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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Karl Rove and The Limits of Legality

I have not addressed the Valerie Plame-Karl Rove situation on my website – except for some comments about journalist Judith Miller, who still languishes in an Alexandria jail - for a reason.

I am not a journalist and especially not an investigative reporter, so I have no new facts to contribute to this ever-evolving story. And I probably won’t either. Like most of the other amateurs in the blogosphere, all I have are opinions about the unfolding facts (there are exceptions, of course; there are professional writers who do have sources and the time and resources to conduct investigative reporting of the highest quality – but I’m not one of them).

Right now, too much is still being revealed for me to form an opinion. I prefer to wait until more information is out there. In other words, I’m pleading lack of opinion about Karl Rove’s actions due to insufficient data. Whatever I say can, at any moment, be subject to change.

Is he guilty of a crime? Right now, I’d guess not because he may have covered any tracks very cleverly. It could come down to exactly the same legalisms that most conservatives used to hate when Bill Clinton employed them. What is the definition of “sex?” What is the definition of “is?” What is the definition of outing a covert agent?

“I didn’t inhale.”

“I didn’t tell anybody her name, only to whom she was married.”

One thing, however, I do know about this situation is that whether Karl Rove is guilty of a crime or not may be beside the point.

You see, federal government workers are usually held to a higher standard of conduct than just mere legalisms. As a one-time fed, myself, I know two things about the rules of conduct and the standards of ethics to which government employees are held.

One is that they are all required to take an oath to defend the nation against its enemies and uphold the constitution. Every one of them, not just the president and his senior staff, takes that very same oath. Indeed, once when I was a personnel clerk, I administered that oath to other employees on their first day of federal employment. With hands held high, secretaries, clerks, lawyers, janitors, supervisors – anybody who was coming into the federal service – took the same oath. So did I.

And so did Karl Rove. Somehow, I don’t think outing a CIA employee could ever be considered defending our nation or upholding its constitution. To make serving our country more dangerous for federal workers in the intelligence service is, if not an outright act of treason, certainly an action that strengthens our enemies’ hand and weakens our ability to defend ourselves. It makes it more likely that good agents will decide that their government doesn’t back their sacrifices and will leave the intelligence services at the very time that we need more, not less of them.

I also know that government ethics require more than merely not breaking the law. Whether it’s refraining from accepting a gift or benefit or attending an event, federal workers must do more than simply stay within the limits of legality. They must also avoid the appearance of wrongdoing. The language used in their ethics manuals and by their general counsels, is that they must avoid situations where a reasonable person could conclude that there is even the appearance of wrongdoing.

In Karl Rove’s case, this standard has very obviously not been met. Reasonable people all over the political spectrum, not just the usual band of partisan hacks, are having trouble deciding whether his actions rise to the level of illegality.

When a fed is in such a situation, the question isn’t did he break the law. Rather, it’s did he give the appearance of wrongdoing, regardless of whether an actual law was broken. Would reasonable people have trouble concluding that everything was above board? Those are the standards that every single federal worker is held to. And if he or she can’t meet that standard, whether the law was broken or not, that fed should face consequences in the workplace.

If Karl Rove did not break the law, of course, he shouldn’t go to jail. Just as he isn’t above the law, he also isn’t below the law. He deserves the same protection and due process as every citizen. But he is a fed too. And so he should be held to the very same standard that every other fed is held to. Not just the legal, but also the appearance of wrongdoing standard.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention that Karl Rove has top-secret clearance? That gives him even more responsibility to act wisely and to observe a standard far higher than simply observing the letter of the law and legalisms such as the definition of “is.”

Because of his status as a federal employee with a top-secret clearance, Karl Rove should be handing in his letter of resignation right now and President Bush should be accepting it, regardless of whether he broke the law. He certainly broke his oath to defend this nation and he violated the trust of his top-secret clearance. And whether a law was actually broken, a very reasonable appearance of wrongdoing and unethical behavior is certainly present. And that’s the real standard by which he should be measured, especially in an administration that is more and more insisting upon greater accountability and higher performance standards for other feds.


The Fool said...

If Rove is found to be not guilty can we still beat him with a lead pipe just on general principles? I mean, he did say that Valerie Plame was "fair game" so I think that qualifies him for a severe beating. Anyone? Anyone?

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

My goodness, Fool. Actually, you may have to wait in line behind the rest of the CIA, who are feeling mighty betrayed.

How odd for a liberal, like me, to feel for the CIA? Maybe Bush is a uniter, after all. Who knew?

The Fool said...

Beatings are a daily occurence for me. I am after all, a medieval kind of guy. :)

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Ah, and you've made an anonymous, and sometimes grumpy, woman laugh! Thanks.