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White House Faces Crises on Multiple Fronts

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

This evening, President Bush is at rustic Camp David after a week of political turmoil in Washington. He had to deal with the grizzly milestone in Iraq; the number of US soldiers killed topped 2,000. The president's Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers, withdrew her name from consideration. And then yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was indicted. President Bush must now contemplate his next moves. NPR's David Greene reports.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

One of George W. Bush's big promises when he campaigned for the presidency was that he'd bring honor and dignity to the White House. He never mentioned Bill Clinton, but voters got the idea. He was vowing to be scandal proof. So Mr. Bush probably never foresaw the spectacle in Washington yesterday. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald came before cameras and said a grand jury had indicted the vice president's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, in the investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald said Libby lied under oath and to federal investigators.

Mr. PATRICK FITZGERALD (Special Prosecutor): Our jobs in the criminal justice system is to make sure people tell us the truth, and when it's a high-level official in a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly.

GREENE: Libby has denied the charges but immediately resigned. He turned over his White House pass, his security clearance was terminated and the White House Counsel's Office ordered aides to refrain from contact with him over his legal troubles. Vice President Dick Cheney expressed deep regret. He called Libby `one of the most capable and talented individuals I've ever known.' President Bush focused more on getting back to work.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I look forward to working with Congress on policies to keep this economy moving, and pretty soon I'll be naming somebody to the Supreme Court. Thank you all very much.

Unidentified Man #1: Mr. President...

Unidentified Man #2: Sir, are you embarrassed by these charges?

Unidentified Man #1: ...what's the status at the White House, sir?

Unidentified Man #2: Are you embarrassed by these charges?

GREENE: The Supreme Court announcement, White House officials say, will come soon, perhaps early next week. George Edwards, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M University, says it will be the president's first stab at regaining momentum. Edwards cautions, though, that finding a nominee who satisfies Mr. Bush's political base without triggering an ideological war in the Senate won't be easy.

Professor GEORGE EDWARDS (Texas A&M University): How he threads the needle with that, I'm not sure, but he's got to give the conservatives someone that they've very comfortable with. At the same time, I think he will try not to stick his thumb in the Democrats' eye.

GREENE: Perhaps the president's closest aide, Karl Rove, escaped indictment yesterday even though according to one of his advisers Rove was one of the two sources columnist Robert Novak used to identify Valerie Plame. Prosecutor Fitzgerald is continuing his investigation, but Rove's camp is hopeful he'll escape charges and stay on at the White House. Yet there are conservatives who say Mr. Bush should shake up his staff and bring in seasoned people who might speak more candidly to the president. Professor Edwards says the botched Harriet Miers nomination and the grand jury probe only made Mr. Bush's political troubles worse. He says the president can probably get conservatives back behind him with the right Supreme Court pick, but that he won't seem much movement in the polls until he finds a way to appeal to Americans with more moderate views again.

Prof. EDWARDS: It's the people in the middle that are a real challenge for the president, and that poses a real challenge because if he tries too hard to appeal to conservatives, then he's likely to alienate some of those people in the middle.

GREENE: Mr. Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, faced scandal and low poll numbers, but still left office with majority support. So in that way at least Mr. Bush is hoping to follow Bill Clinton's script, not avoid it. David Greene, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.