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Monday, July 25, 2005

Weekend Plame Developments: III

Another thing that hit me about Saturday's Leonnig-VandeHei piece involves this bit, which starts with the observation that Fitzgerald
sought testimony from Cooper about his July 2003 story in Time. In 2004, Cooper obtained a waiver from Libby to discuss their conversation, as had the three other reporters.

Cooper and his attorneys were surprised that Fitzgerald agreed to ask Cooper questions only about his conversations with Libby, sources familiar with the investigation said.

The sources said Fitzgerald looked surprised in the August 2004 deposition when Cooper said it was he who brought up Wilson's wife with Libby, and that Libby responded, "Yeah, I heard that, too."

The prosecutor pressed Cooper to then explain how he knew about Wilson's wife in the first place, and Cooper said he would not answer the question because it did not involve Libby, the sources said.

That testimony contributed to a lengthy legal battle, as Fitzgerald sought to compel Cooper to testify before a grand jury about his conversation with the source. He also sought testimony from New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

I've always figured one of the really key questions to RoveWarLiesDeathGate is why Fitz pursued Cooper and Miller so avidly, and why Cooper's notes weren't enough. The above excerpt helps answer this question with respect to Cooper.

Fitz needed Cooper because Rove initially denied having talked to Cooper, though he later seems to have told prosecutors that he did talk to Cooper, with a focus on welfare reform (read the rest of the article for that stuff). Cooper's infamous email verified that Rove's initial claims were inaccurate (possibly lies, possibly "forgetfulness"). But the email doesn't say anything about welfare reform, and it doesn't tell us that Rove knew Joe Wilson's wife's job was classified (other things in the documents Time handed over may do so -- we don't know anything outside of the email). Makes it obvious why Fitz feels he needs Cooper's personal testimony. The questions that Cooper reports having fielded about the role of welfare reform verify this view, and the fact that Rove told Cooper "I've already said too much" certainly doesn't aid Rove's I-didn't-know-she-was-covert IIPA defense (how in the world Cooper keeps a straight face when he says maybe Rove meant he was late for a meeting is a whole other ball of wax).

So now we understand why Fitz was pushing Cooper so hard.

One further observation. DoJ guidelines require prosecutors not to compel reporters' testimony over minor issues. Whether or not you think perjury and obstruction are minor (for example, whether or not you'd impeach a President over alleged instances of those offenses), I can't help but wonder if Cooper's testimony is damaging to Rove in more substantive ways, i.e., with respect to possible IIPA or Espionage Act jeopardy.

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