While I have criticized the White House Press Corps in the past for their softball questions and for their ignoring key issues such as the Downing Street Memo, I am happy to report that at the July 11 White House Press Briefing some reporters seem to have grown some new teeth, at least on one issue, Karl Rove.
In what The Washington Post characterized as "aggressive" and "combative" press briefings, certain members of the White House Press Corps kept a barrage of questions going at Scott McClellan. But, as always, because the questioners are unnamed in the official White House transcript, it was unclear how many questioners there were and who they were.
Despite the fact that there were several direct questions about Rove's criminal culpability, the Washington Post reported that "It was the issue of credibility, more than of criminal culpability, that produced some of the most aggressive questioning at a White House briefing in recent memory -- but no answers." Were the two writers of the Post piece, Mike Allen and Dan Balz, actually there at the Press Briefing? One question was about as direct as you can get "Did Karl Rove commit a crime?"
I find it revealing that the Washington Post reporters would describe the briefing as one of the most aggressive in recent memory. You mean like for the first time since Bush was elected? Does this mean that the White House Press Corps is usually not aggressive? The answer, of course, is yes.
McClellan was at his most obfuscating and fuzzy best dealing with the onslaught of questions. This answer to one question neatly summarizes all of his many other answers, most of which were not as clean and pithy: "Well, I think the President has previously spoken to this. This continues to be an ongoing criminal investigation. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And we're just not going to have more to say on it until that investigation is complete."
That phrase "No one wants to get at the bottom of this more than the President of the United States" was repeated many times in the course of this Press Briefing, and has been a stock phrase used by the White House and George Bush himself in the past two years. When he says it, he actually means "I really don't want to get to the bottom of this because it will be really embarrassing."
One curious item in the Washington Post story remains unanswered, at least for me. If Karl Rove never really revealed anything to the reporter Matthew Cooper, then why did Cooper need Rove to "release" him from confidentiality as a "source" for Cooper to be able to name Rove? Cooper could simply have said, yes, I spoke to Karl Rove but he didn't tell me anything. I mean, any reporter in his right mind who did not call to interview Rove on this issue would have been shirking his journalistic responsibility.
The Washington Post characterized the conversation between Rove and Cooper as "vague", despite the fact that it was on "double super secret background," which sounds like something pre-pubescent boys would make up playing Spy vs Spy. Everyone knows Rove talks to everyone he can, as often as he can, giving them as many Rovian lines as he can, hoping many of them get into print and paint a good picture of his client, George Bush.
The one thing that goes unexplained, and untouched, is that Rove gave Cooper "a big warning not to get too far out on Wilson." Now what does that mean? What is he warning Cooper about? Is he sending him a message that this is a national security issue, so tread lightly? Is he giving him some kind of vague threat, don't delve into this too deeply or we will never talk to you again? Just what is the warning? No one ever says.
This is potentially dangerous ground for White House reporters. Careers are at stake. Some of them must sense some blood in the water on this issue or they would not be as aggressive on something that involves the second most powerful person in the White House, next to Dick Cheney.