The last month's excitement in the Plame investigation has left all sorts of Loose Ends and Stories Unpursued. With a slow news month looming before us, enterprising journalists (and bloggers!) might be able to turn some of the following ideas into bylines. Here we go:
"Russert - "I Told Libby About Plame": Ok, why would Tim Russert let a rival reporter break this news? Good question. Maybe he would like to avoid the awkwardness of outing himself on his own show; maybe no one ever cared enough to ask. (Maybe it's not true - let's find out).
In any case, Russert let NBC release a weaselly denial after he testified to Fitzgerald under circumstances that caught the imagination of Adam Liptak of the Times:
Mr. Russert's testimony last August provides intriguing clues. A statement issued by NBC at the time suggests that Mr. Libby had told Mr. Fitzgerald that he had heard about Ms. Wilson from Mr. Russert.
According to the statement, lawyers for Mr. Russert and Mr. Fitzgerald reached an agreement under which Mr. Fitzgerald questioned Mr. Russert only about Mr. Russert's end of a conversation in early July 2003 with Mr. Libby. That would be an unusual way to go about pursuing a leak inquiry, but it is consistent with an attempt to try to establish that Mr. Russert provided information to Mr. Libby.
Mr. Russert, however, according to the NBC statement, said "he did not know Ms. Plame's name or that she was a C.I.A. operative and that he did not provide that information to Mr. Libby." Indeed, the statement said, Mr. Russert first learned the information from Mr. Novak's column.
A spokeswoman for NBC declined to elaborate on the statement yesterday.
"He did not know her name?" And he didn't call her an operative. Well, that covers it!
Mr. Russert was virtually speechless two weeks ago when the subject arose on his own show - maybe a reporter could pry a story out of him.
"Joe Wilson Interviewed By Fitzgerald": the case can be made that Joe Wilson has been interviewed by Fitzgerald's investigators. Well - did the investigators ask about the forgeries that baffled the Senate? Or, for our friends on the left, was Wilson able to infer any targets of the investigation?
And why do we think that Wilson has chatted with Fitzgerald's people? Elementary - per the WaPo, Fitzgerald has taken testimony from a fellow mentioned (but not named) in Wilson's book. Presumably, Fitzgerald would want confirmation of the person's identity and a contemporaneous account from Wilson. It appears that Wilson spoke to the WaPo for their story, so he is not incommunicado.
And a side note - in the WaPo, it says that "Novak told the person that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA as a specialist in weapons of mass destruction and had arranged her husband's trip to Niger, Wilson said." And no doubt he did. But in his book, Wilson quoted Novak as saying "Wilson's an asshole. The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She's a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him".
Hmm - "sent" is not as strong as "arranged", especially following the broad "The CIA sent him". And where is the word "operative", which appeared in Novak's column?
Lots of questions for Mr. Wilson, if anyone cares to ask.
[UPDATE: In an Aug 4 radio appearance, Wilson says this:
JOSEPH WILSON: I have not spoken to Pat Fitzgerald for almost a year-and-a-half. I was interviewed by him once early in his tenure. My wife was interviewed by him once early in his tenure in a separate interview from mine, and neither of us have spoken to him since. We have not been before the Grand Jury. We're not part of this case. And, of course, he has appropriately not shared with us any information he might have. So anything that I might know would be just pure speculation.
While on the subject of Joe Wilson's secret friend, here is another possible headline - "Eason Jordan, formerly of CNN, Cooperated With Fitzgerald's Investigation". Again, we are guessing, but in Wilson's book, he says that after he learned from his friend that Novak was contemplating a column mentioning his wife, he called Eason Jordan of CNN (Novak's "titular boss") to urge Mr. Jordan to dissuade Novak. My strong impression is that Special Counsel Fitzgerald is running down every detail, so what did he ask Mr. Jordan, and how would Mr. Jordan characterize his chat with the investigators?
It is similar in theme to the Eason Jordan story, but different versions of this headline might capture attention: [Well Known Reporter] Cooperated With Plame Investigation. How many reporters have given evidence? Good question - let's watch the NY Times puzzle with it:
Adam Liptak, July 16:
Four reporters have testified in the investigation: Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus of The Washington Post, Tim Russert of NBC News and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine.
Mr. Liptak notes that Novak's status is not known, and that Judy Miller is in jail for civil contempt.
Anne Kornblut, July 27:
Few if any reporters who traveled with Mr. Fleischer, Mr. Bartlett and the White House entourage that week have been called to testify before the grand jury.
Douglas Jehl, July 28
In addition to Mr. Pincus, the reporters known to have been pursued by the special prosecutor include Mr. Novak, whose column of July 14, 2003, was the first to identify Ms. Wilson, by her maiden name, Valerie Plame; Mr. Cooper, who testified before a grand jury on the matter earlier this month; Tim Russert, the Washington bureau chief of NBC News, and who was interviewed by the prosecutor last year; Glenn Kessler, a diplomatic reporter for The Post, who was also interviewed last year, and Judith Miller of The New York Times, who is now in jail for refusing to testify about the matter. It is not known whether Mr. Novak has testified or been interviewed on the matter.
Emphasis added - evidently, the Times has become less certain of this point over the last two weeks.
So, what other reporters might have caught the attention of the Special Counsel? Per this list from Newsday from March 2004, we see quite a few names that appeared in the White House phone logs. Now, an entry in the phone logs does not mean a conversation occurred - sometimes it is just a message that the reporter called, but the person at the White House end never calls back. However, this seems like the sort of detail Fitzgerald would want to verify. Consequently, all of these reporters should have been contacted by investigators - have they been (or has no one asked?)?
And for what it's worth, rather than trouble us with a list of names which included Kristof, Sanger, and Miller of the Times, here is how the Times covered that revelation last March 2004; the WaPo at least mentioned that "approximately 25 [reporters]... were specified by name".
OK, two more places to look for a story, we are in the home stretch!
I had been told that [Ms. Plame was a CIA operative] — but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of.
It may well be that insiders were well aware of her employment at the CIA. However, almost two years have passed and none of these insiders have come forward to say so. If Mr. May could amplify or clarify his anecdote, there is no time like the present.
And while on that point, we have yet to see a clear transcript or public citation of Andrea Mitchell making a similar admission in July 2005.
[However, hiding in plain sight at the NBC News blog is Ms. Mitchell writing on July 15:
One of a number of intriguing questions: During that 10-day period in July 2003, how many reporters were circulating information about Wilson's wife to administration officials? More than a few, but clearly some failed to realize how seriously the CIA would take the disclosure of a covert officer's identity. Nor, clearly, did at least two administration officials who were the sources for Novak's column.
"More than a few"?!? If we count Russert (to Libby), Cooper (to Libby), Novak (to Rove) and Miller (to Libby), is that "more than a few", or does Ms. Mitchell have more reporters in mind? And by the way, is she a reporter, or a contestant on "20 Questions" - maybe she could clear this puzzle up for her audience *without* our prompting her.]
Finally, "Former CIA Spokesman Documents Warning To Novak": Bill Harlow, former CIA spokesperson, warned Novak not to publish information about Ms. Plame when Novak checked with the CIA in July 2003. Ahh, but how forcefully did he warn him, and why did Novak ignore him?
We don't know, but we know this - Wilson claims, again, in his book, that his wife alerted the CIA press office [on July 10] after the secret friend talked with Novak on July 8.
[Mini UPDATE: Per Wilson's book, on July 8, Wilson asked Eason Jordan to have Novak call him; Novak called Wilson on July 9, and they played phone tag until they finally spoke on July 10. From Wilson's book:
Novak had still been trolling for sources when we spoke on the telephone, so I assumed that he did not have the confirmations he would need from the CIA to publish the story. I told Valerie, who alerted the press liason at the CIA, and we were left with the reasonable expectation that any reference to her would be dropped, since he would have no way of confirming the information - unless, of course, he got confirmations from another part of the government, such as the White House.
Or if the CIA press liason confirmed that she worked at the CIA, I guess that could do the trick. Why Wilson called Eason Jordan right away but waited two days to tell his wife and the CIA press liason is left as a guess for the reader.]
We also know that in a typical bureaucracy, a monumental miscommunication of this magnitude - nationally syndicated columnist ignores CIA press officer and outs covert agent - would have resulted in some internal soul searching, which would have led to memos or minutes with themes of "What Went Wrong" and "How We Will Improve".
We also know that, when the CIA is not comfortable with the cooperation they are getting from a reporter, they are not shy about calling his editor or publisher. That did not seem to happen here, based on Howard Kurtz's quotes from two of Novak's editors.
However, we have no doubt that, if the CIA was as agitated in July 2003 as Mr. Harlow describes it to have been, there will be plenty of evidence to document it. Someone ought to ask him about that.
Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler has been tireless on the weak effort undertaken by Mr. Harlow to warn Mr. Novak off. Here is his Tuesday installment.
OK, lots to do while we sit and wait for Novak (or Pincus, or Libby, or Rove, or Tenet) to have their Perry Mason moment, break down in tears, and confess.
UPDATE: An extract from a brutal, easily verified comment by a regular here:
There is a procedure to follow if the spokesman or anyone from the public affairs dept (or whatever the CIA calls it) is asked to confirm any information involving someone's employment by the CIA. He must immediately check the status of that individual. If he doesn't, or if he does and the employee is undercover, he is to neither confirm or deny that information.
Harlow confirmed that Valery worked at the CIA. THEN he looked up her status. He blew it.
At that point all he could do is request that Novak not print, but the horse was already out of the barn.
Well, if the CIA press office really did get a heads-up from Ms. Plame about Novak on
July 8 July 10 (and why would Wilson be wrong about this? [Hmmph, why would I be wrong about this - make it July 10]), then Harlow has no excuse at all for not having apprised himself of Ms. Plame's status prior to speaking with Novak. Instead, based on what he told the WaPo, he talked with Novak, then double-checked her status, then called Novak back. Did he not get the heads-up? Is my commenter's description of CIA procedure wrong? Or are there serious problems with Harlow's story?
However, I still say the barn door could have been re-locked simply by calling Novak's editor.
In any case, reporters ought to know, or the CIA press office ought to be willing to say, what the standard CIA procedures are. Calling Pincus and VandeHei!