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July 29, 2005

A Call to Honor

Chris Charuhas

If you consider yourself a patriotic Marylander, and your voter registration starts with an "R," you won't support Lt. Gov. Michael Steele for United States senator.

On Tuesday, the Michael Steele Exploratory Committee hosted a $1000-a-head fundraiser. The "special guest" was the president's political strategist, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove. We now know that Karl Rove exposed the identity of a U.S. secret agent.

Did Mr. Rove know that the agent was secret when he exposed her? For Mr. Rove to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, it doesn't matter. Even if he didn't know the agent was secret, which seems highly unlikely, he should have known.

Yet Lieutenant Governor Steele thinks it's just fine to have Mr. Rove, now under investigation for high crimes against our country, headline his fundraising reception. Where does that leave members of his party?

Is it time for Maryland Republicans to close ranks with Mr. Steele, or cut ties with him?

The past is instructive. Thirty years ago Republicans were presented with a stark choice: support their own, or protect our democracy. In an attempt to dig dirt on whistleblowers and political opponents, people working for President Richard M. Nixon ordered the breakin at the offices of Democratic Party in the Watergate.

Honorably, most Republicans chose democracy. They condemned Mr. Nixon's perfidy, and sent a message that committing crimes to destroy political opponents had no place in our country.

Now Maryland Republicans are faced with a similar choice: support Mr. Steele, or protect our nation. To exact retribution against a former U.S. ambassador who spoke the truth, Mr. Steele's special guest exposed the ambassador's wife as a U.S. secret agent. To protect Mr. Steele's special guest, the president reneged on his promise to fire anyone involved with the secret agent's exposure.

Maryland Republicans can choose to support Mr. Steele, which would send a message that what his special guest did was just politics as usual. Or, they can repudiate Mr. Steele. This would send a message that wrecking spy networks in order to destroy political opponents has no place in our government.

In exposing a U.S. secret agent, Mr. Steele's special guest may have done more damage than Aldrich Ames, the CIA analyst who served as a KGB mole. When Ames exposed 25 U.S. agents, 10 of them were executed, and our whole spy network in Russia was rendered useless. When Mr. Steele's special guest exposed a secret agent, similar things may have occurred.

The secret agent recently exposed gathered intelligence on weapons of mass destruction - the greatest threat to our country. By exposing her, Mr. Steele's special guest ruined not just one agent, but an entire network. Now every U.S. agent ever seen with her, and every one that ever used her CIA front company for cover, is either captured, killed, or ineffective.

But that may not be the worst part. Mr. Steele's special guest may have crippled U.S. intelligence gathering for a generation. By exposing an agent for political revenge, Mr. Steele's special guest let all U.S. intelligence officers, secret agents, and foreign assets know that they may be exposed if the agent's relatives or friends say things the White House doesn't like.

This also makes it very difficult to recruit secret agents. If the White House is willing to kill or ruin secret agents when their family members speak inconvenient truths, why would anyone ever become one? If another 9/11-style attack occurs, it may be because Mr. Steele's special guest prevented us from recruiting moles who could have tipped us off beforehand.

This is a hideous betrayal. Unfortunately, it's par for the course with Mr. Steele's special guest, who has long done awful things to help his patrons gain and retain power. He smears, attacks, or attempts to destroy anyone who crosses him, even other Republicans.

For instance, Mr. Steele's special guest spread rumors during the 2000 South Carolina primary that Sen. John McCain of Arizona had a black child out of wedlock, and that he betrayed other POWs in Vietnam. Mr. Steele's special guest didn't care that Senator McCain's "black" child was adopted from Bangladesh in an act of kindness, and that Senator McCain bore up heroically under his captors' torture and abuse. Slandering a fellow Republican served his purposes better, so slander was employed.

In 2002, lifelong Republican Paul O'Neill, who served under presidents Ford, Reagan, and George W. Bush, spoke out against the current White House's pursuit of political advantage at the nation's expense. Shortly thereafter, the Treasury Department was ordered to investigate whether Mr. O'Neill had used secret documents incorrectly. He hadn't of course - the investigation was just retribution, par for the course with Mr. Steele's special guest.

"These people are nasty and they have a long memory," Mr. O'Neill warned.

Some may say that's just hardball politics. It's not. It is political perversion that's rotting our country from within. The exposure of a U.S. secret agent is just the latest and worst example of how Mr. Steele's special guest will do anything - including wrecking our own spy networks and endangering our agents - to help his patrons gain and retain power.

Remember the former ambassador whose wife was exposed by Mr. Steele's special guest was appointed by a previous Republican president. Republicans, if you cross Mr. Steele's special guest, he would try to destroy you, too. Like a Mafia thug, he considers your family "fair game" - the very words he used to describe the former ambassador's wife.

Every Maryland Republican should repudiate Mr. Steele. Maryland Republicans should dump him like a bad habit, and start looking for a new senatorial candidate who doesn't raise funds with the help of people willing to wreck U.S. spy networks for political purposes. The honor of your party, your duty to your state and country, and United States national security demand nothing less.

The $75,000 that Mr. Steele raised at the Rove-headlined fundraiser is tainted, perhaps with the blood of U.S. agents. Anyone who knows about the fundraiser and still supports Mr. Steele is a despicable hack who puts party before country. But members of his party who support another senatorial candidate are people of honor, whom I am proud to call my fellow Marylanders.

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