William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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AND IN THIS CORNER – AT 8:38 A.M. ET:  The Petraeus scandal continues, and is likely to grow.  General Petraeus has now engaged Robert Barnett, a top Washington lawyer, who is also a major literary agent for political personalities, although it is hotly denied that a book is in prospect.

Yeah, right.  And I'm Karl Marx.  You don't engage Robert Barnett simply because you want legal wisdom.  A book is something that Petraeus can hold, like a sword, over the Obamans.  Spilling the beans is a Washington tradition.  And the Obamans have something to hold over him:  If they can prove his affair with the temporarily famous Paula Broadwell began while he was in uniform, Petraeus would be in violation of military law and could be held legally accountable.   

It's clear from Petraeus's leaked testimony, delivered before Congressional committees Friday, that he isn't playing ball.  The testimony he gave contradicted what are politely called "administration statements," that is, the position of the president.  Petraeus, after a lifetime record of service, and a world-class sexual slip-up, will not go quietly.

And now Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is indicating that she will not be the good party soldier either:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Sunday that she has initiated a review of talking points used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on the attack on the American diplomatic facility in Libya, with the goal of determining why the public comments appeared to conflict with the initial assessment of U.S. intelligence sources.

Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, defended Rice against what she called the “politicization” of her comments on the battery of Sunday news shows in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack that led to the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

But the California senator also said she had “some concern” with the process that produced the unclassified “speaking points” that Rice worked off of, in which she said it was the administration’s preliminary view that the attacks were a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic video, rather than a planned terrorist attack.

Feinstein, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said that the now-former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, had “very clearly said that it was a terrorist attack” in a meeting with lawmakers the day after the attack in Benghazi.

COMMENT:  Feinstein did the party thing by giving Rice a pat on the cheek, which is politically necessary.  Rice is an African-American woman in an administration heavily dependent on black support for its being in power.  Careful treading is necessary.

But it is also coming out that Rice is unpopular, even within her own party, and there are broad hints that it might be unwise for Obama to go through with his reported intention to nominate her to be secretary of state.  Rice has been a rival of Hillary Clinton.  She worked in the Clinton administration, then abandoned Hillary for Barack for the 2008 campaign.  She made nasty remarks about Hillary.  Hillary does not forget.

Obama is a lame duck.  Democrats in the Senate, who must confirm a secretary of state, are looking to the future, not the past.  They see Hillary Clinton as the odds-on favorite to be their party's nominee in 2016.  They will want to please her, and we can only guess what they will do if Hillary's "people" send out the word that Hillary would be displeased if Rice succeeded her at State.  My own sense is that Rice would still be confirmed, but that it would be a battle, and that the vote might be reasonably close. 

I notice that Obama has not made any public display of appreciation for the help that Bill Clinton gave him during the campaign.  Big mistake, Barack.  Bill Clinton also does not forget.

November 19, 2012