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July 29, 2009
Colin Powell, Republican Strategist?
Colin Powell appeared on CNN's Larry King Show on Tuesday evening. In the wake of his endorsement of Barack Obama, some conservatives have suggested that he leave the Republican Party. Powell's response to King was defiant, "I decide what party I am going to be in." He then offered advice to the Republican Party for improving its electoral prospects.
When one takes to the national airwaves and asserts his allegiance and offers his wisdom to the Party, this assumes both political and moral standing. There must be a perception in the audience of good faith that has been earned and maintained. Powell is not entitled to this assumption or this perception because of his actions while Secretary of State in the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame "scandal" that were so damaging to President Bush.
From July of 2003 until September of 2006 the Bush Administration was embroiled in the Wilson/Plame scandal, and Powell contributed to its duration and the severity of its effect. What this media-driven scandal lacked in political hysteria and cheap theatrics, it made up in layers of deceit.
Joe Wilson wrote a piece in the New York Times claiming that he found no evidence in Niger of Saddam Hussein's search for yellowcake uranium. Wilson sought to discredit one of President Bush's justifications for the invasion of Iraq and the President's endorsement of British intelligence on this issue. His "New York Times" piece flatly contradicted his own prior report to the government, where he had said that Saddam Hussein was in fact seeking yellowcake uranium in Niger.
After the appearance of Wilson's piece in the Times, on July 14, 2003 Robert Novak published a column on Wilson's assignment in Niger and his report, where Novak mentioned Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative. Joe Wilson, in high dudgeon, accused the Bush Administration of exposing Valerie Plame's CIA status as an illegal retaliation against him and his wife for his "New York Times" piece.
There was nothing illegal in the leak or in the public disclosure by Robert Novak of Valerie Plame's CIA connection. As the statute plainly shows, she had no "covert" status that gave her any special legal protection. These inconvenient facts did not stop a three-year, politically motivated witchhunt that would have made Joe McCarthy envious.
We now know that Robert Novak's source for the Plame information was Richard L. Armitage, the number two man in Powell's State Department. We also know that the Special Prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, knew early on that Armitage was the source of this leak. This knowledge did not stop his costly and time-consuming investigation into the source of the leak.
Richard Armitage in October of 2003 told Colin Powell that he, Armitage, was the source of this leak. Colin Powell then sat silent. He allowed the President, who had appointed him to his august position, to twist in the wind for nearly three years while the President's political enemies used this phony scandal to undermine the very policies that Colin Powell had agreed to help carry out. By his silence he not only helped prolong the attacks on the administration he supposedly served, his silence enhanced celebrity-seeking Joe Wilson.
Even the Washington Post, ever-eager to pillory the Bush Administration, wrote in its September 1, 2006 editorial that "all this might have been avoided had Mr. Armitage's identity been known three years ago." All Secretary Powell had to do was pick up the telephone and tell what he knew, and the countless hours wasted, the reputations tarnished, and the millions spent would have been saved. There would have been no dire consequences for Armitage because there was nothing illegal about the leak.
Colin Powell did nothing in the face of this onslaught and, I suspect, he enjoyed this spectacle. Those facing the inquisitions, the daily smear campaigns, and the threats of prosecution were largely those who had opposed Powell's weak and accomodationist policies that he restated to Larry King. Sitting in his office in the State Department, Powell must have felt that quiet exhilaration of one who slows down on the highway to stare at the multi-car pile-up.
President Bush conferred a great honor on Colin Powell after the President's election in 2000. The President selected Colin Powell as America's first black Secretary of State, and gave him a place in the innermost sanctums of American power. Powell acknowledged to Larry King that he as Secretary of State was the "president's voice," which is no small position.
Aside from a sense of gratitude, one would expect that Powell, having been put into this position of power and prestige, would have worked assiduously for the President's policies. If the President were pursuing policies with which he did not agree, Powell could have resigned rather than undermine those policies with his silence about Armitage. Powell restated this principle to Larry King, though he ignored it as Secretary of State.
Powell did great damage to the President who appointed him. To give Colin Powell any standing or to confer respect to his opinions is to ignore or condone his betrayal of President Bush. Powell certainly has the right to claim his membership in the Republican Party. As anyone can, he has the right to express his views on electoral strategies. However, with that pregnant three year silence, he has forfeited his right to be taken seriously by the Republican Party.
Henry P. Wickham, Jr. welcomes comments at HWickham@LNLAttorneys.com