White House to Name New Court Nominee
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The White House is hoping to regain control of the dialogue in Washington after a week in which the White House certainly was not in control. Last week came the indictment of top aide Lewis Libby. He's accused of perjury, making false statements and obstructing justice in a grand jury investigation into the leaking of an undercover CIA agent's name. Presidential adviser Karl Rove remains under investigation now. An announcement of a new Supreme Court nominee perhaps as early as today gives the administration a chance to change the subject. NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA reporting:
With the indictment handed up on Friday against Lewis Libby, the administration has to be wondering: Do things now start to get better or is this just the most recent piece of bad news in a beleaguered second term? The goal, of course, is to make the story of the key aide accused of lying yesterday's news. That's a process the president tried to begin with a very brief statement Friday.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Today I accepted the resignation of Scooter Libby. Scooter's worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country.
GONYEA: Vice President Cheney also put out a statement in which he praised his former and now accused aide, but over the weekend Democrats seized on the White House reaction to the indictment. Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" said both men missed the mark.
(Soundbite of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos")
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): First of all, the vice president issues a very terse statement praising Libby for all the great things he's done. Then we have the president come on camera a few minutes later calling him "Scooter" and what a great patriot he is. There has not been an apology to the American people for this obvious problem in the White House.
Mr. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (Host, "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"): So the president should apologize?
Sen. REID: He should apologize. The vice president should apologize. They should come clean with the American public. I think Karl Rove should step down.
GONYEA: There remain many questions in the wake of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's announcement Friday. What of the connections and closeness between Libby and Vice President Cheney? And will Karl Rove also face indictment, given that Fitzgerald said he remains under investigation? Cheney and Rove are probably the two most important members of the president's inner circle. Does each now work under a cloud of sorts? But Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman with close ties to the president, says people have to be careful not to make the indictment of Lewis Libby into more than it is. He predicts that Rove will be cleared and says Cheney did nothing inappropriate.
Mr. VIN WEBER (Former Republican Congressman): I think, by and large, the clouds from the White House have been lifted. And it's really unfortunate that Scooter Libby has to go through this. I know him well enough to hope very much that he's acquitted, because I think he's a fine and decent man. But his problems are not the problems of the entire administration.
GONYEA: Even Republicans, though, are saying that the White House needs to take the fact that Libby faces charges very seriously and not to take too much comfort in the fact that no other staffers have been indicted. Mississippi Senator Trent Lott spoke yesterday on "Fox News Sunday." He suggests that some changes may be necessary.
(Soundbite of "Fox News Sunday")
Senator TRENT LOTT (Republican, Mississippi): You should always be looking for, you know, new blood, new energy, qualified staff, new people in the administration. There's not--I'm not talking about wholesale changes. But I...
Unidentified Man: I think that's a yes, then.
Sen. LOTT: ...think you've got to reach out and bring in more advice and counsel. Maybe that's why we did have the Harriet Miers nomination. Maybe there wasn't enough consultation or enough good, strong people advising the president.
GONYEA: Over the weekend the president was at Camp David and working on finding a replacement for Miers, whose nomination was troubled from the start and whose withdrawal was the other big story out of the White House last week. Her nomination was done in by activists on the right who questioned her overall qualifications and her credentials as a conservative. Still, a new nomination gives the president a big opportunity to change the subject away from the leak investigation, but it also provides him with the task of whether he can find a person who can restore some of his stature in the public's eye and avoid another divisive fight within his own party, while not seeming to simply cave in to the demands of those emboldened by the battle over Miers.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.