WASHINGTON, DC—A White House administration official who can be blamed for leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to the press remains at large, White House officials announced Monday.
"We are doing everything in our power to see that the scapegoat is found and held accountable," President Bush said. "We will not stop until he—or she—is located. Believe me, nobody wants to see the blame placed squarely on the shoulders of a single person, and photos of that individual in every newspaper in the country, more than I do."
As the White House's search for the scapegoat continues, the Justice Department's investigative team is also working around the clock to find the ostensibly guilty party.
"We're doing everything we can," Attorney General John Ashcroft said. "I have assured the president that I will let him know the second we find either the leak or a decent scapegoat. It will happen. He's out there somewhere."
Bush has ordered his staff to cooperate fully with the Justice Department's investigation, which has already included interviews with dozens of White House officials.
"The team is hard at work, but the process of finding the perfect scapegoat is very time-consuming," Bush said. "While we can assume that this person will not be a member of my senior staff, we have few other concrete ideas about his identity. Why, the scapegoat may turn out to be someone who knew absolutely nothing about the leak. You can see how difficult the job is."
Last week, Bush ordered 2,000 staff members to turn over any documents that may help the Justice Department choose a scapegoat.
"Unfortunately, investigators still don't have a remotely appropriate party," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "They've been tirelessly searching electronic records, telephone logs, correspondence, and calendar entries for someone suitable. So far, we haven't found a single person on whom we can plausibly pin the blame."
According to Washington political analyst Ted Edmonds, it's important that the Bush Administration find the scapegoat in a timely manner.
"They've got to move quickly," Edmonds said. "It has been alleged that the White House leaked Plame's identity to the press in retaliation for her husband's vocal criticism of Bush Administration policies in Iraq. Before the people's trust in the presidency can be restored, they demand that a scapegoat be brought before the media, given a cursory and farcical trial by association, and pilloried before their eyes. Without the White House at least going through the motions of some sort of judicial accountability, how can we maintain our faith in the nation's leaders?"
Nevertheless, Edmonds said the Bush Administration is no closer to finding the scapegoat than they were at the start of the investigation.
"The administration is in a muddle," Edmonds said. "They've changed tactics several times since the leak surfaced. First, they vehemently denied that anyone from the White House was involved. Then, they made a public show of agreeing to hand over documents and other evidence to the Justice Department. Then, Bush even suggested that Bob Novak was to blame, for using the leaked information in his column. It's time for Bush to choose a scapegoat and commit to the decision."
Early in the investigation, the Justice Department ruled out several top Bush advisors, including Karl Rove—news that came as a relief to many citizens.
"I'm glad to hear they ruled out Karl Rove," said Janet Manning, a nurse from Davenport, IA. "I'd hate to have the scapegoat be someone highly placed. It should be someone of substantial position—otherwise, he won't deflect enough blame—but on the other hand, if they cast someone too close to Bush as the scapegoat, suspicion of the administration will be raised, rather than displaced. It would do more harm than good."
Bush has rejected Democrats' calls for the appointment of a special counsel to find the administration official responsible for the leak, calling it "unnecessary." The president, however, pledged to find a scapegoat.
"Give us time," Bush said. "We will produce someone. We know the leak came from a senior administration official, but there are an awful lot of senior administration officials—more than the administration can be expected to keep track of, or investigate for felony criminal charges. I know that's a bit of a stretch, but I'm sticking with that position until such time as a believable scapegoat is located."
Police have warned all Washington, D.C., residents to alert authorities if they sight any suspicious-looking senior administration officials who might be potential scapegoats.