Politics with Ron Elving: Plame Indictments, Iraq War

Madeleine Brand speaks with NPR senior Washington, D.C., editor Ron Elving about the political week ahead, including possible indictments from the grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA operative's identity, new questions about the justification for the Iraq war and a look forward at Democratic strategy for the 2006 mid-term elections.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes we look at the hot, new rock band Franz Ferdinand. But, first, as we heard earlier, President Bush has nominated former Federal Reserve Governor Ben Bernanke as the new chairman of the Federal Reserve.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I want to thank Ben for his willingness to serve in a position so important for world markets and so vital to the well-being of the American people. I urge the Senate to act promptly to confirm Ben Bernanke as the 14th chairman of the Federal Reserve.

BRAND: But for all the fiscal clout that comes with the job of Fed chairman, the nomination will also come under political scrutiny. And we're joined now by NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving.

Ron, the policies implemented by the chairman of the Fed affect the economic fortunes of millions of Americans, not to mention world markets. So does this nomination excite the same kind of intense political partnership that we've seen so far with the nominations to the Supreme Court?

RON ELVING reporting:

You would think it would because, after all, this person is going to have more economic clout over the United States' economy and, therefore, the global economy than any other individual. And yet, traditionally, the appointment of a new chairman of the Fed has not generated the kind of political controversy that Supreme Court nominations do. I think that's possibly partly because this person's job and the work they do is not terribly well-understood. People regard them as a mysterious oracle, someone who sets policy in ways they don't understand and for reasons that they don't understand. And oftentimes they regard this person as a sort of malevolent force, but they're not exactly sure how to resist them.

When Alan Greenspan, over the course of his 18 years, came up for reconfirmation, there would be a few votes against him, a few populists in the Senate, a few people who thought he should have loosened interest rates more than he had, a few people who thought that he was too much of a Wall Street economist. But that never really amounted to much, and I don't believe that resistance to Bernanke will in this case either. The Senate's got quite a bit on its plate already.

BRAND: And another big Washington story today. the grand jury investigating the leak of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. That's set to close up shop at the end of the week. And I imagine every one has baited breath to see if there will be indictments--and it's still an `if,' not a definite. And so what's the feeling there in Washington?

ELVING: If we are going to have indictments, most people expect them to come Tuesday or Wednesday when the grand jury could actually return them for the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. On the other hand, a leak could come from an attorney for one of possible indictees at any time. So that's why people are really anxious about it, and clearly everyone in the White House is anxious about it. So we don't know exactly when the hour will be, but I think that the definitive word will come early in the week.

BRAND: And this investigation has reminded people about the justifications for going to war in the first place against Iraq. And a lot of that evidence was put forth by a group called the White House Iraq Group. Tell us about this group.

ELVING: White House Iraq Group was summoned together by the White House chief of staff, Andy Card, two or three years ago to work on the communications challenges of the war in Iraq. They weren't planning the war; they were planning how to talk to the American people about it. And two of the people who were part of this group are the two people who are most often mentioned as potential indictees in the Plame investigation, and that's Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, and I. Lewis Libby, sometimes called Scooter Libby, who fulfills largely the same role for Vice President Cheney.

Also part of this group of eight advisers within the White House were Karen Hughes, the chief communications adviser to President Bush, and Mary Matalin, who fulfills that function for Vice President Cheney. Then the national security adviser, now the secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was part of this group and her principal deputy, Stephen Hadley, who is now the national security adviser. Two other people in it: Nick Calio, the liaison to Congress, and James Wilkinson, who was a former communications officer for Tommy Franks in Iraq, who was back in the country serving the White House as a communications officer at that time.

BRAND: And...

ELVING: What these people were trying to do was get the country on the page that the White House wanted everybody to believe: that Iraq, with its weapons of mass destruction, was an imminent threat to the United States.

BRAND: Ron Elving is NPR senior Washington editor. And for more of his political analysis, you can read his column Watching Washington; it runs Monday on our Web site, npr.org.

Thanks a lot, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Madeleine.

BRAND: More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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