In the wake of last Friday's grand jury indictment of "Cheney's Cheney" Scooter Libby, the Republican Party and its spin machine have experienced the first two phases of a three-phase process when faced with scandal. According to Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, the first phase is denial, when the party flat out refuses to acknowledge the charges against it as if they don't exist. This was the case leading up to the indictment, when administration officials, conservative pundits and talking heads claimed that Rove, Libby and others have little to worry about because special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's 22-month investigation was nothing more than a partisan witch-hunt lacking any evidence of wrongdoing.
Shrum, speaking on MSNBC's Hardball Thursday, said the second phase, rationalization, is when the embattled party acknowledges the existence of the charges and the potential legal troubles it faces, but attempts to minimize the significance of these charges and justify them at the same time. This phase can be evidenced by the spinners' claim that the underlying crime--exposing a covert CIA agent's identity--was never committed because "Plame was not a covert agent," as both the NY Post's Deborah Orin and GOP strategist Ed Rogers declared on Hardball. Therefore, they claim, the "mushier" charges of perjury, falsifying statements, and obstruction are essentially baseless.
But as Fitzgerald said in his post-indictment press conference last week, he could not make a case for the central crime of outing Plame because Libby repeatedly lied to the FBI, to investigators and to the grand jury, and obstructed the investigation.
That brings us to the last phase, change. This is when the administration under fire recognizes it's in a losing legal, political and or public-relations battle and sweeps house. As Ronald Reagan did after the Iran-Contra scandal, presidents often replace cabinet members and key advisors in an effort to put its troubles behind it. A such, the Washington Post reported Thursday that Bush is considering the fate of Deputy Chief of Staff and top political advisor Karl Rove, who remains under grand jury investigation. Rove lied to Press Secretary Scott McClellan two years ago; probably lied to Bush; and has lied to the American people. Is this a person who should be in one of the administration's highest positions? Even staunch conservative Sen. Trent Lott (Miss) asked, "should he be the deputy chief of staff for policy under the current circumstances?"
"I'm not sure the standard of employment in the White House should be that you're not yet indicted," Shrum said. "There ought to be a higher standard than that."
As we wait to see just what Fitzgerald has up his sleeve, four key questions remain: what was Libby's motive to lie and obstruct (was he covering for his boss Cheney?); why would Libby falsify statements, lie under oath and impede the investigation if he was truly innocent;? is PlameGate a narrow crime committed by just one individual, or is it the opening into a much wider scandal involving VP Dick Cheney and others;? and will Libby "turn" evidence to escape 30 years in jail. Only time will tell.