Casulty of War; If You Think It's Been a Terrible Week for Blair, It's Been Evan Worse for Buddy -In-arms President Bush. Day by Day,scandal Rocks His Beleagured White House-And It Stems from Iraq

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Byline: ANN LESLIE

MY GUEST is late, so I've time to eavesdrop with intent on my fellow diners. You have to shout to be heard in a packed restaurant like Washington's trendy Art Deco DC Coast. And that's fine by me, because listening in on the lubricious gossip of ambitious young lobbyists and politicians is so much easier when everyone around me is carelessly hollering over their spiced scallops and Chablis.

'I know he wrote a sexy murder novel set in Japan - apparently he's turned on by Japanese 'inscrutability' - but really, to have an affair with ******, who also had an affair with *****! That's asking for trouble! I mean, how stoopid could he be?'

'Yeah, he may be one of the smartest guys around, but I guess when it comes to sex, power and ideology, everyone in this town can get a bit stoopid!'

'You think he'll get a jail term?' 'Nah. He'll get a Presidential pardon, like you do in this town!' (Much merry laughter.) The gossip at DC Coast is about one of the chief characters in what's being called 'Plamegate', the latest 'gate'-suffixed scandal to transfix the capital.

'Plamegate' is a complicated tale involving a glamorous blonde CIA agent of a certain age, her angry and publicity-hungry former ambassador husband, faulty intelligence about yellowcake uranium in Niger, a top aide called Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, and George 'Dubya' Bush's chief strategist Karl Rove, who has been credited with being the 'dark genius' behind Bush's electoral successes.

Rove suffers from painful kidney stones and, perhaps because of this, does not seem to have been concentrating on saving his boss from recent public relations disasters, such as the handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The current scandal is based on the question of who leaked the name of the CIA blonde to the Press, and why. …