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No Matter How Much Sean Hannity Tries to Smear Joe Wilson, Karl Rove Doesn't Look Any Cleaner

Reported by Ellen - July 19, 2005

The FOX/GOP faultlines in the Karl Rove defense widened a bit last night on Hannity & Colmes. Sean Hannity and Bill "Gamblin' Man" Bennett did their best to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Joe Wilson, Democrats, the "liberal media" and that all-purpose GOP punching-bag, Bill Clinton in an effort to make Karl Rove look like a victim. Unfortunately for Hannity and Bennett, the next guest was Newsweek's Michael Isikoff. Isikoff has followed this story closely since its beginning, he said, and his command of the facts blew away Hannity's theories.

Alan Colmes introduced the discussion by playing a clip of President Bush saying on Monday that he would fire anyone who broke the law by disclosing CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity to reporters. Colmes followed that by two earlier clips of Bush saying he would fire anyone involved in the leak. Then he asked Bennett why the administration keeps moving the goalpost.

It was an excellent question, in my view, and Bennett tapdanced around it because, obviously, he couldn't answer. I was sorry that Colmes didn't press the point. Last week, I heard Colmes on his radio show very clearly and concisely lay out all the damning evidence against Rove and the Bush administration in this matter. But for some reason, he seemed not to have the same kind of focus on the TV show.

Colmes' next question for Bennett was to compare Rove's parsing of what he said to Time with Clinton's parsing of what he did with Lewinsky. "Conservatives like you were all over the president. This is the same kind of thing." With all the facts that speak against Rove - nearly two years of denials that he was involved, the Scooter Libby participation, Rove's ridiculous attempt to make it look as if the reporter had leaked the information to him, etc. - this seemed an odd point to fasten on, especially when Colmes only had three minutes. (Hannity had four, by the way.)

Bennett answered that we should wait until the investigation is concluded and he didn't think a crime was committed anyway. From there, he started smearing Wilson. "I hope when the investigation is concluded, the light will be where it belongs which I think is on Joe Wilson who has lied throughout this thing."

Once again, I was disappointed that Colmes didn't say that there are plenty of times an employee should be fired even if he didn't break the law and that Wilson's behavior has absolutely no bearing on Rove and Libby talking about Plame to the press. I'm almost certain I heard him make those points on his radio show last week.

When it was his turn, Hannity, of course, picked up the attack against Wilson saying that "his record has not been examined by the media." Of course it hasn't; it's not relevant. Next, Hannity offered his "expert" opinion on the law before going back into attack mode. "Clearly if you talk to the people that offered the law, there's no crime that was violated in any way shape, matter or form here. So the question is, what are the Democrats politically trying to do?" Of course, it all boiled down to "a hatred for George W Bush."

Bennett agreed, of course, but added that the real villain was Clinton. "We found out with Clinton there was so much horrible stuff, so much lawbreaking, so much violating of people's trust, so much misuse and abuse of women. In the case of Karl rove, nothing has been argued that seems a violation of law or that even seems out of whack."

Hannity then set off against his personal scapegoats - Howard Dean and Dick Durbin who are always "angry and shrill" in Hannity's eyes. "Does it benefit them?"

Bennett went off on some kind of tangent about the London bombers being homegrown, saying this is a very serious situation, seemingly drawing a parallel between terrorists and Bush-critics. Then he concluded by saying "I cannot imagine that the American people can sit back and say, 'boy, this matters.'"

Don't bet on it, Bill. According to an ABC News poll released yesterday, "three-quarters call it a serious matter, and just over four in 10 see it as "very" serious." The other news isn't so good for you, either: "75 percent say Rove should lose his job if the investigation finds he leaked classified information. That includes sizable majorities of Republicans, independents and Democrats alike - 71, 74 and 83 percent, respectively." By the way, that's if he leaked the information, not if he broke a law. The other not-so-good news is that "Just a quarter of Americans think the White House is fully cooperating in the federal investigation of the leak of a CIA operative's identity, a number that's declined sharply since the investigation began."

Right after Bennett, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff came on. Hannity started out with his legal opinion again that "it's very unlikely any law was broken in any way, shape, matter or form." Then he made the mistake of asking Isikoff, "Do you think I'm right on target here or am I really off base?"

Isikoff said Hannnity's off base. The special counsel, Isikoff said, "clearly believes he has evidence of a federal crime.... In secret filings(he) has made a compelling case to every judge that's read it that there's a serious case.... If it was as simple as you present it... we wouldn't be where we are right now."

Hannity, not to be deterred in his legal opinion (despite having no background in the law, unless you count the fact that his father was a probation officer) said, "Maybe, maybe not." Claiming there's a very high standard in the law, Hannity said, "It appears... that that standard is not reached... I don't see how this can go any further based on the law, based on the intelligence committee's findings, I don't see it."

Isikoff said Hannity could be right but that Special Counsel Fitzgerald "has convinced a lot of people that you're wrong and that there is, in fact, evidence of a crime." Isikoff said he assumes that the special prosecutor is familiar with the law, having been at it for almost two years. He added that there is another law that could have been broken, one that makes it a crime to disclose classified information. Isikoff said Fitzgerald and his prosecutors have "asked a lot of questions" about a classified State Department document that Colin Powell had with him that week, which had information on Plame in it.

Alan Colmes (who, again, got less time than Hannity), was back on top of his game when he opened his part of the discussion by saying that the memo informed top administration officials that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Noting that it was one week later that Novak outed her in his column, Colmes said, "Is there any question this is about defaming Joe Wilson and his wife. If you look at the timeline, they're going after them." (Comment: They still are.)

Isikoff said that Fitzgerald told the court "This is not about a whistleblower, this is about potential retaliation against a whistleblower." Fitzgerald has presented his case as though he's got at least prima facie evidence of a federal crime. "At the end of the day," Isikoff said, "this is a criminal investigation, not a political food fight."

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