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The scandal that wouldn’t die

The investigation surrounding the outing of a CIA official is far from over, even after the vice president’s chief of staff was indicted and forced to resign Friday. The premise, that Valerie Plume’s name was leaked to the press to hurt her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, not only made sense, but it also fits in with tactics the Bush administration had used before: If you can’t dispute the veracity of an opponent’s claims, utterly destroy their credibility by any means necessary.

Interestingly enough, the president himself declared his chief adviser Karl Rove to be the “architect” of his re-election and political strategy when he publicly accepted John Kerry’s concession earlier this year. But even before this, Rove’s use of character assassination-tactics was hardly a secret. Now Rove still remains under investigation for involvement in the leak.

In the past, such tactics worked quite well for Bush, at least in short-term goals. Bush’s primary campaign in 2000 did not completely manage to convince the public that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a decorated war hero and prisoner of war in Vietnam, was unpatriotic. But it worked well enough to sow a deep-rooted seed of mistrust in most voters’ minds, and Bush emerged victorious. To top it, the Bush campaign under Rove’s leadership managed to muddy the waters in the disputed 2000 presidential election – even if Al Gore had emerged as president, he would have been unable to govern because his credibility had been all but destroyed in the process.

In 2004, the Bush team did similar things to John Kerry, attacking not his weaknesses, but those traits the public perceived as his strengths just enough to undermine his standing as war-time leader.

Now, even after the vice president’s former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby has been indicted, Rove still remains at the center of the investigation. Since Libby’s solid indictment was released, it has emerged that Rove is the official who had only been named “Official A” in the indictment but had been specified to have “advised” Libby. But the investigation is also bound to focus on how both the president and vice president were involved.

This problem is only compounded by the fact that Bush has claimed the higher moral ground wherever possible. His claim that he intended to “bring back integrity to the White House” in 2000 managed to give him support from voters who hadn’t forgiven former President Bill Clinton for lying under oath about his sexual escapades. Now it is becoming painfully obvious that this was little more than a campaign slogan to be abandoned whenever deemed politically convenient.

What the public is slowly catching on to now is that the ongoing investigation is far from the political witch-hunt the GOP portrays it as. Rather it is symptomatic of the business-as-usual at the White House and high ranks of the Republican Party.

This is confirmed by a poll conducted this weekend by the Washington Post and ABC News. In it 55 percent of those questioned said they perceived the case as an indication of wider problems “with ethical wrongdoing.” Even more damning: the Post reported in a “3 to 1 ratio, 46 percent to 15 percent, Americans say the level of honesty and ethics in the government has declined rather than risen under Bush.”

The whole situation is eerily reminiscent of Watergate, the mother of all Beltway scandals. Even Carl Bernstein, one of the two reporters who broke the Watergate story, told Editor and Publisher magazine there were parallels.

“The cover-up of the role of (President Richard) Nixon’s aides in the Watergate break in led to the discovery by the press and the political institutions of the larger crimes – the constitutional crimes of the president and his men,” Bernstein said.

Similarly the investigation surrounding the leaking of Plame’s name already opened other questions. For example it proved that the administration withheld information from Congress when it lobbied for the vote that would allow it to go to war with Iraq. Documents that cast doubt whether Iraq’s infamous weapons of mass destruction existed were simply not shown to Congress.

This act alone is far more serious than anything Nixon ever did.

It seems that the highly questionable actions that not only got the Bush administration into office but also were the basis of most of its political power now has a strong potential to also see it being pushed out, or at least significantly weakened.

Call it poetic justice, irony or simple stupidity on the administration’s part. What matters is that this one is not just going to go away like past scandals.

Sebastian Meyer is a senior majoring in political geography and a former Oracle opinion editor.