[TIN FOIL SPECIAL -I have some stuff about George Tenet as a possible source for Walter Pincus that you won't see elsewhere - it's in the UPDATES, the UNLESS, and the GULP. Now, if the CIA chief leaked the Plame info, why are we having a criminal investigation? Good question. Developing...]
The NY Times has the big breakthrough story on the Plame investigation:
WASHINGTON, July 14 - Karl Rove, the White House senior adviser, spoke with the columnist Robert D. Novak as he was preparing an article in July 2003 that identified a C.I.A. officer who was undercover, someone who has been officially briefed on the matter said.
Mr. Rove has told investigators that he learned from the columnist the name of the C.I.A. officer, who was referred to by her maiden name, Valerie Plame, and the circumstances in which her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, traveled to Africa to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq, the person said.
After hearing Mr. Novak's account, the person who has been briefed on the matter said, Mr. Rove told the columnist: "I heard that, too."
The previously undisclosed telephone conversation, which took place on July 8, 2003, was initiated by Mr. Novak, the person who has been briefed on the matter said.
And, after skipping four paragraphs, we get this:
Asked by investigators how he knew enough to leave Mr. Novak with the impression that his information was accurate, Mr. Rove said he had heard portions of the story from other journalists, but had not heard Ms. Wilson's name.
OK, we love the timing, two years to the day after the original Novak column.
Secondly, what source would be "officially briefed"? None of the lawyers for the various White House officials, presumably; members of Fitzgerald's team, surely; and people at the Dept. of Justice exerting a little bit of oversight, maybe. Yes, Fitzgerald is a Special Counsel, but might the DoJ be entitled to wonder why reporters are being tossed in jail?
The Times tells us this about the source:
The person who provided the information about Mr. Rove's conversation with Mr. Novak declined to be identified, citing requests by Mr. Fitzgerald that no one discuss the case. The person discussed the matter in the belief that Mr. Rove was truthful in saying that he had not disclosed Ms. Wilson's identity.
Fitzgerald's team has been sphinx-like for eighteen months - let's guess that it's DoJ, and a Bush-friendly leak, since the source does not think Rove is a liar. [Kevin Drum is emphatic that the Times and WaPo have the same, Bush friendly leak].
The gist of the Times account gibes with Novak's version from Oct 1, 2003:
During a long conversation with a senior administration official, I asked why Wilson was assigned the mission to Niger. He said Wilson had been sent by the CIA's counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife. It was an offhand revelation from this official, who is no partisan gunslinger. When I called another official for confirmation, he said: "Oh, you know about it."
Well. Who is the first official to whom Novak spoke? Lewis Libby has been the center of a lot of subpoenas, but has cooperated, and does not appear to be in trouble, if we can believe these (possibly self-serving) leaks:
Several reporters have given limited depositions about their conversations with Libby in the days before the Novak column was published. All did so at the urging of Libby, who has told the prosecutor he heard about Wilson's wife's employment from someone in the media, according to lawyers involved in the case.
So how did Libby and Rove learn that Wilson's wife was CIA and involved with his trip?
Both claim to have heard about if from reporters. But is this a carefully-spun leak to the press? Are they telling us that they *only* heard it from reporters, heard it first from reporters, or heard it from both reporters and others, such as other White House insiders? And if there is a more complete version, did they deliver it to the prosecutor?
Or, as another possible source, David Corn (sorry, no link yet) noted that a former CIA officer was on the NSC, and might have known Ms. Plame.
Let's ask a question of journalistic ethics - if a reporter, in chatting with Karl Rove, mentioned the Plame angle, is there any rationale at all for the reporter to claim some sort of source confidentiality protection? I would assume not. I will further assume that, if Karl is telling the truth, then he has named a few reporters. Mr. Fitzgerald should have called them in for a chat. There is no need for a subpoena, since they have no legal basis to refuse, and will prefer to avoid the publicity.
In which case, there are reporters out there who know they have given testimony to Fitzgerald that would help Rove and Lewis, and are keeping quiet - not to protect a source, not to preserve confidentiality, but, I guess, because Fitzgerald asked them too.
This might even have made sense while the investigation was being ignored - Fitzgerald might have explained that he is trying to establish whether there was knowledge of Ms. Plame inside the White House prior to the reporters passing the news, and that he can't conduct a sensible investigation with reporters presenting a seemingly exculpatory but incomplete story to the public.
However, in the current revved-up atmosphere, I promise you - if the media is really just keeping quiet about their role in this, well, I can't imagine how I could respect our media less, but I will think of something.
And that said, I marveled that TIME magazine kept Rove's secret all through the election; well, this would explain it.
OK. Let's try a different tack and use a reductio ad absurdum approach - if the previous scenario is too ridiculous, it can't be true. Which means what? That Rove told Fitzgerald he heard about it from reporters, but didn't name any reporters? The old "I forgot" defense? Boy, that would have been some fine effort by the Evil Genius.
Or does it mean that the Times leak is rubbish? Could be; other leaks have sort of fizzled out.
And on the other hand, Libby seems to have named reporters and is sailing along. Except that Judy Miller won't testify (and the WaPo linked her to Libby last fall, but seems to have retreated).
Judy, Judy, Judy - Mickey noted the peculiarity of her holding out when respected heavyweights such as Tim Russert and Walter Pincus figured out a way to cooperate. Howard Kurtz of the WaPo ran a piece on that as well.
What might be happening? Here is a theory I have seen floating by - Judy heard about Ms. Plame in the course of her national security digging, ran it by Libby, and here we are. But how did Karl find out?
Another view - Cliff May said Ms. Plame's CIA job was common knowledge; Powerline relays an e-mailer saying that Andrea Mitchell said the same thing a few days ago (transcript, anyone?). Fine, but was it common knowledge that she was involved in picking her husband for the trip? When did that knowledge pass to the press?
One last idea - Walter Pincus has been quite forthcoming about his legal journey - he had a chat with someone (not Libby) on July 12, which he wrote about on October 12, 2003. His source then identified himself to the prosecutor, so Pincus agreed to cooperate:
Pincus added, "My case is different than the other reporters because I wrote about the conversation I had with my source [in The Washington Post]. And my source came forward to Fitzgerald. And when a source discloses himself to a prosecutor and then releases you from confidentiality with that prosecutor, I don't think a reporter has a leg to stand on."
Legally or ethically? "Both," Pincus responded. "I have a law degree. The privilege doesn't belong to the reporter. It belongs to the source. We're citizens like everyone else."
..."I don't believe in waivers," Pincus said. "But a source can do anything he wants to do. When a source comes forward, who are you protecting?"
Yes, who is he protecting? Why doesn't Pincus write about it, and share the secret with the public? What about *our* right to know whether Bush is harboring a lying criminal, or the press and the partisan Democrats are simply enjoying a summer scandal?
Novak, Pincus, Russert, Kessler, Miller - none of them should be allowed to talk about anything else until they explain their role in this. And I suspect there are other reporters who were never subpoenaed, as explained above - its time to hear from them, too.
And sometime soon, if we are going to start a contest of grand jury leaks, Rove and Libby need to think about annoying Fitzgerald and talking to us as well.
Let's add that Fitzgerald had, until now, done a good job of lowering the cone of silence on this investigation. However, it looks as if the Cooper e-mail was a "Get Karl" leak, and this latest may be a "Save Karl" leak (could it be a "Hit 'em while he's down" leak? Am I facing the wrong way? - this leak looks good for Karl from where I am hiding). [Steve Soto also sees these as Bush-friendly leaks. OK, add him to Drum.]
This sort of to-and fro-ing is what Fitzgerald wanted to avoid, but it appears that he is losing control, of the folks not in his office, anyway.
UPDATE: That was some prediction about loss of control - the AP and the WaPo chat with lawyers close to the investigation, and here we go. But these leaks don't fully square with the Times, and have ghastly bits:
Rove told the grand jury that by the time Novak had called him, he believes he had similar information about Wilson's wife from another reporter but had no recollection of which reporter had told him about it first, the source said.
The lawyer, who has knowledge of the conversations between Rove and prosecutors, said President Bush's deputy chief of staff has told investigators that he first learned about the operative from a journalist and that he later learned her name from Novak.
Rove has said he does not recall who the journalist was who first told him that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, or when the conversation occurred, the lawyer said.
Oh my goodness - we are going with the "I Forgot" defense. Oh, boy. Look, the question of how Karl learned this is important. Think, Karl! Be the genius we know you are!
UNLESS: Well, maybe these Bush-friendly leakers were focusing on the Novak angle. Since the Times said "journalists", plural, and the other two say "journalist", singular, maybe this detail was getting short shrift as an afterthought. Maybe the leak was "Karl heard it from several journalists, named tham all, but couldn't remember which he heard it from first". Maybe. Well, if these were meant to be friendly leaks, and they are scaring their friends, we can look for clarification. [And grammar mavens are telling me that, as written, neither the AP nor the WaPo versions rule out the interpretation of "Karl heard it from several, but forgets which", assuming that the reporter was not straining to communicate that distinction. Well, if Karl didn't forget, than I am having a good day.]
And Walter Pincus' secret source could fly in and set us all straight. The X-man might be Novak's first source; if so, then presumably, he also talked to Fitzgerald about his chat with Novak; maybe the White House is teeing him up for a summer at the beach (and an autumn raking leaves, a winter shoveling snow...)
(Yes, "X-Man" is short for "Deus Ex Machina Man" in this telling. And a commenter suggests Medal of Freedom winner George Tenet, who might well have spoken with Novak; Hmm - the CIA criminal referral advanced without him, and he did not mention the scandal to Bush until October. Well, is Tenet the sort of guy who would have long talks with old hands like Novak and Pincus? Yes, he is... And mightn't he put out a line of, "Hey, don't blame *me*for that messed up trip?" Yes, he might... But then why are we having a criminal investigation? Surely the head of the CIA can de-classify and leak this. But what if he only talked to Pincus and Miller, but not Novak? Worth thinking about.)
On July 12, two days before Novak's column, a Post reporter was told by an administration official that the White House had not paid attention to the former ambassador's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction. Plame's name was never mentioned and the purpose of the disclosure did not appear to be to generate an article, but rather to undermine Wilson's report.
That Oct 12 mention earned Mr. Pincus a subpoena, which was reported upon. But check this update from Nov. 26, 2004:
One current or former administration official has told Fitzgerald that he or she had a conversation with Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus on Saturday, July 12, Pincus has said publicly. Pincus also has said his source was not Libby. Pincus has previously said that an administration official told him that day that Wilson's trip to Niger was set up as a boondoggle by his CIA-employed wife.
Emphasis added. George Tenet became a "former" Administration official on June 3, 2004 (effective 7/11/2004), under odd circumstances. That said, Colin Powell is gone, other top CIA people are gone - lots of people stepped down after the election.
Still More: Extrapolating from the Sept 30 article, Pincus received a call on Saturday, the day after Tenet issued his July 11 statement taking the blame for the 16 Words and explaining a bit about Joe Wilson.
So why did an Administration official call Pincus on Saturday morning? Maybe because they did not like the Post's reporting of Friday's events.
And by happy coincience, here is the July 12 piece, with a byline of Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank.
Next step - see how the WaPo reported it, and see who might have felt like they needed to help Walter's perspective on the Niger trip. And FWIW, here is what Pincus wrote on July 13, after his chat with the X-man.
Well, the headlines tell the story - July 12 is "Bush, Rice Blame CIA for Iraq Error"; July 13 is the CIA pushback, with "CIA Got Uranium Reference Cut in Oct. / Why Bush Cited It In Jan. Is Unclear".
Hard to believe Colin Powell called Pincus just to bail out the CIA. Hard to believe Rove would call Pincus on Saturday morning and tell him to go easy on the CIA and pound the White House a bit. Easy to believe that a senior CIA official, now retired, called his old pal Pincus to set the record straight on the 16 Words and the Niger trip, and mentioned Wilson's wife in passing. How about that.
So, if Tenet leaked to Pincus, is Rove a criminal for leaking to Novak? Interesting. And who was Novak's first source? Who is Dame Miller protecting? Also Tenet? Might be worth checking her bylines. Developing...
And here we go - Ms. Miller, with David Sanger on July 23, told us that "Stephen J Hadley, deputy national security adviser and key behind-the-scenes player in Bush White House, accepts blame for allowing faulty intelligence to appear in State of the Union address".
Well, Mr. Hadley always belonged in the mix as a member of the White House Iraq Group who was both informed about the Niger trip and busy explaining the 16 Words debacle to the press, so he could have been a source to either Novak or Pincus. But he is hardly a "former" official.
YELLOW FLAG: Eventually I will run down the article where Pincus explained that he didn't use the bit about Wilson's wife because he didn't believe it. Didn't believe Tenet? Maybe it is a source-disguising head fake. Maybe.
IRRESISTIBLE CHEAP SHOT, or "We All Live In A Yellow Submarine": David Corn's "Time for Rove Withdrawal" explained that, as of July 8, this scandal was likely to fade from sight:
With the Miller and Cooper cases resolved, we will be left with no new tea leaves to read. Fitzgerald's investigation will proceed under the cloak of secrecy that covers (or is supposed to cover) all federal criminal probes.
So while it's been an exciting time for anyone yearning for details about Fitzgerald's work or for anyone wishing ill for Rove, those days may be over, as the investigation, like a submarine that occasionally has to surface, dives back into the deep, dark water.
Hey, it made sense when he wrote it!
OTHER: Timothy Noah at Slate can't figure out why the Times is so timid with its editorials. Maybe Mickey can alert him to (without endorsing!) the "Judy Miller is protecting Rove" theory - boy, if the Times called for Rove to resign, and we later learned that their reporter had exculpatory evidence, how over would it be for them?
MORE: Bits of media criticism of the Times article:
Finally, they note that discrediting Wilson was a goal. Breakthrough stuff.
But they are continuing their "Gotcha" game with the President here:
In June 2004, at Sea Island, Ga., soon after Mr. Cheney met with investigators in the case, Mr. Bush was asked at a news conference whether "you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found" to have leaked the agent's name.
"Yes," Mr. Bush said. "And that's up to the U.S. attorney to find the facts."
Don't vex me! The reporter incorrectly restated Bush's pledge, as noted here. Although one might argue that Bush was assenting to the restatement, one might just as reasonably argue that Bush was saying "Yes, I stand by *MY* pledge". And the original pledge mentioned violations of the law.