So suddenly Plamegate -- which no one at the White House will talk about on the record, because it might get them indicted . . . I mean, because it might compromise Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation -- has sprung a whole shitload of leaks.
And whaddya know! They've all appeared on the same day (document dump Friday, no less), they all help shore up Karl Rove's alibi, and they all seem to have come from either Justice Department officials who've been "briefed" on case, or from attorneys who are very familiar with Karl Rove's defense.
Funny how that works.
In terms of the GOP's propaganda offensive, this is what the generals call "committing the reserves." But the leaks have also revealed the White House's line of legal defense -- which appears to be that Rove and his fellow choir boys were led astray by those nasty media whores in their fishnet stockings and pushup bras. They're the ones who outed Valerie Plame, not poor little innocent Karl.
The leaks all purport to give us the inside dope on Rove's testimony to the grand jury, which in turn appears to focus on his critical conversation with the putrifying cadaver of Robert Novak.
First the New York Times version:
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."
Then the Washington Post's:
White House senior adviser Karl Rove indirectly confirmed the CIA affiliation of an administration critic's wife for Robert D. Novak the week before the columnist named her and revealed her position, a lawyer involved in the case said last night.
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.
And finally, the Associated Press, which appears to have eliminated the middle man and gotten its version in whole cloth from one of Rove's attorneys:
Chief presidential adviser Karl Rove testified to a grand jury that he talked with two journalists before they divulged the identity of an undercover CIA officer but that he originally learned about the operative from the news media and not government sources, according to a person briefed on the testimony.
Now the idea that Valerie Plame's identity and affiliation with the CIA were "common knowledge" in Washington media circles is part of the verbal annex to the RNC's list of pro-Rove sliming points. And whoever is talking to the Post pounds the point hard:
Sources who have reviewed some of the testimony before the grand jury say there is significant evidence that reporters were in some cases alerting officials about Plame's identity and relationship to Wilson -- not the other way around.
Who could the media tattletale be? Well, there's a certain New York Times reporter languishing in jail who might fit the bill (or frame, as the case may be). The theory that Judy Miller told Rove about Plame, instead of hearing it from him, was floated earlier this week by Accuracy in Media nut job Cliff Kincaid:
This would help explain why Miller didn't write a story about the case. It would be difficult for Miller to write a story when she was so deeply involved in how it developed. Disclosure of her role then or now would be extremely embarrassing.
Heh. That's the thanks Judy gets for carrying the neocons' water all the way to Baghdad. Where's the gratitude?
But considering what we know about Judy Miller's professional ethics, and her willingness (eagerness) to play the shill in the administration's past smear campaigns, you can't say the claim is inherently implausible. On the other hand, Murray Waas has reported that Fitzgerald's team has some serious doubts about the Rovian alibi:
Also of interest to investigators have been a series of telephone contacts between Novak and Rove, and other White House officials, in the days just after press reports first disclosed the existence of a federal criminal investigation as to who leaked Plame's identity. Investigators have been concerned that Novak and his sources might have conceived or co-ordinated a cover story to disguise the nature of their conversations.
What should we make of all this -- I mean, aside from the certain conclusion that this orchestra of leaks will now whip the Plamegate story into a complete frothing hysteria?
Let's go over the Rovian alibi again in more detail, then try to draw out some of the implications.
In Rove's story, as leaked, a reporter told Turdblossom that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Rove supposedly told the grand jury he can't remember who this gossipy journalist was, although if his story is true, it seems reasonable to suspect it was Judy Miller. Anyway, Novak then came along, confirmed the original tip, and gave Rove a name to go with it. Rove started passing Plame's identity, but not her name, around to some of his back channel chums in the "liberal" media.
According to Rove's alibi, neither the original source nor Novak ever indicated to him that Plame was an undercover CIA operative. Novak also denies that he knew -- even though he called her an "agency operative" in his column, and even though that's a term Novak has consistently used in the past to indicate an undercover CIA operative. What a coincidence.
The story neatly absolves Rove of criminal liability under the Agee law, and probably under the espionage statute as well. Not because he never used Plame's name -- he clearly told reporters enough to reveal her "identity" -- but because he was never told that she was a NOC.
(I don't know what effect it would have on Rove's legal liability if he did learn about Plame's identity and covert status from a journalist. As I read the Agee law, it wouldn't matter: If Rove was "authorized" to know Plame's identity, understood that the CIA was trying to hide it, and disclosed it to someone who was not authorized to know (like Matt Cooper), then I think Turdblossom would still be liable, no matter how he first found out about it.
I assume the same would apply under the espionage statute. But it might also have depended on whether Rove had "reason to know" disclosure of the information would damage national security. I'm not a lawyer, much less an expert on national security law. So go figure.
What are the implications of this story?
The first is that Judy Miller very well may be the key to the case. If Rove (as well as Scooter Libby) testified that they originally heard about Plame from another journalist, and if Fitzgerald has decided (probably based on phone records) that Miller is that person, then it's easy to see why Judy is sitting in jail right now. She's the only person in the world who can contradict Rove's story. However, if Miller is Rove's original source, she would have many reasons to want to avoid testifying, including:
- protecting her original source
- not being indicted under the espionage statute (if she knew that Plame's relationship with the CIA was classified information)
- not having to admit publicly that she was a cog in Rove's intelligence gathering and sliming operation.
If Miller did tell Rove that Plame was a NOC, then to that list you could add:
- avoiding the need to choose between fingering the most powerful political operative in the country or committing perjury in front of a grand jury.
If Miller actually was Rove's source, then I'm guessing that jail cell in Alexandria probably doesn't seem like such a bad place to be right now, considering the alternatives.
Of course, if Miller (or another journalist) told Rove about Plame, it would raise the enormously interesting question of who told them. Could it have been another journalist, perhaps one surrounded by the stench of his own rotting, undead flesh? (Novak to Miller to Rove back to Novak. A perfect loop of slime.) Or a CIA official on Team Rove's side? A Pentagon neocon? A soon-to-be temporary UN ambassador with moles planted in State's Intelligence Bureau?
Or how about Plame herself? Was she one of Miller's WMD sources? (This is Cliff Kincaid's favorite theory, naturally, although it's seems pretty far fetched to me, since Plame was downplaying Iraq's nuclear capabilitites inside the CIA while Judy's sources were screaming about a looming holocaust.)
Given Miller's collective connection to every strand and node in the neocon spider web, and Novak's parallel network of GOP operatives, the trail could lead just about anywhere (again, assuming Rove's alibi bears some rough resemblance to the truth.) This could be what Judge Hogan was talking about when he wrote, in response to Fitzpatrick's request to hold Miller in contempt, that:
The government's focus has shifted as it has acquired additional information during the course of the investigation. Special Counsel now needs to pursue different avenues in order to complete its investigation.
If Fitzgerald really is trying to run down Novak and/or Miller's sources, then this party may just be getting started. And it could also turn into an even bigger embarrassment for the Washington press corps, and -- depending on where the trail leads -- for the Cheney administration as well.
On the other hand, if Fitzgerald believes Rove and Novak (and Miller?) concocted the alibi story after the fact, then presumably he believes there is someone -- like a CIA official or an NSC staffer -- who could testify that they told Turdblossom about Plame's NOC status. Fitzgerald may still be looking for that person, as well as for the "senior administration official" who told the Washington Post in October 2003 that the Rovians "used everything they had."
We have no way of knowing whether any or all of the above speculations are true or false. Fitzgerald will let us know where he thinks the truth lies in his own good time.
But one thing has been completely revealed by the evidence that's already come to light, and that's the stinking cesspool of bigtime journalism as presently practiced in Washington -- a cesspool in which Karl Rove may be the king of the pond, but which is also home to plenty of little toadies willing to help him do his dirty business.
As a friend of mine puts it, when Matt Cooper emailed his editor that he had just had a "double super secret background" conversation with Karl Rove, the tone was like that of an excited child telling his friends he just got to meet Superman! There wasn't a hint of skepticism -- of Rove's veracity or of his motives. And I suspect the same could be said of every reporter on Rove's speed dial list. It's why they're on the list. Which is something to keep in mind the next time you see the gang in the White House press office beating up on Scotty McClellan because he lied to them. Methinks they do protest a little too much.
But if the Washington press corps has degenerated into a flock (herd?) of toads, Novak is still the chief amphibian -- a role he's been cheerfully filling for Republican Party since Richard Nixon was in office. Consider the sourcing on his original column outing Plame:
Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger . . .
But now we're being told by our anonymous Rovian leakers that at least one of Novak's "senior" sources (i.e. Rove) was simply passing along a bit of gossip that he himself had picked up from another reporter!
The precise wording on what Rove supposedly said to Novak is also suitably vague. According to the undead one, when he told Rove about Plame's alleged role in Wilson's trip, Turdblossom supposedly replied: "Oh, you know about that." But in the leaked account of Rove's testimony, he is supposed to have said: "I heard that, too."
The morons at the New York Times write this off as a "slight difference" in wording, but it's actually quite significant. The first version (Novak's) would indicate that Rove had official knowledge that Plame worked for the CIA (which would tend to support the Rove-perjured-himself thesis) while the second version (Rove's) is more consistent with Turdblossom's claim that he learned about Plame from another journalist. So either Rove is a liar and a perjurer, or Novak is. Most likely they both are. But whether Fitzgerald can prove it is another story. Let's hope he's every bit the "prosecution machine" he's reputed to be.
We already knew that Rove and Novak are sleazy pieces of shit who should be flushed down the Potomac (after obtaining the necessary hazardous waste dumping permits, of course.) But what we're also learning is just how little it takes these days to out an undercover CIA operative working on critical issues of nuclear nonproliferation. A few quick phone calls, a little rumor mongering, and voila! an entire intelligence network, built up over years, can be flushed right down the toilet.
The real scandal, in other words, may not be that Rove and his journalistic cronies knew Plame was a NOC, but that they didn't really care -- not if it was going to get in the way of a good smear, or a juicy tidbit for the "inside the beltway" column.
And for that they should all be in the dock -- and would be, too, if stupidity and petty careerism were felony offenses.