The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Sunday, July 03, 2005

PLAME/ROVE UPDATE

Looks like the parties involved are digging in.

The Newsweek story alluded to by Lawrence O'Donnell on Friday is now available, and it confirms O'Donnell's claim that Karl Rove was Time reporter Matt Cooper's source. Beyond that, we don't learn much:
The e-mails surrendered by Time Inc., which are largely between Cooper and his editors, show that one of Cooper's sources was White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to two lawyers who asked not to be identified because they are representing witnesses sympathetic to the White House. Cooper and a Time spokeswoman declined to comment. But in an interview with NEWSWEEK, Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, confirmed that Rove had been interviewed by Cooper for the article. It is unclear, however, what passed between Cooper and Rove.

The controversy began three days before the Time piece appeared, when columnist Robert Novak, writing about Wilson's trip, reported that Wilson had been sent at the suggestion of his wife, who was identified by name as a CIA operative. The leak to Novak, apparently intended to discredit Wilson's mission, caused a furor when it turned out that Plame was an undercover agent. It is a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA official. A special prosecutor was appointed and began subpoenaing reporters to find the source of the leak.

Novak appears to have made some kind of arrangement with the special prosecutor, and other journalists who reported on the Plame story have talked to prosecutors with the permission of their sources. Cooper agreed to discuss his contact with Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, after Libby gave him permission to do so. But Cooper drew the line when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked about other sources.

Initially, Fitzgerald's focus was on Novak's sourcing, since Novak was the first to out Plame. But according to Luskin, Rove's lawyer, Rove spoke to Cooper three or four days before Novak's column appeared. Luskin told NEWSWEEK that Rove "never knowingly disclosed classified information" and that "he did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." Luskin declined, however, to discuss any other details. He did say that Rove himself had testified before the grand jury "two or three times" and signed a waiver authorizing reporters to testify about their conversations with him. "He has answered every question that has been put to him about his conversations with Cooper and anybody else," Luskin said. But one of the two lawyers representing a witness sympathetic to the White House told NEWSWEEK that there was growing "concern" in the White House that the prosecutor is interested in Rove. Fitzgerald declined to comment.
(I think I excerpted enough to give passive observers of this story an ample refresher of what's going on here)

So the important facts coming out of this are...
--Rove talked to Cooper a few days prior to Novak's Townhall column in which Plame was first publicly named.

--Rove's lawyer confirms they spoke, but that he "never knowingly disclosed classified information" and that "he did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA."
Look at those two denials from Rove's lawer, Mr Luskin. He's an attorney, and chooses his words very carefully. What I want to know is, why would he use the adverb "knowingly" in the first statement if he was going to make the second statement?

Since the genesis of this story in Summer/Fall 2003, administration apologists have occasionally erected a defense for them, saying that there was no crime committed because the leaker did not know Plame was an operative (undercover). Novak, for example, has said that neither he nor his source knew she was an operative, yet in his case, his explanations don't hold water and are contradicted by his own prior statements (Josh Marshall did some good work on this issue in October 2003).

Luskin's qualifier "knowingly" fits this strategy pretty well. But then he follows that up with more of a blanket statement, saying "[Rove] did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." Luskin can't decide on a strategy for how to respond to the Time documents, so he just tosses out two, one of which essentially negates the other. The second statement seems tacked on, perhaps a stalling tactic meant to push the whole thing back a week so Rove & co. can come up with a more coherent response to the situation at hand.

Not much later, Luskin talked to the LA Times:
"What I can tell you is that Cooper called Rove during that week between the Wilson article and the Novak article, but that Karl absolutely did not identify Valerie Plame," Luskin said. "He did not disclose any confidential information about anybody to Cooper or to anybody else."

Luskin said he would not "characterize the substance of the conversation," which was covered in the testimony Rove provided to the grand jury investigating the leak. "The folks in Fitzgerald's office have asked us not to talk about what Karl has had to say," Luskin said.
Sans the adverb, both defenses are still present here. There's a blanket statement about "identify[ing] Valerie Plame" and there's a statement about "confidential information". (Furthermore, don't the quotes in the first paragraph constitute "characterizing the substance of the conversation"?)

Frankly, I smell bullshit, and so does O'Donnell.

Still, look for lots of musing from the conservative end of the blogosphere on the sacrosanct integrity of lawyers.

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