Newsweek gives us snippets from the e-mails Time reporter Matt Cooper sent to his editors - Special Counsel Fitzgerald found them interesting enough to insist on getting direct testimony from Matt Cooper himself, so we are interested, too. Here are the key bits:
It was 11:07 on a Friday morning, July 11, 2003, and Time magazine correspondent Matt Cooper was tapping out an e-mail to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy. "Subject: Rove/P&C," (for personal and confidential), Cooper began. "Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation ..." Cooper proceeded to spell out some guidance on a story that was beginning to roil Washington. He finished, "please don't source this to rove or even WH [White House]" and suggested another reporter check with the CIA.
In a brief conversation with Rove, Cooper asked what to make of the flap over Wilson's criticisms. NEWSWEEK obtained a copy of the e-mail that Cooper sent his bureau chief after speaking to Rove. (The e-mail was authenticated by a source intimately familiar with Time's editorial handling of the Wilson story, but who has asked not to be identified because of the magazine's corporate decision not to disclose its contents.) Cooper wrote that Rove offered him a "big warning" not to "get too far out on Wilson." Rove told Cooper that Wilson's trip had not been authorized by "DCIA"—CIA Director George Tenet—or Vice President Dick Cheney. Rather, "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip." Wilson's wife is Plame, then an undercover agent working as an analyst in the CIA's Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division. (Cooper later included the essence of what Rove told him in an online story.) The e-mail characterizing the conversation continues: "not only the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. he [Rove] implied strongly there's still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger ... "
Nothing in the Cooper e-mail suggests that Rove used Plame's name or knew she was a covert operative. Nonetheless, it is significant that Rove was speaking to Cooper before Novak's column appeared; in other words, before Plame's identity had been published.
First, I am firmly aligned with Kevin Drum when he declares that "much is still murky". This Newsweek revelation may create some political heat for Karl, but it is far from clear that, if these notes accurately describe the conversation, Karl Rove had the intent and knowledge that are also elements of a crime under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Mickey Kaus firmly straddles this point; Pejman and John H. of Powerline are bolder in asserting that Karl is in the clear.
Let me grab a red pen and play editor for a moment. First, for Mike Isikoff of Newsweek, let's get some corporate synergy going - your very own WaPo parent reported last November that Novak's column went out on the wire on Friday, July 11, the same day that Cooper and Rove talked. Editor & Publisher also picked up on this (and both articles appeared in my still-useful timeline). Good job by Hunter at DKos for noting this:
Cooper talked to Rove at 11:07am, according to Newsweek. You can bet Fitzgerald has already determined precisely when Novak's column hit the wires.
Someone alert Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, and David Corn to this point as well. But could Novak have tipped Rove, or someone else, as to the content of his column even before it hit the wire? (And lest you doubt the July 11 timing, a careful reading of Novak's column makes it painfully obvious that he was unaware of Tenet's climbdown on the "16 Words", which occurred later on Friday, July 11. Novak did reference this July 7 press gaggle, however, as "a belated admission of error last Monday".
We can provide more assistance for Josh Marshall, who wonders about this:
So Novak knew she was covert. And that pretty clearly means his sources knew too. How else would he have found out?
Hmm, maybe by talking to his CIA press contact?
This INR memo (later described in the Senate Intelligence Committee report) mentions Wilson's wife's involvement in selecting him for the mission, but (per later reporting) does not mention her covert status. We have also been told that Fitzgerald is very interested in this memo. All of this would be consistent with the knowledge displayed by Rove as described by Cooper's e-mail.
Or maybe Novak heard about Ms. Wilson's CIA connection from other reporters - that was what Matt Cooper told Lewis Libby on July 12, the day after he spoke with Rove.
During a July 12, 2003, conversation, according to a source involved in the investigation, Time reporter Matthew Cooper told Libby that he had been informed by other reporters that Wilson's wife was a CIA employee. Libby, the source said, replied that he had heard the same thing, also from the press corps.
Eventually, an enterprising reporter will ask Matt Cooper whether some of the sources he is shielding are other journalists; his answer may provoke a bit more head-scratching.
Well. Let's accept that this news of his involvement may spell political trouble for Karl Rove. One part of the Republican response will be to point to Fitzgerald's investigation, invoke grand jury secrecy, and say "time will tell". It has been reported that Fitzgerald can elect to make a final report as a supplement to any indictments he may deliver, so this tack may not keep the White House role secret forever.
So the second course will be to re-fight the "War of the 16 Words". It certainly appears that Rove's quick conversation with Cooper was part of a coordinated push-back against Wilson - Rove's three points were that (1) Wilson's trip was not authorized by Cheney or Tenet; (2) Wilson's wife was involved (Cooper uses the word "authorized" in his e-mail, but not in his final story); and (3) the Saddam/uranium/Africa story still had legs.
As to the involvement of Wilson's wife, Howard Fineman delivered a more refined spin in October, setting her involvement in the context of an ongoing factional tussle between the CIA and the neocons:
The CIA sends Wilson to check it [the Niger stories] out. On the surface, he would seem to be a logical choice: he’d spent years in Africa, knew French, knew the Saddam regime. But there were other things about him that Cheney’s office might not have liked. Wilson had close ties to the Democrats, having worked for them on the Hill and on Clinton’s national security staff; he was close to Democratic Sen. John Kerry and some other former NSC people who are now allies of the senator. Plus, he contributed to Al Gore’s campaign in 2000. Just as important, his wife was a CIA analyst who specialized in assessing WMD risks—and the CIA was not leading the charge to attack Iraq. In fact, the agency was doing just the opposite: In a report and testimony, CIA Director George Tenet argued that attacking Iraq would do more to create a generation of terrorists than eliminate one. What did Valerie Plame think of the seriousness of Saddam’s WMD capability? Sooner or later, we’ll find out—because it bears on what Wilson probably thought before he ever got to Niger to ask questions.
So, despite his impressive and seemingly objective resume, Wilson was arguably in bed with a CIA faction that opposed the war. Novak, for one, insisted that he considered that to be relevant to the story.
And, assessing this after the fact, was Wilson actually part of a factional tussle? Kevin Drum speculated that Wilson timed his leaks to an internal review at the CIA which concluded that Saddam had not attempted to acquire uranium from Africa. Wow.
If the Administration was pushing back hard, it was also because Wilson had created a lot of confusion with his misleading leaks and his inaccurate NY Times op-ed. Among his anonymous leaks was this whopper to Nick Kristof on May 6, 2003:
I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.
The envoy reported, for example, that a Niger minister whose signature was on one of the documents had in fact been out of office for more than a decade. In addition, the Niger mining program was structured so that the uranium diversion had been impossible. The envoy's debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted — except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway. "It's disingenuous for the State Department people to say they were bamboozled because they knew about this for a year," one insider said.
We eventually learned from George Tenet that "unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged" meant "There was no mention in the report of forged documents -- or any suggestion of the existence of documents at all.
...this report, in our view, did not resolve whether Iraq was or was not seeking uranium from abroad...". And the Senate Report backed Tenet.
From Walter Pincus, June 12:
After returning to the United States, the envoy reported to the CIA that the uranium-purchase story was false, the sources said. Among the envoy's conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because the "dates were wrong and the names were wrong," the former U.S. government official said.
The Senate Report singled this out for special ridicule, and Wilson offered a brave defense - "Wilson told the panel he may have been confused and may have "misspoken" to reporters."
Later, Wilson decided that he was a soul whose intentions were good, but when he spoke to reporters he was misunderstood.
And here is Wolf Blitzer on July 13, showing how deeply the misinformation had taken hold:
BLITZER: But 11 months earlier, you, the Bush administration, had sent Joe Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador to Niger, to find out whether it was true. He came back, reported to the CIA, reported to the State Department, it wasn't true, it was bogus. The whole issue was bogus. And supposedly, you never got word of his report.
There was clearly a lot of work for the White House to do. And a year later, the NY Times admitted that maybe Bush was right.
My guess - earnest lefties can focus on the existence of the White House Iraq Group and the high probability that a push-back against Wilson was discussed to argue in favor of a conspiracy by the Bush Brute Squad.
Others will note that discussing Wilson was entirely reasonable, since his leaks were prompting questions on the Sunday talk shows and merited rebutting.