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   A Palpable Silence at the White House

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10/21/2005 12:00 pm

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Washington Post

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News

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Entered 10/21/2005, Updated 10/21/2005

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Few Ready to Face Effects of Leak Case By Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker Washington Post Staff Writers Friday, October 21, 2005; Page A01 At 7:30 each morning, President Bush's senior staff gathers to discuss the important issues of the day -- Middle East peace, the Harriet Miers nomination, the latest hurricane bearing down on the coast. Everything, that is, except the issue on everyone's mind. With special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald driving his CIA leak investigation toward an apparent conclusion, the White House now confronts the looming prospect that no one in the building is eager to address: a Bush presidency without Karl Rove. In a capital consumed by scandal speculation, most White House senior officials are no more privy than outsiders to the prosecutor's intentions. But the surreal silence in the Roosevelt Room each morning belies the nervous discussions racing elsewhere around the West Wing. Out of the hushed hallway encounters and one-on-one conversations, several scenarios have begun to emerge if Rove or vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis Libby is indicted and forced out. Senior GOP officials are developing a public relations strategy to defend those accused of crimes and, more importantly, shield Bush from further damage, according to Republicans familiar with the plans. And to help steady a shaken White House, they say, the president might bring in trusted advisers such as budget director Joshua B. Bolten, lobbyist Ed Gillespie or party chairman Ken Mehlman. These tentative discussions come at a time when White House senior officials are exploring staff changes to address broader structural problems that have bedeviled Bush's second term, according to Republicans who said they could speak candidly about internal deliberations only if they are not named. But it remains unclear whether Bush agrees that changes are needed and the uncertainty has unsettled his team.


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