly, with Rove's lawyer admitting publicly that Rove "misspoke" directly to the President of the United States?

All of this intrigue certainly explains a lot of the deer in the headlights looks from so many of the brave face forwards we've been seeing as talking heads lately from the WH. Sounds to me like a very good reason to give Howard Baker a call and clean house.

UPDATE: Hardball posted the transcript from the 10/10/05 show. Definitely worth a read if you missed the panel discussion.