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November 30, 2004

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The Kid

In yesterday’s (11/29/04) WaPo staff writer Charles Lane tries to cheer up the Novak-haters by reporting the speculation “that Novak may have invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and that Fitzgerald has not yet chosen to give him immunity from prosecution to compel his testimony.”

I can’t help but think that if Novak were the one facing prison instead of Miller or Cooper, the MSM would not have their undies in such a bunch.

Scooter Libby-haters must have been depressed by the following paragraph in the Friday Susan Schmidt column TM links to above:

Time reporter Matthew Cooper has told prosecutors that he talked to Libby on July 12 and mentioned that he had heard that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, a source knowledgeable about his testimony said. Cooper testified that Libby said he had heard the same thing from the media.

Finally, in the column that started this whole kefluffle, Novak does seem to be trying to be fair to Ambassador Wilson; I offer this paragraph as evidence:

That's where Joe Wilson came in. His first public notice had come in 1991 after 15 years as a Foreign Service officer when, as U.S. charge in Baghdad, he risked his life to shelter in the embassy some 800 Americans from Saddam Hussein's wrath. My partner Rowland Evans reported from the Iraqi capital in our column that Wilson showed "the stuff of heroism." President George H.W. Bush the next year named him ambassador to Gabon, and President Bill Clinton put him in charge of African affairs at the National Security Council until his retirement in 1998.

Novak would have been better off using this defense.

Crank

This reminds me of a case I worked on where an issue was when a form filed with the SEC became available on the SEC's EDGAR website. You would think something so public would be easy to pin down, but it is not always the case.

I always thought Novak's syndicated columns ran on Saturdays. Surely, at a minimum, it can't be hard to pin down when the newspapers get it; that can't be any kind of trade secret.

Crank

Oh wait, my mistake - the Saturday column was a different column that week.

Cecil Turner

"it can't be hard to pin down when the newspapers get it;"

According to the Schmidt piece (also quoted in Editor and Publisher), it was out on July 11th:

"While Novak's column did not run until Monday, July 14, it could have been seen by people in the White House or the media as early as Friday, July 11, when Creators Syndicate distributed it over the Associated Press wire."
Which begs the question: why are prosecutors interested in the 12th? Surely the initial leak had to happen before Novak wrote the column.

The Kid

Novak's scheduled columns run Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays as can be seen from his recent column archive. The Sunday and Monday colunms are apparently distributed on Fridays.

TM

As to why the prosecutors are interested in the events of the 12th, my guess is that they stumbled into this backwards (as I would have) by assuming that the key date was the 14th. When they found out that Libby was mentioning Ms. Plame on the 12th, they took an interest, and only later pinned down the fact that Libby might well have been passing along Novak's info.

My ongoing theory has been that if this was a planned, inappropriate leak, the leakers would have thought through their alibi and covered their tracks. Conversely, if it was unplanned (in the sense that the leakers did not know Ms. Plame's covert), then there is probably an absence of criminal intent. I never really bought into the theory that the leakers were both criminal and stupid.

The Kid

I differ with TM only slightly. Prosecutors may believe that July 12 is the last sure date on which a crime (disclosure by a knowledgeable individual of a covert source) could have been committed.

Certainly Novak got his information before then, but who else did?

This was all Washington inside-baseball stuff until Wilson, trying for a home run, hit a stand-up triple by exposing himself as the ex-ambassador with the Niger goods on Sunday, 7/6/2003, with:
1. a NYT op-ed,
2. an appearance on Meet the Press
3. an interview with the WaPo

Before that Sunday, the only non-government types who knew his story and identity for sure were Pincus (6/12/03 WaPo article) and the NYT’s Kristof (two 5/2003 columns). Presumably some in the administration knew, and certainly at least one in the CIA knew.

But on 7/6/03 Wilson emerged from the shadows and the chattering class started chattering. That’s the date when Novak wanted to find out administration knucklehead would send Wilson on the mission to Niamey. The noise generated by the chatterers could have included the occupational situation of Wilson’s spouse and thus complicated the prosecutors’ task.

I cling by a just a few threads to a far different theory – that Plame outed herself by serving as a source to Pincus in his 6/12/03 article and to Judith Miller, who never went on to write anything about this. I do believe that as a WMD journalist expert Miller would likely have known Plame, a senior counter-proliferation analyst at the CIA, but admit that I have little more than context and grammatical analysis to go by.

It certainly looks as though Plame may have been a source to her husband. Per the Senate Intelligence committee report, Wilson had no further contracts with the CIA after his 2/2002 trip, so he had no official access to classified information. See pages 44 and 45 where Wilson asserts that he’d gotten information about Iraq-Niger uranium transfer documents from CIA contacts, but a DO (CIA Directorate of Operations) reports officer said no such information was passed because it would have required the sharing of classified information. (This is the general section where Wilson acknowledges that he misspoke when acting as a source for Pincus’ 6/12/03 article.) This section is interesting because Susan Schmidt’s 9/10/04 WaPo article contains this nugget:

“Fitzgerald has also asked questions in the Plame case about the disclosure of other classified material that appeared in news reports about the Niger uranium issue, according to one lawyer with knowledge of Fitzgerald's probe.”
So someone did some disclosing, and given the SIC report and this article, I speculate that Plame / Wilson are likely sources.

As for Judith Miller, Charles Layton writes in the August/September 2003 issue of the American Journalism Review that she’s regarded as “genuine expert on weapons of mass destruction or, in Washington parlance, WMD.” I don’t know what circles NYT reporters travel in or if it’s likely that Miller knew Plame. (Miller has interviewed Scott Ritter and was an embedded reporter with the unit tasked to search for Iraqi WMD.) But in her 9/16/04 WaPo article Susan Schmidt writes: “Miller did not write an article about Wilson and his wife, but, according to the judge's order, she contemplated doing so, and "spoke with one or more confidential sources regarding" Wilson.” Here it’s probable that she spoke with Plame at some point. When was that?

What better reason for Miller to want to keep quiet than to protect Plame, not some administration weenie?

Crank

FWIW, By July 8, 2003, Reuters was reporting that intelligence officials defending the president were saying that Wilson had been picked for the job by mid-level CIA folks and Josh Marshall was calling for an investigative reporter to get to the bottom of Wilson's relationship with CIA and Cheney's office.

The Skickster!

Val and Joe knew exactly what had to be done! Joe dropped the dime on his wife, and she concured, to Novak as one more way to pressure Bush. It really didn't matter to Val if her cover was blown, she was inactive.

By the way, why so much to do about nothing when that slug Sandy Berger is on the loose?

Cecil Turner

"Prosecutors may believe that July 12 is the last sure date on which a crime (disclosure by a knowledgeable individual of a covert source) could have been committed."

That may be, but the leak that kicked off the investigation must have happened before Novak's column hit the wires on the 11th. And Occam's Razor suggests the most likely source was the State Department's intelligence memo--transmitted to Air Force One during an Africa trip--cited here. (The timing works, because the trip ended on the 12th.) If that memo was in fact the source, and is as described, the outing clearly does not fall under the statute. (And Wilson's characterization of the outing as revenge is also disproven.)

"It certainly looks as though Plame may have been a source to her husband."

I'd like to think that was obvious from the start. After all, it's her area of expertise, not his. He might also have decided to share her identity with some folks at the Times--because otherwise he had no obvious qualification for his allegations (specifically, generalizing a Niger trip to mean Saddam wasn't trying to acquire uranium in Africa). Proving any of that is an entirely different matter.

Yando del Rio

Judith Miller should never have promsed confidentiality
to this source. This source was different from most sources because a)they cold-called her (ie she didn't go out looking for this leak)
and
b) it is a bad faith leak intended to hurt someone.
No public good was intended.

The idea of invkoing journalistic privilege
in this specific case (unlike most) is absurd.

Cecil Turner

"Judith Miller should never have promsed confidentiality to this source."

You appear to be making a couple of assumptions I don't believe are warranted. Judith Miller's aborted article might have been based on a phone call from the shadowy "Senior Administration Official" . . . but it's just as likely to've come from Plame herself. (A la The Kid's comment above.) According to Arthur Sulzberger:

We are deeply dismayed by Judge Hogan's ruling and what it means for the practice of journalism in this country. The government's investigation into the Valerie Plame case has moved dangerously off course. Judy Miller has done nothing wrong. She is not the person who revealed the identity of a CIA agent. Yet she is the one who is facing time in jail while the very people who exposed Ms. Plame remain unpunished. The special counsel should be able to get to the bottom of this case without threatening reporters with jail.
Does that sound like he thinks Miller's source is the guilty leaker? Not to me.

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