WASHINGTON, July 1 - For nearly two years, the investigation into the leak of a covert C.I.A. officer's name has unfolded clamorously in the nation's capital, with partisan brawling on talk shows, prosecutors interviewing President Bush and top White House officials, and the imminent prospect that reporters could go to jail for contempt of court.
I have a feeling that the "leaker" is not Karl Rove, it's Joe Wilson.
I can't wait to see the MSM running around screaming like their hair is on fire trying to spin this one.
On the bright side, look what this case has done for the special privileges of the 4th Estate...
You Won't Even Miss The Funnies, July 5, 2005
The NY Times lacks a comics section, but makes up for it with stories like this. Over the weekend the WaPo and the LA Times led with the news that Karl Rove may be the secret source that leaked Valerie Plame's identity; the Times front-pages the news that Ms. Plame went back to work on June 1, and is hoping to get her career back on track.
At this point, the Times has become so separated from reality on this story, I don't know if they can ever find their way home. My quickie diagnosis - the Times is deeply involved in the Wilson saga, and yet is trying to report on it as if they were detached observers. Some examples:
On Wednesday, a federal judge is expected to decide whether two reporters, Judith Miller of The Times and Matt Cooper of Time magazine, will go to jail for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigation into the leak. That the leaker appears willing to permit journalists to be incarcerated rather than taking public responsibility for his actions simply shows the leaker's "cravenness and cowardice," Mr. Wilson said.
That the Times fails to mention their official editorial position, which is that "the disclosure of Ms. Plame's identity, while an abuse of power, may not have violated any law" is also a bit craven.
A Jaguar-driving, cigar-smoking, silver-haired former ambassador, Mr. Wilson, 55, interpreted the leak of his wife's C.I.A. connection as an act of vengeance from White House officials for his public accusations of deceit in building a case for the Iraq war. Days before the leak, he had gone public in a New York Times Op-Ed article and television appearances to charge that the administration had covered up his own debunking of reports that Iraq had bought uranium in Africa.
Well. That gives short shrift to the role played by Times columnist Nick Kristof, who based a couple of columns on phony leaks from Joe Wilson, and helped make him an anonymous star. Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard followed up, but as best I know, neither Kristof nor the Times public editor have gone back and assessed their role in this.
He has acknowledged he may have misspoken about a few details, like the date he became aware of forged documents purporting to show a uranium sale.
Well, I missed that acknowledgement, although Wilson has said many things, so I don't dispute that he said this. However, when he was defending himself on this point to Paula Zahn a year ago, his position was that "If they're referring to leaks or sources, unidentified government sources in articles that appeared before my article in "The New York Times" appeared, those are either misquotes or misattributions if they're attributed to me." Nothing about "I misspoke".
Well, Joe Wilson is not the story. Even, apparently, in a story about Joe and Valerie Wilson.
Karl Rove And The Plame Leak, July 04, 2005
Lawrence O'Donnell struck sparks by posting at Arianna that "Karl Rove was Matt Cooper's source" for the Valerie Plame leak.
Mike Isikoff of Newsweek modifies this a bit, delivering quotes from a chat with Rove's attorney Robert Luskin and telling us that "one of Cooper's sources was White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove". (Emphasis added).
The Washington Post has the strongest denial:
Rove's lawyer said Rove never identified Plame to Cooper in those conversations. More significantly, Robert Luskin said, Fitzgerald assured him in October and again last week that Rove is not a target of his investigation.
Some thoughts - Karl Rove was under oath when delivering his grand jury testimony, and although unsworn, false statements to a federal investigator can lead to a prosecution. His attorney, Robert Luskin, is not similarly constrained when making statements to the press. Hence, his statements may be false (unlikely, since presumably Mr. Luskin has a professional reputation to consider), or artfully constructed to be misleading (Do tell!).
Furthermore, Special Counsel Fitzgerald would not normally hold a press conference to rebut any misleading statements made by Robert Luskin. My strong impression is that unlike Ken Starr, who was authorized under his empowering statute to deliver a final report into his investigation, Special Counsel Fitzgerald will either present his evidence in indictments and at trial, or go quietly away. Grand jury testimony is meant to be secret, after all, and although ironists would delight if Fitzgerald began delivering leaks to the press about the progress of his investigation into press leaks, he has run a tight ship so far.
So, let's pull out the direct quotes from Robert Luskin, and see whether there is any obvious wiggle room in his denials. From Newsweek:
Luskin told NEWSWEEK that Rove "never knowingly disclosed classified information" and that "he did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." Luskin declined, however, to discuss any other details. He did say that Rove himself had testified before the grand jury "two or three times" and signed a waiver authorizing reporters to testify about their conversations with him. "He has answered every question that has been put to him about his conversations with Cooper and anybody else," Luskin said.
Well, "knowingly disclosed" may be important in establishing criminal intent, but it sidesteps the question of whether Rove inadvertently mentioned a connection between Plame and Wilson.
"[H]e did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA", may be a perfect non-denial denial - did Rove say, for example, that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, but omit her name (which was available on the internet as part of Ambassador Wilson's on-line bio, now long gone)?
The Washington Post gives us more to work with:
More significantly, Robert Luskin said, Fitzgerald assured him in October and again last week that Rove is not a target of his investigation.
"Karl did nothing wrong. Karl didn't disclose Valerie Plame's identity to Mr. Cooper or anybody else," Luskin said. Luskin said the question remains unanswered: "Who outed this woman? . . . It wasn't Karl."
"Not a target" is not a direct quote. However, it is possible that Robert Luskin is relying on a term of art, and simply telling us that Karl Rove has not received a target letter. Maybe Fitzgerald's position is, Rove is not a target, but if it turns out he perjured himself or lied to investigators, that could change.
"Did nothing wrong" may refer to the notion that a prosecution under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act is probably impossible. Or it may reflect the ethical judgment of someone sympathetic to the White House (see Howard Fineman's piece on the background tussle between the CIA and the White House.)
"Who outed this woman... It wasn't Karl" will be left as a challenge to the reader, but I will suggest this - Robert Novak claimed to have two sources; if Matt Cooper had a similar experience, maybe Rove merely confirmed a Plame/Wilson connection that Cooper had gleaned elsewhere. In which case, Rove didn't exactly "out" her, did he? Hmm... Let's note this from the WaPo:
Cooper has said that more than one confidential source is identified in his e-mails and the notes of interviews he conducted in July 2003 after Wilson's opinion piece appeared in the New York Times.
More from Robert Luskin:
Rove answered questions under oath for about two hours before a grand jury on Oct. 15 as part of the special prosecutor's investigation. According to Luskin, the prosecutor said he believes Rove was candid and forthcoming about his contact with reporters.
"I've been assured by the prosecutor they have no reason to doubt the honesty of anything he's said," Luskin said.
That's good news for Karl's fans, although it is possible that new evidence in Cooper's notes may change the prosecutors' minds.
Let's reprise one theory of the information flow that led to the leak, with thanks to Cecil Turner, commenting at the Beldar Blog. Briefly, someone at the INR (the State Dept intelligence arm) attended the famous meeting where Joe Wilson was introduced by his wife; much later, when the White House was vexed by Wilson's leaks and his NY Times piece, Colin Powell was apprised of the Wilson/Plame connection while traveling with Bush in Africa:
Sources close to the case say prosecutors were interested in discussions Powell had while with President George W. Bush on a trip to Africa in July 2003, just before Plame's identity was leaked to columnist Robert Novak. A senior State Department official confirmed that, while on the trip, Powell had a department intelligence report on whether Iraq had sought uranium from Nigera claim Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, discounted after a trip to Niger on behalf of the CIA. The report stated that Wilson's wife had attended a meeting at the CIA where the decision was made to send Wilson to Niger, but it did not mention her last name or undercover status.
Well - if Powell knew, who else in the White House did? And what did they know? Not Ms. Plame's name, and not her undercover status, if this memo was the basis of their information. The meeting is described in the SSCI report. And let's note that Novak's original column was hazy on just what information came from which sources:
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him.
Let's try for a Big Finish - playing "Parse the denial" is lots of fun, and great practice for a Hillary '08 campaign, but I will be more inclined to believe what Fitzgerald does than anything these guys say. I'm not seeing anything here that makes me worried.
Two points to ponder:
(a) This is reporting from the Hall of Mirrors - the WaPo has received lots of leaks on this, and their Walter Pincus testified to Fitzgerald's grand jury. One would hope that if the WaPo runs a strong Rove denial without waving a lot of red flags, it is because the denial squares with what they already know (or think they know).
(b) Did the various editors at the Times, the WaPo, and Time magazine really sit on evidence that would have incriminated Karl Rove all through last fall's campaign? What happened to the public's right to know? And if they were worried about being subpoenaed by Fitzgerald, Sydney Blumenthal explained the solution years ago - leak the "Rove is a criminal" scoop to some anti-Bush British papers (gee, could they find one?), and pick up the story from there.
Either they are awfully dumb (possible!), or the story is not there. Or both.
MORE: Michelle Malkin rounds up some links; Josh Marshall also weighs in, and we will highlight this:
What's implicit in Isikoff's report, however, and in the Tribune too, is that the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald is after Rove for some felony arising out of the case (perjury after the fact? conspiracy?) but not the immediate and original act of leaking the name.
We have seen press speculation that Fitzgerald's investigation has degenerated to a Martha Stewart style attempt to find secondary crimes, such as lying to investigators or perjury to the grand jury. Has this become the new CW on the left? Keep hope alive!
MORE: Josh Marshall does hold up a flickering candle:
...Fitzgerald shouldn't be pressing matter of jailing journalists unless he thinks he's on his way to prosecuting a serious crime.
So just a question: Would Fitzgerald have pushed to get Cooper and Miller in the slammer if some other party in the White House weren't in a lot of trouble?
No doubt about it - Fitzgerald's behavior is fully consistent with the notion that he is on the trail of a big one. That said, just what did people expect Fitzgerald to have done if his investigation, sans the evidence of Cooper and Miller, had reached a dead end with no prospects of indictments? Perhaps Josh Marshall could volunteer to handle Fitzgerald's press relations on the day he announces something to the effect of "although it is obvious that I have left some stones unturned, my clearly incomplete investigation is at an end, and no indictments will be handed down"; that's not a job I would want.
Put another way, Fitzgerald's behavior is also consistent with the notion that he has nothing but can't quit until every lead is exhausted.