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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Technicalities Conservatives Can Love

Over the weekend there was a lot of talk about Robert Novak's outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. It all started when Lawrence O'Donnell said in a taping of the Maclaughlin Group that he had information that "Karl Rove was [possibly-soon-to-be-jailed Time reporter] Matt Cooper's source." (Note that O'Donnell did not say in his web post that Karl Rove provided the name Valerie Plame to Novak, or even to Cooper; he simply says that Rove was "Cooper's source." That leaves a lot of room for Rove and his people to assert innocence, which is just what Rove's lawyer did over the weekend.

There are lots of places on the web to read all about this. For example, see JustOneMinute for a detailed deconstruction of the "denial", or this more recent post by O'Donnell, or this discussion from Kevin Drum, or this one from AngryBear.

Let me make a point that hasn't been a major focus (though JustOneMinute makes a general comment in the post I linked to above). It's a point that's actually very consistent with this wording from Novak's original column
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report.

Pay close attention to the specific wording here. In the first sentence, Novak wrote that Wilson's "wife, Valerie Plame" works for the CIA. Then he says that two SAOs told him "Wilson's wife" suggested the trip to Niger (this claim is a favorite of Administration defenders; based on what I've read, I don't think it's true, but in any case it's beside the point). Today's NYTimes has an article about the Wilsons and specifically mentions that Joseph WIlson (Plame's husband) "said she has used her married name both at work and in her personal life since their 1998 marriage".

It's not that hard to imagine this sequence of events:

  1. Bushies get pissed off when they see Joe Wilson's critical op-ed piece in the NYTimes in early July of 2003. Someone in the White House demands that underlings find out why Wilson was sent to Niger or who sent him, and also dig up whatever dirt they can about Wilson to discredit him.
  2. Someone makes a few calls to the CIA (anyone who works in the White House full time has Top Secret clearance---you can't have a permanent building pass otherwise) and finds out that Wilson's wife Valerie works for the CIA.
  3. Rove and at least one other person start making calls, confident that they will be protected by reporters' promises of confidentiality.
  4. Novak gets a call and does some further reporting. He finds out somehow that Ms. Wilson's maiden name is Plame and uses that name in his column, perhaps after having someone at the CIA confirm that this name is one she sometimes used at the agency.

This entire sequence could be consistent with a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the law that prevents knowing disclosure of classified information regarding covert operatives' identities to unauthorized persons; this law is the one that led to the appointment of current special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. But the sequence could also be consistent with no violation of that law: the law is written in an extremely specific way, and while I'm not a lawyer, I don't doubt that unless Rove was even dumber than his decision to get involved in this stuff, it would be very hard for Fitzgerald to establish the intent and knowledge needed to convict. All of this is consistent with this snippet from the Post article:
Luskin [Rove's lawyer] 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.

Note that Luskin does not say that Rove did not tell reporters that "Valerie Wilson" worked for the CIA. Rove may well have told them Valerie Wilson worked for the CIA while not knowing she was undercover, in which case I seriously doubt he faces any jeopardy from the IIPA.

In the meantime, much speculation remains concerning the possibility that Fitzgerald is now after Rove (or someone else) for perjury in front of the grand jury convened to investigate all this. Here's a parting gift, from a July 1st Wall Street Journal editorial:
It may be that he [Patrick Fitzgerald] too has concluded that talking to the press is no crime, in which case he may by now only be pursuing a perjury rap against the leaker. If that's true, Mr. Fitzgerald will have earned a place in the Overzealous Hall of Fame.

See that? Pursuing a perjury rap makes you an overzealous prosecutor! Just like in the 1990s, right. Ah, those stand-on-principle conservatives. (I got that quote from this site, by way of Atrios).

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