Last night, word began to circulate around the blogs that Lawrence O'Donnell , an MSNBC political analyst, had identified Karl Rove as the person who leaked Valerie Plame's name. Today, O'Donnell confirmed that he said this:
"I revealed in yesterday's taping of the McLaughlin Group that Time magazine's emails will reveal that Karl Rove was Matt Cooper's source. I have known this for months but didn't want to say it at a time that would risk me getting dragged into the grand jury. (...)
Since I revealed the big scoop, I have had it reconfirmed by yet another highly authoritative source. Too many people know this. It should break wide open this week. I know Newsweek is working on an 'It's Rove!' story and will probably break it tomorrow."
And now the Newsweek story is out:
"The e-mails surrendered by Time Inc., which are largely between Cooper and his editors, show that one of Cooper's sources was White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to two lawyers who asked not to be identified because they are representing witnesses sympathetic to the White House. Cooper and a Time spokeswoman declined to comment. But in an interview with NEWSWEEK, Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, confirmed that Rove had been interviewed by Cooper for the article. It is unclear, however, what passed between Cooper and Rove.
The controversy began three days before the Time piece appeared, when columnist Robert Novak, writing about Wilson's trip, reported that Wilson had been sent at the suggestion of his wife, who was identified by name as a CIA operative. The leak to Novak, apparently intended to discredit Wilson's mission, caused a furor when it turned out that Plame was an undercover agent. It is a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA official. A special prosecutor was appointed and began subpoenaing reporters to find the source of the leak.
Novak appears to have made some kind of arrangement with the special prosecutor, and other journalists who reported on the Plame story have talked to prosecutors with the permission of their sources. Cooper agreed to discuss his contact with Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, after Libby gave him permission to do so. But Cooper drew the line when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked about other sources.
Initially, Fitzgerald's focus was on Novak's sourcing, since Novak was the first to out Plame. But according to Luskin, Rove's lawyer, Rove spoke to Cooper three or four days before Novak's column appeared. 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" and signed a waiver authorizing reporters to testify about their conversations with him. "He has answered every question that has been put to him about his conversations with Cooper and anybody else," Luskin said. But one of the two lawyers representing a witness sympathetic to the White House told NEWSWEEK that there was growing "concern" in the White House that the prosecutor is interested in Rove. Fitzgerald declined to comment.
In early October 2003, NEWSWEEK reported that immediately after Novak's column appeared in July, Rove called MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews and told him that Wilson's wife was "fair game." But White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters at the time that any suggestion that Rove had played a role in outing Plame was "totally ridiculous." On Oct. 10, McClellan was asked directly if Rove and two other White House aides had ever discussed Valerie Plame with any reporters. McClellan said he had spoken with all three, and "those individuals assured me they were not involved in this." "
TalkLeft has a summary of earlier reporting on the Plame investigation.
I recall that when this story first appeared, there were people who cast aspersions on Joe Wilson. I have no reason to think that any of their claims were true, and I don't care, since it's completely irrelevant: outing a CIA agent is wrong no matter what her husband's character is like. Moreover, I also don't care whether or not whoever leaked her name thought that it was already widely known in DC circles, etc., etc. Something that is popular gossip in DC is not nearly as widely known, or as easy to find out about, as something Robert Novak prints in his columns. And outing a CIA agent, besides being illegal, is also deeply wrong. National security could be harmed; her previous contacts could be put at risk; any usefulness she might have had in the future as an undercover operative has been thrown away; and so on. And besides all that, there is something especially despicable about outing a CIA agent not to serve some genuine security need, but to damage a political opponent.
Suppose Rove did leak Plame's name. A few thoughts leap to mind. First, there are some situations that you just can't spin, since everything you might come up with as an excuse implies something really bad about you. SUppose, for instance, that you are a security guard at a museum, and the museum's director stops by one night and finds you sitting at your post, calmly reading the paper, while hundreds of people are working, loudly, with noisy power tools and motorized forklifts, carting the museum's treasures away. How do you spin this? Clearly it's no good to say that they bribed you, or that you gave them permission. Should you then try to argue that you didn't notice the hundreds of people streaming by your desk, the forklifts, the noise, the clatter? Besides the sheer implausibility of the claim, if it were true it would imply that you have no business holding the job you do. Should you try to say that you thought that those hundreds of people and their forklifts and so forth were normal; that you didn't think they were doing anything wrong? Again: both implausible on its face and, if true, proof that you should be fired. In this situation, there really is nothing good for you to say; no excuse you can offer that would show that you were not at fault.
The Plame story is like this, especially if Karl Rove, one of the President's closest advisors, is behind it. What are the options? If Bush knew that Rove leaked Plame's identity, he could have revealed this fact, or, if he didn't want to turn Rove in, he could have asked Rove to resign and allowed him to drift off into the sunset. If, instead, he knowingly kept someone who broke the law and harmed our national security for purely political reasons as one of his advisors, then I can't see how to avoid the conclusion that he just doesn't care about our national security, moral responsibility, integrity, or his constitutional obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. If Bush didn't know that Rove leaked Plame's name because he didn't really try to find out, then that same conclusion follows. The only option that allows us to conclude that Bush really does take the outing of a CIA agent seriously is to suppose that he didn't know despite having really tried to find out the identity of the leaker. But, besides being implausible on its face, that raises fairly serious questions about the degree to which Bush is in charge of his own administration. Are we supposed to imagine that Bush was outraged by this; that he called all his advisors in to talk with him, separately and in private, and made it clear to them that he was completely serious about wanting to know who leaked Plame's name, and yet no one told him? That would imply that he is useless as a chief executive, and has lost control of the administration that is supposedly 'his'. In no case can we avoid drawing really damning conclusions about Bush and his leadership.
Second, if, as we keep hearing, lots of people in the press have known about this for ages, why on earth didn't any of them let us know sooner? Those who were actually contacted by Rove had to keep their sources secret. But as I understand it, they had in fact told colleagues who the leak was. Why couldn't one of those colleagues have run with the story, with one (or more) of the people Rove had contacted as an anonymous source? Since several people seem to have been contacted, it's not even as though Rove would have known who the source was.
Plus, having spoken to the press from time to time myself, the way it works for normal people is that once you say something to them, it is very hard to keep it out of their stories. You can ask, beforehand, that what you say be 'on background', which means that it will not be quoted, and that your name will be kept out of it. You can provide quotes but ask that they be kept anonymous. But you cannot say something and then ask them not to use it without giving them some sort of compelling reason, e.g. that lives depend on their not printing what you have told them. (E.g., if you are Eisenhower and you inadvertently reveal which beach in northern France you're planning to invade.) It seems pretty unlikely that there was any such reason to be given in this case. And if there wasn't, then they were treating their friends differently than they treat everyone else.
Here I agree with Digby:
"Is it normal that members of the press know the answer to a major mystery but they withhold it, as a group, from the public? I thought their job was to reveal the answers to major mysteries. In fact, this seems like the scoop of the decade. Back in the day, reporters were racing to get the news of semen stains and talking points on the air mere seconds before their rivals. Now, they all keep quiet?
This is a very interesting professional and ethical question for the media. Does the reporter's privilege extend to his friends? Here you apparently have quite a few members of the DC press corps with a piece of very juicy information (allegedly) about the most powerful political operative in the United States --- information that also has to do with an important matter of national security and a Justice department investigation. In some sort of friendship extension of the reporter's privilege they say nothing. Amazing.
And during the time they say nothing an election is held in which the political operative in question works feverishly to smear his client's opponent with scurrilous charges of borderline treason and cowardly behavior during wartime. The entire election is premised on the fact that the president, this man's client, is the only one capable of handling national security. His prior campaign had been waged with an overt promise to bring honor and integrity back to the White House. Still nothing.
Finally, when their friend seems headed to jail and his boss has agreed to turn over notes, they start to step up and reveal what they know.
Hookay. I think it's time to convene another conference on blogger ethics and professional journalistic standards. I get so confused about these things. "
I think the press comes out of this looking bad. Time has, as far as I can tell, ensured that no source who wants to remain anonymous will ever speak to its reporters again. And those reporters who were not initially contacted, but who kept the information secret until now, failed to do their jobs, in ways that harmed the country. It was not for them to decide whether or not to cover this story. And it was not for them to decide whether or not it might be relevant to an election that turned on questions like 'who can keep us safe?' that George W. Bush's closest political advisor was a person who exposed undercover CIA agents for no better reason than to harm his political opponents.
Third, of course, having recently had Rove accuse me and people like me of being traitors, if this turns out to be true I will enjoy the irony of it all. Much better, though, if I had never had occasion to. Because this sort of thing should never be about politics. And it's because, unlike the person who leaked Plame's name, I do think that national security is more important than politics that, delightful as it will be if I get to watch Karl Rove go down in flames, I would much, much rather the leak had not taken place to begin with.