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Ashcroft's Recusal Should Worry Us
January 27, 2004
By bdf

Finally, John Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame investigation. Some anti-Bush sites whooped for joy at the news. Their thinking went along the lines of "Ashcroft recused himself, therefore it must mean that he knows who the leaker is, that the leaker is somebody connected to Ashcroft, and that the leaker will shortly be brought to justice." I think it means exactly the opposite: Ashcroft recused himself because he knows (probably because he finished destroying all the incriminating evidence) that the leaker will never be identified.

There are two possibilities at the conclusion of the investigation: the leaker is identified or the leaker is not identified. There are two options Ashcroft can take: he recuses himself or he doesn't recuse himself. This gives us four combinations, and we can determine Ashcroft's optimum strategy in each of those four cases by considering what he has to gain and lose.

The leaker is going to be identified

It seems unlikely that this would ever happen, given the Bush administration's practise of attacking honesty and rewarding dishonesty (a feature it shares with the administrations of Nixon, Reagon and Bush the slightly wiser and slightly less evil). But there are a few scenarios which might lead to this happening.

  • The Bush administration might be running scared of the increasing coverage in the media and of increasing public knowledge and disgust. They would need somebody to throw to the wolves to dissociate themselves from the blame. It might be the real leaker they sacrifice, or (if the real leaker is somebody like Rove or Cheney) it might be a scapegoat willing to do a little jail time (can you say "Scooter"). Sacrificing a pawn runs the risk that one of the five ethical journalists (the ones who refused to put the lives of a CIA undercover agent and her contacts at risk) might turn around and say "The person you blamed was not either of the people who contacted me." So it's a possibility, but given the stranglehold the Bushies have on the press and the effectiveness of constantly-repeated lies, an unlikely one.

  • Despite Ashcroft's attempts to suppress it, junior staff at the Injustice Department and/or FBI and/or CIA have identified the leaker and will blow the whistle if the investigation does not. For this to be a possibility, the potential whistle-blowers would have to have some sort of shield against being "disappeared." There is more chance of a snowball surviving five minutes in Hell.

  • The Bush administration wants an honest investigation that finds the true leaker, no matter whom that might be. There will be a day-long snowball fight in Hell before that happens.

Nevertheless, let us assume a leaker (real or fake) is about to be exposed. What are the consequences of Ashcroft's two options?

Ashcroft recuses himself

In this case, Ashcroft comes in for criticism for not recusing himself earlier, but may also earn praise for recusing himself after he had enough information to suspect that the leaker was somebody wih connections to him rather than trying to organize a cover-up.

Ashcroft does not recuse himself

In this case, Ashcroft can tell everyone what an honest, ethical person he is because he presided over an investigation that exposed somebody with whom he has connections. His image certainly needs the sort of boost that would give him: he lost an election to a dead man and his popularity has only gone downhill since. The right-wing media would sing Hosannas while Ashcroft would annoint himself for joy and tout this as proof that we can trust him not to abuse his powers even as he wipes his ass with the Bill of Rights.

This would be a major boost for Ashcroft and the Bush administration. So major that if they thought they could get away with sacrificing a fake leaker without risk of exposure, they would.

So it is clear that, if Ashcroft knows a leaker (real or fake) is going to be identified, his best strategy (by a large margin) is not to recuse himself.

The leaker will never be identified

This is the scenario we all feared from the beginning because it fits in with the standard Bush Family Evil Empire modus operandi. Again, we have to consider the cost and benefits if Ashcroft does or does not recuse himself.

Ashcroft recuses himself

Ashcroft can then pass the blame onto Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald and deny all accusations of a cover-up. The relatively small number of left-leaning media outlets might accuse Ashcroft of staying at the helm long enough to destroy all the evidence that would lead to the leaker, but the large number of extreme right-wing media outlets and the White House would ensure that accusation was never taken remotely seriously by the people.

Ashcroft does not recuse himself

In this case, Ashcroft leaves himself wide-open to accusations of a cover-up to protect somebody with connections to him. Again the right-wing media will shout down such accusations, but it might be enough to swing a few of the peoeple.

Ashcroft's best strategy, if he knows the investigation has been rigged so that it goes nowhere, is to recuse himself. The difference in the advantage between recusing himself and not recusing himself is nowhere near as large as if he knows a leaker is to be identified, but it is still significant.

The conclusion is clear. If a leaker is to be identified, Ashcroft's best strategy (by a large margin) is not to recuse himself; if the leaker will never be identified, Ashcroft's best strategy (by a smaller margin) is to recuse himself. Since Ashcroft has recused himself, it is likely that it is because he knows (or has ensured) that the leaker will never be identified.

Is Ashcroft bright enough to understand this? Probably not. But Rove definitely is and Rove calls the shots in the political machinations of the Bush Family Evil Empire. So, sadly, it looks like the Plame leakers will never be identified - barring Act of God, or Impeachment of Bush, or Novak being overcome by an urge to do what is best for his country, or similarly improbable scenarios.

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