Wednesday :: Oct 1, 2003

Bush Already Losing Public Opinion Battle Over Special Counsel


by Steve

A just-released ABC News poll shows why Bush is already behind the eight-ball on the issue of who outed Ambassador Joseph Wilsonís wife as a CIA operative. At a time when a large majority of those polled think that the matter requires an outside special counsel, the Administration is not likely to obtain one.

Eight in 10 Americans say the alleged White House leak of a CIA operative's identity is a serious matter, and nearly seven in 10 say it should be investigated by a special counsel, not by the administration's own Justice Department.

The issue has prompted significant suspicion and concern. In an ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll more than seven in 10 think it's at least somewhat likely that someone in the White House did identify a former diplomat's wife as a covert CIA operative. If so, eight in 10 say that person should not only lose his or her job, but also face criminal charges.

Note how many of those polled now easily suspect that this White House is capable of such an outrage.

Far fewer, 34 percent, think it's likely that President Bush himself knew in advance of the leak. But Bush faces other perception problems: Just under half of Americans, 47 percent, think the White House is "fully cooperating" with the investigation. Bush has signaled a preference for the Justice Department, not a special counsel, to investigate.

The news spread fast: In this poll, completed after the nightly news Tuesday, 68 percent of Americans said they'd heard or read about the issue. Those people were more likely to call it a "very" serious matter ó but also less likely to suspect that Bush knew about it.

All this comes at a difficult time for Bush. His overall job approval rating is 54 percent in this poll, its lowest in any ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll since he took office. Amid continued difficulties in Iraq and economic discontent at home, Bush's approval rating is down 23 points from its recent peak during the Iraq war, and 38 points from its all-time high (the highest for any postwar president) of 92 percent a month after Sept. 11, 2001.

Yet it is unlikely that the administration will do anything to address this issue anytime soon to the satisfaction of those polled.

Attorney General John Ashcroft would not likely appoint a special counsel to investigate the charge that a Bush administration official leaked the name of a secret CIA employee to reporters, another administration official told Fox News on Wednesday.

Only two circumstances might prompt the attorney general to make such an appointment, the official explained: either a clear conflict of interest, for example if the current investigation were to focus on an official to whom Justice staffers reported; or if the affair were to become such a political issue that it would be "in the public interest" to hand off the probe to an outside team.

Note how the GOP raises the bar for an outside counsel now that they are in power. During the Clinton years, simply the appearance of a conflict of interest was enough for the GOP to demand one. Now the conflict of interest must be clear or involve someone to whom the Justice staffers reported to (Ashcroft or Bush).

All of this means that while the Administration and its media allies like ABC News' The Note try and bury this issue, voters will keep thinking that the White House is covering it up.

Steve :: 4:53 PM :: Comments (3) :: Digg It!