Everyone who Ive talked

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Everyone who I’ve talked to today believes that Karen Hughes is leaving the White House for the reasons she said. And I guess I do too. The one thing that raises a touch of suspicion for me is that this is a helluva a time for her to leave. Even administration yes-men concede that Bush has hit a rough spot.

Whatever we make of that, though, Hughes’ departure does open up an interesting possibility. Get out some graph paper or maybe a protractor because this may get complicated.

Here goes…

There’s been a rumor circulating through the White House press corps for the last week or two that Ari Fleischer was on the way out as Press Secretary. Not immediately but maybe over the next few months sometime. Whether it’s to greener pastures or ones that are slushy and brown isn’t clear. But the word was that Fleischer would be moving on to make way for the Pentagon’s Tori Clarke who is a) more proficient at handling foreign policy and b) more of a Bush loyalist.

(TPM might have added ‘c) not a risible hack like Ari‘ but that would have been strictly a TPM embellishment, and not part of the official rumor.)

I spent a bit of time yesterday trying to find out whether there was anything to this rumor. But as a number of members of the White House press gang noted, it’s difficult to get to the bottom of ‘Ari’s on the way out‘ rumors because there are always rumors to this effect. And these rumors find a receptive audience among the White House press corps because these folks so dislike and disrespect him.

Winston Churchill once called the Soviet Union a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Fleischer’s evil genius produces a similar effect. He has cloaked himself with such an aura of incompetence and disagreeableness that true signs of his professional demise are hard to distinguish from the normal background noise of derision and wishful thinking emanating from those who must cover him.

(One of the big parlor games in DC and particularly amongst the White House press corps is this: could Ari really be as out of the loop and incompetent as he seems? Or is he maybe just crazy like a fox? Or maybe in this case, an idiot like a fox? Could the higher-ups at the White House want him to play this game and take all the hits for the prez? Or maybe he really is as incompetent as he seems, but it’s the same difference. They like having him there anyway to take the hits and the jabs? Apparently Howie Kurtz is working on an Ari profile — and he is no doubt talking with fellow Postie Dana Milbank who has a mutual loathing society with Fleischer. So maybe Kurtz will get to the bottom of this mystery.)

Anyway I persevered and here’s what I found out. I can tonight confirm to you that this is a bona-fide rumor. Whether there’s any truth to it, that I’m not sure of. But it is a rumor. No question about it.

However, on Monday another person who covers the White House told me that Tori Clarke was a no-go at the White House because she’d gotten cross-wise with Karen Hughes. (Over what I’m not sure, but I’m led to believe that may be a story in itself.)

Anyway, with Karen out of the picture, could Ari be on the way out too? Or might the skids at least be greased? Could the moment for Fleischer & Gheith have finally arrived? And might they too colocate with Shrum, Devine & Donilon? The questions are … well, endless.

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