Sunday, July 10, 2005

Plame Game

The investigation into the leak of then-CIA analyst Valerie Plame's identity (contrary to widespread belief, she was not an undercover agent) continues to unravel as Newsweek reveals that Time reporter Matt Cooper did talk with Karl Rove about Plame's husband's trip to Niger.

Newsweek got a leak of Cooper's office email from someone at the rival magazine and reprinted portions of it in this week's issue. It's possible that Rove was the original source of the leak for both Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller, but the available evidence is beginning to suggest otherwise.

In last week's Newsweek, Rove's lawyer Robert Luskin was quoted saying that Rove had waived any confidentiality agreements he had with reporters:
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" [the last time was in 2004] and signed a waiver authorizing reporters to testify about their conversations with him.
Cooper's source, however, only at the last minute released the reporter. From the July 7 Washington Post:

In a last-minute surprise, Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper avoided Miller's fate by agreeing in the same court hearing to cooperate with special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald's probe.

Cooper told the judge that he said goodbye to his 6-year-old son yesterday morning and was expecting to go to jail for as long as four months. But minutes later he received a surprise phone call from his government source, who, Cooper said, freed him to break their confidentiality agreement and to tell a grand jury about their conversations in July 2003.

Another piece of evidence suggests that Rove was not the primary source. If the Newsweek emails really were written by Cooper, they seem to point to someone at the CIA being the principle leaker:
Cooper proceeded to spell out some guidance on a story that was beginning to roil Washington. He finished, "please don't source this to rove or even WH [White House]" and suggested another reporter check with the CIA.
Novak's own public statements on his report also seem to suggest someone(s) other than Rove. In his Oct. 1, 2003 column, Novak said his original source as "no partisan gunslinger." That hardly sounds like Rove who has routinely bashed Democrats:
During a long conversation with a senior administration official, I asked why Wilson was assigned the mission to Niger. He said Wilson had been sent by the CIA's counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife. It was an offhand revelation from this official, who is no partisan gunslinger. When I called another official for confirmation, he said: "Oh, you know about it."
The NYT's and its reporter Miller's actions also point to a larger pool of people being in on the allegation that Plame was a nepotist since she is refusing to identify whoever it was that told her about Plame. If Rove released reporters to whom he talked, if Cooper's primary source released him, then it stands to reason that, unless Miller has some sort of sick craving for prison, she had a different source.

At this point, it seems to me that Plame's career was an open secret (a National Review contributor disclosed in 2003 that he knew about Plame before Novak's column), therefore, once word got around elite Washington circles that her husband, Joseph Wilson--who had donated to Democrats for years and had a high position in the Clinton admin--had gotten assigned to investigate possible Iraqi uranium dealings in Niger, gossip started spreading that she had gotten him the job.

The gossip spread more widely and rapidly after Wilson went public with his mission in a New York Times op-ed blasting the Bush admin and the war in Iraq. Eventually, several reporters heard about the gossip through sources and that Novak's column was released to its subscribers on July 11, the day before Cooper asked Rove about Wilson. Like many of the kerfuffles created by Clinton foes in the 90s, the Plame game seems to be another scandalous non-scandal. Instead of going after Rove who can easily claim he didn't know Plame was "undercover," administration foes would do well to follow the Left Coaster's advice and look elsewhere.

In conclusion, here is a list of reporters who knew about Plame and their sources. There may be some overlap. Not everyone in the list was mentioned in my post above. If you know of anyone I left out, post them (and a link) in the comments. I'm counting at least four to eight people who knew and told reporters.

Robert Novak, syndicated columnist: "two senior administration officials," one of whom is "no partisan gunslinger"

Matthew Cooper, Time reporter: Karl Rove, Scooter Libby (chief of staff for VP Cheney), at least one other person who released him from his promise of anonymity

"Other reporters": "During a July 12, 2003, conversation, according to a source involved in the investigation, Time reporter Matthew Cooper told Libby that he had been informed by other reporters that Wilson's wife was a CIA employee. Libby, the source said, replied that he had heard the same thing, also from the press corps."

Cliff May, conservative activist: "someone who formerly worked in the government" "but not by anyone working in the White House."

Judith Miller, New York Times reporter: At least one person who has not released her from a confidentiality agreement

Walter Pincus, Washington Post reporter: someone other than Libby

UPDATE 7/11 7:39, The WP reports that Rove signed his universal waiver of anonymity in December 2003 or January of 2004, but:
Cooper had indicated he would go to jail rather than expose a confidential source, but he agreed last week to cooperate with the grand jury after getting clearance from his source to testify. Luskin said Cooper had been clear to testify all along -- because of the waiver signed 18 months ago -- but that the waiver was "reaffirmed" on Wednesday, the day of a hearing to decide whether he and Miller would go to jail.
I may be wrong in saying that Rove was not Cooper's primary source.

For a comprehensive roundup of blog opinion on this subject, see this post from Joe Gandelman.

UPDATE 10:38, After reading over JustOneMinute's very good post on the Plame Game, I'm adding "other journalists" to the list of people who knew about Plame and told Cooper, especially since the crux of Novak's July 14 column was distributed to the press on July 11.