Judith Miller’s Account In Plame Leak Case: Confusion Amid A Potential Political Tornado

Once again New York Times (perhaps soon FORMER New York Times?) reporter Judith Miller is at the center of headlines — but in a way she would not have wanted.

She released her version of events in the Plamegate case involving the outing of a CIA operative — and you can read it here. Then the Times did its wrap-up of Miller’s involvement in this long story here.

The result? Enough material there to raise a host of questions for journalists, controversy for bloggers and more billable hours for legal types. Enough material to raise eyebrows in some quarters, and elicit yawns in others. But, no matter what, the inescapable feeling that we’re on the eve of a potential political tornado. Just look at some of the key wire stories and how they’re played. The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz:

Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff discussed with New York Times correspondent Judith Miller the fact that the wife of a White House critic worked for the CIA on as many as three occasions before the woman, Valerie Plame, was publicly identified, according to a Times account published today.

During one of the 2003 conversations with I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Miller said, she wrote a version of Plame’s name in her notebook.

In a disclosure that could figure in special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s investigation, Miller said she initially refused to testify about her discussions with Libby because she believed he was signaling her that she should not cooperate in the CIA leak investigation unless her account would clear him.

Miller said her lawyer Floyd Abrams told her that Libby’s attorney, Joseph A. Tate, had related part of Libby’s grand jury testimony and was “pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn’t give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, ‘Don’t go there, or, we don’t want you there.’ “

Tate strongly denied such a conversation in an e-mail to the Times, calling the account “outrageous” and insisting that “I never once suggested that she should not testify. It was just the opposite.” He did not return a phone call from The Washington Post last night.

You do get a sense reading this that “Libby” may not be at liberty in the near future…The AP:

Shortly after tasting freedom for the first time in nearly three months, New York Times reporter Judith Miller went for a massage and a manicure. She enjoyed a martini, a steak dinner and the fresh air.

That was the easy part. The once-jailed reporter’s subsequent return to the paper’s 43rd Street newsroom, where she was viewed as a polarizing figure, was fraught with anxiety. She found her co-workers “confused and perplexed” about her jail term for protecting a Bush administration source, and about her paper’s apparent inability to rein in the Pulitzer-Prize-winner, according to a lengthy article posted Saturday on the Times‘ Web site.

The article was the newspaper’s first behind-the-scenes look at the information provided to Miller by Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and how it landed her behind bars for 85 days. It marked the second time in 2 years that the paper had published an investigation of itself, following the 2003 Jayson Blair plagiarism and fraud debacle.

Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson, asked what she regretted about the Times‘ handling of the Miller case, replied simply: “The entire thing.”

Miller defended herself in the piece, saying the paper had “everything to be proud of and nothing to apologize for.”

But Miller doesn’t coming out of this looking like a journalistic Joan of Arc. And she comes out smelling less like a rose, and more like what’s put on roses and flowers to help grow them. Read Reuters:

The notebook used by New York Times reporter Judith Miller for an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff contained a name virtually identical to covert operative Valerie Plame’s, the Times reported on Saturday.

But Miller, whose notebook for the July 2003 interview with Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby contained the name “Valerie Flame,” told federal prosecutors she did not think Libby was the source of that information and that she could not recall who was.

The disclosure, in an article published by The New York Times online, comes as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald neared a decision on whether or not to bring charges over the leak of Plame’s identity.

Plame’s diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, asserts that White House officials outed his wife, damaging her ability to work undercover, to discredit him for accusing the administration of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war.

Miller did tell prosecutors that Libby told her that Wilson’s wife worked on nonproliferation issues at the CIA.

Libby and President George W. Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, are among those who could face charges for talking to reporters about Plame.

And that’s the potential tornado: if there are indictments of one or more top White House political advisors, the predictable debate between partisans from both sides, and more of the news cycle gobbled up by yet another controversy — yet another controversy not nurturing the White House’s desired image…yet more headlines of GOP bigwigs having to hire lawyers (there is a lot of that going around these days).

Blogger Tom Watson minces no words about what he feels Miller’s piece and testimony reveals. Read his whole post but here’s the crux:

By her own admission, Miller’s memory is bad and her notes wouldn’t be a credit to a reporter on a college newspaper. No, what’s astounding is the revelation that prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is going after the Vice President of the United States.

Will it reach that high? A number of reports have speculated that the big fish in this case could be swimming at the White House….but nothing is certain until the indictments come down, if they come down…

And Miller? It’s as conceivable for a journalist to be unable to recall who gave her/him/it a crucial piece of information on a huge story as it is for a fired or resigned journalist to forget pick up her/his/its severance pay — something Miller may have to do real soon.


A CROSS SECTION OF OTHER VOICES ON THIS STORY. THESE ARE EXCERPTS AND WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO READ THE ENTIRE POSTS:

Glenn Reynolds points his readers to some solid, key posts and predicts: “I don’t think that too many people are going to be satisfied.”
Crooks And Liar’s John Amato:”Isn’t that a breach right there? Valerie Plame’s connection (with or without her name) to Joe Wilson or to the CIA should never have been mentioned to anybody at all.”
Michael Reynolds: “Judy ‘Jailbird’ Miller now claims she cannot remember who gave her the name “Valerie Plame,” or, as she originally wrote it in her notes, “Valerie Flame.” …I believe that’s a lie. I believe it is a deliberate, calculated lie. If that’s what she told the grand jury, I think Ms. Miller has committed perjury. She may need to go back to jail, this time for good cause. At very least she needs to be ejected bodily from the New York Times building and forced to find a different career. She is no reporter.”
Americablog:”So President Bush ordered the White House staff to cooperate fully, tell everything they knew, and waive any reporter privileges they had. Scooter Libby turned around and behind the President’s back told Judy Miller, ignore the president and don’t accept my waiver. Why is Scooter Libby still working in the White House after directly undercutting the president on a direct order?”

Jeff Jarvis has a long MUST READ that hits some of the highpoints of the Miller and Times’ accounts and offers an extensive roundup. A small taste: “She blames her sources for getting WMDs wrong, Libby for going to jail, and her editors — who stood by her at cost to them — for her unheroic welcome. In a phrase: what a case she is.”
Journalism prof/blogger Jay Rosen has another MUST READ at Press Think. Here’s a small excerpt:

Like I said, it became Judy Miller’s newspaper. Her decision-making, I said on CNN, was driving the newspaper’s. Mr. Sulzberger is the publisher; the Times is a public company. Isn’t his hand supposed to be on the wheel for the newspaper as a public trust?

This car had her hand on the wheel…I know what he meant. It was her call on whether to “endâ€? the case by testifying. But it was his call when the Times declared her case a First Amendment struggle and matter of high journalistic principle. Because the particular high principle invoked by Miller—protecting a reporter’s sources—in this case tied their hands for later stages of the fight that their own decision-making brought on. They turned over the wheel to Judy Miller; her games of telepathy with Libby became the “logic.â€?

The Left Coaster, like Watson (see above), sees a Cheney link here: “She’s still lying and protecting someone else, hoping to get away with it while her soon-to-be former employer watches its reputation go down the toilet.”
Roger Simon:

I don’t know what to make of the latest revelations in the Judith Miller soap opera at the NYT other than the obvious – Who would want to work at that place? As for whether anyone is guilty of a crime here, so far I would say boredom ranks highest among the possibilities, second only to the obscene amount spent on lawyers by the newspaper, the government and the various and sundry witnesses. I’d be ready to give up on the whole thing but one mystery still intrigues me: How did “Scooter” Libby get his nickname?

Arianna Huffington:

Now that I have spent a few hours absorbing this latest installment in the ongoing soap opera “Desperate Editors,” I can safely say that not since Geraldo cracked open Al Capone’s vault has there been a bigger anticlimax or a bigger sham. After all, the question everybody has been asking is: who was the source who leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to Judy Miller? And the answer? She can’t remember.

Given the “gee-whiz, it all just sort of, like, happened, and I don’t know when or why or where or who…” tone of her mea no culpa, maybe Judy is vying for a role on MTV’s “Laguna Beach.” Which is just as well, because if these two articles have revealed anything at all, it’s that Judy Miller is no journalist.

Just A Bump In The Beltway: “It has been pretty clear from the reporting of this story that Miller got “off the reservation” early and didn’t have an editor from early days. How that happened should be the subject of an internal investigation which would make the Jayson Blair probe look like Journo 101. The Times credibility just took a hit which it is going to have a hard time regaining.”
Blurbomat:”DO YOU THINK WE ARE MORONS, JUDITH? Scooter can’t possibly be that good in bed.”
Craig Cheslog: “After this failure, just how much credibility does the New York Times‘ current leadership have left?”