Thursday, July 07, 2005

What About Bob?

I haven't posted much on the Valerie Plame leak case. Jay Rosen has, though; his latest is a call for Bob Novak to be exiled from journalism. I think that's a little premature, especially since I believe it's based on conflating two facts in Novak's original column about Plame as being from from the same source:
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. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him.
There are two distinct points in this paragraph: 1) Plame works for the CIA. 2) She arranged for her husband to be sent to Niger.

Isn't it possible that the "two senior administration officials" only told Novak the second point and that he already knew (either from common knowledge as he says) or by some other means?

What lends credibility to this scenario is the fact that Novak doesn't appear to be bound for the slammer in any way. This suggests (though neither the columnist nor the prosecutor will confirm it) that Novak did appear before the grand jury and revealed at least how he came to know Fact #1. As a man who's been probably the biggest success for the longest time, he's been on the beat since the 1960s, I highly doubt that Novak would have compromised a source who told him something in confidence.

From this we may conclude that Novak either aquired knowledge of Plame's career through non-confidential means or that his source released him from a confidentiality agreement. It's not likely that the second scenario occurred because a person who knowingly disclosed classified information has committed a serious crime and therefore has no incentive to tell a grand jury this.

Having eliminated the second possibility, let's turn to the first one. Three possible scenarios flow from it: 1) Plame's career was common knowledge and Novak's source did not think that revealing this would be a criminal offense. Therefore, an administration source told Novak but not under a confidentiality agreement. Subsequently, Novak told the grand jury about this. 2) Novak obtained his information from someone outside the White House or from a fellow journalist such as Matt Cooper or Judy Miller. 3) Novak obtained information on both Plame's identity and her alleged role from administration officials who were actually passing on information they heard from Miller, Cooper or someone else.

In the end, I think it's too soon to render judgment on Novak's actions. If, as I believe, Novak's knowledge of Plame's career and her alleged involvement with her husband's Africa trip came from separate sources, I'm not sure there's anything he could say that would have helped Cooper and Miller avoid jail, especially if Plame's identity wasn't privileged information.

With regard to Novak's lack of comment on the case so far, it's either that he has agreed not to say anything as part of an immunity agreement or he just doesn't want to get in any more trouble than he's already in.

As for Fitzgerald, I find it hard to condone his prosecution. According to Ann Althouse, the judge in the case seems to be a jerk, too. Incredibly, he actually said this at Miller's sentencing:
"That's the child saying: 'I'm still going to take that chocolate chip cookie and eat it. I don't care.'"