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Posted by on Jul 28, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

Fitzgerald takes the Plame Game to a new level

Over at The Reaction, I occasionally do blog round-ups — similar to what Joe does here at TMV — and Wednesday evening I was scouring the blogosphere for posts (and the MSM for articles) on Plamegate (as it’s now being called in some circles — I prefer Rovegate). There’s a lot out there in the news at the moment — Roberts, terrorism, Iraq — but there seem to be some new and prominent developments to what is, admittedly, a somewhat tiresome story.

Liberal bloggers are all over Fitzgerald’s expansion of his investigation into the outing of Plame as a CIA agent. From the Post (see here):

The special prosecutor in the CIA leak probe has interviewed a wider range of administration officials than was previously known, part of an effort to determine whether anyone broke laws during a White House effort two years ago to discredit allegations that President Bush used faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq war, according to several officials familiar with the case.

Prosecutors have questioned former CIA director George J. Tenet and deputy director John E. McLaughlin, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, State Department officials, and even a stranger who approached columnist Robert D. Novak on the street.

In doing so, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has asked not only about how CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name was leaked but also how the administration went about shifting responsibility from the White House to the CIA for having included 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Africa, an assertion that was later disputed…

It remains unclear whether Fitzgerald uncovered any wrongdoing in this or any other portion of his nearly 18-month investigation. All that is known at this point are the names of some people he has interviewed, what questions he has asked and whom he has focused on.

Fitzgerald has said in court that he had completed most of his investigation at a time when he was pressing for New York Times reporter Judith Miller to testify about any conversations she had with a specific administration official about Plame during the week before Plame’s identity was revealed.

Miller, who never wrote a story about the matter, is in jail for refusing to comply with a court order to testify. Court records show Fitzgerald is seeking information about communications she had with the Bush official between July 6 and July 13, 2003, when the White House was attempting to discredit Wilson and his allegations.

Fitzgerald appears to believe that Miller’s conversations may help him get to the bottom of the leak and the damage-control campaign undertaken by senior Bush officials that week.

For reaction to this, see Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo and Digby at Hullabaloo.

The co-author of that Post article, Walter Pincus, is now himself part of the story. From the Times (see here):

In the same week in July 2003 in which Bush administration officials told a syndicated columnist and a Time magazine reporter that a C.I.A. officer had initiated her husband’s mission to Niger, an administration official provided a Washington Post reporter with a similar account.

The first two episodes, involving the columnist Robert D. Novak and the reporter Matthew Cooper, have become the subjects of intense scrutiny in recent weeks. But little attention has been paid to what The Post reporter, Walter Pincus, has recently described as a separate exchange on July 12, 2003.

In that exchange, Mr. Pincus says, “an administration official, who was talking to me confidentially about a matter involving alleged Iraqi nuclear activities, veered off the precise matter we were discussing and told me that the White House had not paid attention” to the trip to Niger by Joseph C. Wilson IV “because it was a boondoggle arranged by his wife, an analyst with the agency who was working on weapons of mass destruction.”

Mr. Pincus did not write about the exchange with the administration official until October 2003, and The Washington Post itself has since reported little about it. The newspaper’s most recent story was a 737-word account last Sept. 16, in which the newspaper reported that Mr. Pincus had testified the previous day about the matter, but only after his confidential source had first “revealed his or her identity” to Mr. Fitzgerald, the special counsel conducting the C.I.A. leak inquiry.

Mr. Pincus has not identified his source to the public. But a review of Mr. Pincus’s own accounts and those of other people with detailed knowledge of the case strongly suggest that his source was neither Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s top political adviser, nor I. Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and was in fact a third administration official whose identity has not yet been publicly disclosed.

Mr. Pincus’s most recent account, in the current issue of Nieman Reports, a journal of the Nieman Foundation, makes clear that his source had volunteered the information to him, something that people close to both Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have said they did not do in their conversations with reporters.

Mr. Pincus has said he will not identify his source until the source does so. But his account and those provided by other reporters sought out by Mr. Fitzgerald in connection with the case provide a fresh window into the cast of individuals other than Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby who discussed Ms. Wilson with reporters.

In addition to Mr. Pincus, the reporters known to have been pursued by the special prosecutor include Mr. Novak, whose column of July 14, 2003, was the first to identify Ms. Wilson, by her maiden name, Valerie Plame; Mr. Cooper, who testified before a grand jury on the matter earlier this month; Tim Russert, the Washington bureau chief of NBC News, and who was interviewed by the prosecutor last year; Glenn Kessler, a diplomatic reporter for The Post, who was also interviewed last year, and Judith Miller of The New York Times, who is now in jail for refusing to testify about the matter. It is not known whether Mr. Novak has testified or been interviewed on the matter.

Both Mr. Pincus, who covers intelligence matters for The Post, and Mr. Russert have continued to report on the investigation after being interviewed by Mr. Fitzgerald about their conversations with government officials.

Mr. Pincus wrote in the Nieman Reports article that he had agreed to answer questions from Mr. Fitzgerald last fall about his July 12, 2003, conversation only after “it turned out that my source, whom I still cannot identify publicly, had in fact disclosed to the prosecutor that he was my source, and he talked to the prosecutor about our conversation.”

(Pincus. Poor little Pincus. — C. Kramer)

As if all that weren’t enough, Fox (who else?) is reporting that Plame gave money to an anti-Bush group (see here). Fox, as expected, seems to be playing this up, but it’s essentially a non-story (and likely part of the concerted effort to discredit Wilson and Plame in order to deflect attention away from Rove and the White House). Plame gave just $372 to a group called America Coming Together, which was organizing a fund-raising Bruce Springsteen concert. Big deal.

At least Fitzgerald seems to be going after the real story here, which was well summed up by Josh Marshall: “And all of this, of course, [is] meant to cover up the big lie — the administration’s knowing use of bogus WMD reports to convince the country to go to war.” Which is precisely what Frank Rich said in his Sunday column in the Times: “The real crime here remains the sending of American men and women to Iraq on fictitious grounds. Without it, there wouldn’t have been a third-rate smear campaign against an obscure diplomat, a bungled cover-up and a scandal that – like the war itself – has no exit strategy that will not inflict pain.”

And I say this as someone who supported the war. But now it seems more and more like the Bush Administration did in fact “fix” the intelligence to suit the politics. Wilson exposed a major part of the plan: the Niger uranium connection. And the White House sought to take him down by outing his wife and generally trying to discredit him.

(And for those of you who think I’m being excessively partisan, or coming at this from too far to the left, let me just say that I’d be similarly outraged and disgusted if a Democratic White House were doing this.)

The truth must come out, and so the story, through all its twists and turns, must go on…

Stay tuned.

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