Rove Did Indirectly Confirm CIA Agent’s Identity

With each passing day, and each new revelation — few of them bound to create happy smiles in the White House — you get a sense that the hourglass is running out on the controversy swirling around political maven Karl Rove’s alleged role in revealing the identity of a CIA operative.

It’s a sense that whether Rove faces any legal consquences or not, this is a new era. And you also get a sense that no matter how this turns out there is little good that is going to come out of it for President George Bush and his White House. The latest revelation comes from the New York Times in a story saying Rove did indirectly confirm a CIA operative’s identity:

Karl Rove, the White House senior adviser, spoke with the columnist Robert D. Novak as he was preparing an article in July 2003 that identified a C.I.A. officer who was undercover, someone who has been officially briefed on the matter said.

Mr. Rove has told investigators that he learned from the columnist the name of the C.I.A. officer, who was referred to by her maiden name, Valerie Plame, and the circumstances in which her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, traveled to Africa to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq, the person said.

After hearing Mr. Novak’s account, the person who has been briefed on the matter said, Mr. Rove told the columnist: “I heard that, too.”

That is clearly confirmation. Will that fall under the law? MORE:

The previously undisclosed telephone conversation, which took place on July 8, 2003, was initiated by Mr. Novak, the person who has been briefed on the matter said.

Six days later, Mr. Novak’s syndicated column reported that two senior administration officials had told him that Mr. Wilson’s “wife had suggested sending him” to Africa. That column was the first instance in which Ms. Wilson was publicly identified as a C.I.A. operative.

The column provoked angry demands for an investigation into who disclosed Ms. Wilson’s name to Mr. Novak. The Justice Department appointed Patrick J. Fitzgerald, a top federal prosecutor in Chicago, to lead the inquiry. Mr. Rove said in an interview with CNN last year that he did not know the C.I.A. officer’s name and did not leak it.

The person who provided the information about Mr. Rove’s conversation with Mr. Novak declined to be identified, citing requests by Mr. Fitzgerald that no one discuss the case. The person discussed the matter in the belief that Mr. Rove was truthful in saying that he had not disclosed Ms. Wilson’s identity.

Meanwhile, the AP reports this new twist: that Rove told a grand jury he believed he got his info from reporters and not government sources:

Rove testified that Novak told him he planned to report in a weekend column that Plame had worked for the CIA, and the circumstances on how her husband traveled to Africa to check bogus claims that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials in Niger, according to the source.

Novak’s column, citing two Bush administration officials, appeared six days later, touching off a political firestorm and leading to a federal criminal investigation into who leaked Plame’s undercover identity. That probe has ensnared presidential aides and reporters in a two-year legal battle.

Rove told the grand jury that by the time Novak had called him, he believes he had similar information about Wilson’s wife from another member of the news media but he could not recall which reporter had told him about it first, the person said.

When Novak inquired about Wilson’s wife working for the CIA, Rove indicated he had heard something like that, according to the source’s recounting of the grand jury testimony.

Rove told the grand jury that three days later, he had a phone conversation with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper and — in an effort to discredit some of Wilson’s allegations — informally told Cooper that he believed Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, though he never used her name, the source said.

An e-mail Cooper recently provided the grand jury shows Cooper reported to his magazine bosses that Rove had described Wilson’s wife in a confidential conversation as someone who “apparently works” at the CIA.

But even when the White House and Rove’s defenders try to go on the inevitable offensive (“the best defense is a good offense”) they have shot themselves in the foot….or a little to the back, a little lower…. If you haven’t already JUST READ THIS — the GOP talking points on Rove. You could hear these talking points being delivered almost verbatim on some conservative radio and cable talk shows.

In the 1960s, they used to call radio newsmen who simply grabbed news off the wire “rip and read” newsmen.

We’ve now moved to the era of “rip and read” radio and cable talk show hosts and commentors.

It sure DOES make it easier if someone faxes the arguments to argue a case — except the use of the talking points AGAIN underlines how little premium is put on finding the TRUTH in an issue these days and how much of a priority is put on winning one for your (political) team, no matter how.

With the exception of a Wall Street Journal piece saying Americans should be thankful for Karl Rove “whistleblower,” most press reports have not been too encouraging for the White House — such as this one from Bloomberg:

Two-year old assertions by former ambassador Joseph Wilson regarding Iraq and uranium, which lie at the heart of the controversy over who at the White House identified a covert U.S. operative, have held up in the face of attacks by supporters of presidential adviser Karl Rove.

Rove is a subject of a special prosecutor’s investigation into how the name of the agent, who is Wilson’s wife, was leaked to journalists. There has been no evidence made public that Rove identified the agent to reporters. Rove’s allies are arguing that he was in fact trying to steer journalists away from taking too seriously Wilson’s criticism of President George W. Bush’s reasons for going to war in Iraq in 2003.

The agent, Valerie Plame, was publicly identified July 14, 2003, a week after Wilson wrote an article for the New York Times about an investigative trip he took in 2002 at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency. Wilson wrote that the administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein’s regime tried to buy uranium in Africa for nuclear weapons was wrong.

The main points of Wilson’s article have largely been substantiated by a Senate committee as well as U.S. and United Nations weapons inspectors. A day after Wilson’s piece was published, the White House acknowledged that a claim Bush made in his January 2003 state of the union address that Iraq tried to buy “significant quantities of uranium from Africa” could not be verified and shouldn’t have been included in the speech.

While the administration was justified at the time in being concerned that Hussein was trying to build nuclear weapons, “on the specifics of this I think Joe Wilson was right,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a scholar of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

How worried are they at the White House? Let’s just say all signs suggest George Bush may still like Karl Rove but may not want to be see in public calling him “dude”:

President Bush’s lackluster refusal to comment yesterday on his political guru’s involvement in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame did nothing to ease growing worries at the White House that trouble may be around the corner.

There were no words of support for Karl Rove. No expression of confidence that the White House will come through all this unscathed. Speaking with exceptional restraint about an incident that occurred fully two years ago involving his longtime friend and confidante, Bush said he “will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports.”

This Post piece notes that White House officials fear an administration member will be indicted later this year:

“Several people familiar with the investigation said they expect [special prosecutor Patrick J.] Fitzgerald to indict, or at least force a plea agreement with, at least one individual for leaking Plame’s name to conservative columnist Robert D. Novak in July 2003,” VandeHei and Leonnig write.

“A number of legal experts, some of whom are involved in the case, said evidence that has emerged publicly suggests Rove or other administration officials face potential legal threats on at least three fronts.

“The first is the unmasking of CIA official Valerie Plame, the original focus of special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s probe. But legal sources say there are indications the prosecutor is looking at two other areas related to the administration’s handling of his investigation. One possible legal vulnerability is perjury, if officials did not testify truthfully to a federal grand jury, and another is obstructing justice, if they tried to coordinate cover stories to obscure facts.”

So the talking points repeated over and over by Sean, Rush, Bill and others become more important than ever — because if this is indeed where the controversy is going, then there could be further erosion in Bush’s polls and additional reduction in his second-term clout.

In the end, no matter how it turns out, the defense of Rove by GOPers will further polarize the nation, force independents to choose sides, and will serve little positive purpose except other then to the wagons to defend a political stragegist and Bush friend.

If Rove gets off and it’s based on the fact he all but named Plame but actually didn’t actually utter her name, this administration will then be accused of having morphed into the “it all depends what is is” legal loophole exploiting version of the Clinton White House during the Monica Lewinsky scandal — particularly if Rove is allowed to stay at his job (which seems likely at this point).

UPDATE (we are limited on our computer time due to our schedule and transmission problems so we may not have as many as we’d like today on this):
Dick Morris says Rove shouldn’t resign.
–We definitely don’t agree with everything Paul Krugman writes but he’s right on target on this one — because we’ve said the same thing here. Read it in full but here are the key parts:

What Mr. Rove understood, long before the rest of us, is that we’re not living in the America of the past, where even partisans sometimes changed their views when faced with the facts. Instead, we’re living in a country in which there is no longer such a thing as nonpolitical truth. In particular, there are now few, if any, limits to what conservative politicians can get away with: the faithful will follow the twists and turns of the party line with a loyalty that would have pleased the Comintern.

Based on our many emails and phone calls from friends throughout the country we’re concluding quite a few independents are starting to feel this way — which is perhaps why some polls now show independents straying from supporting this administration. MORE:

But Mr. Rove understood that the facts were irrelevant. For one thing, he knew he could count on the administration’s supporters to obediently accept a changing story line….Mr. Rove also understands, better than anyone else in American politics, the power of smear tactics. Attacks on someone who contradicts the official line don’t have to be true, or even plausible, to undermine that person’s effectiveness. All they have to do is get a lot of media play, and they’ll create the sense that there must be something wrong with the guy….

If a Democrat had done that, Republicans would call it treason.

But what we’re getting, instead, is yet another impressive demonstration that these days, truth is political. One after another, prominent Republicans and conservative pundits have declared their allegiance to the party line. They haven’t just gone along with the diversionary tactics…They’re now a chorus, praising Mr. Rove as a patriotic whistle-blower.

Ultimately, this isn’t just about Mr. Rove. It’s also about Mr. Bush, who has always known that his trusted political adviser – a disciple of the late Lee Atwater, whose smear tactics helped President Bush’s father win the 1988 election – is a thug, and obviously made no attempt to find out if he was the leaker.

Most of all, it’s about what has happened to America. How did our political system get to this point?

MOST TROUBLING: Now that we indeed ARE at “this point,” how possible or unlikely is it that we can now UNGET to “this point”? Can we break out of this troubling era where people will change their political standards and values as they articulated them when it came to the opposition to allow their side leeway to do whatever they need to do to gain and stay in power?

Isn’t this now the NORM — and don’t the days when people such as Barry Goldwater held to firm, unyeilding principles in terms of big government and basic patriotic values kind of quaint, now?

And if there are no absolutes (just rip and read the talking points sent out by the RNC on the old talk show or incorporate them into your commentary to defend your side), what does it portend for the future?

  

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