By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, July 15, 2005 1:00 PM
Two newspapers and the Associated Press have stories this morning -- sparked by what appears to be a strategically crafted leak from Karl Rove's camp -- that shed a little more light on the role the president's chief political strategist played in the disclosure of Valerie Plame's CIA affiliation.
Here's what the stories say:
· Rove was apparently the "second source" for Robert Novak's July 14, 2003, column about Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, in which Plame, Wilson's wife, was first outed.
· While Rove was the first source for Time magazine Matthew Cooper's July 17, 2003, story, in neither case was Rove reportedly pushing the Plame angle aggressively.
· And Rove claims that he initially learned about the role of Wilson's wife from a reporter whose name he can't remember -- and then first learned her actual name from Novak.
The new leak is clearly intended to suggest that Rove's actions were neither criminal nor particularly unethical.
But many serious questions remain. Among them:
· Even under the circumstances described in today's stories, was Rove's behavior ethically acceptable? And if so, why didn't he come forward sooner?
· Did press secretary Scott McClellan know Rove was Novak's second source when he insisted that it was ridiculous to suggest that Rove was involved? What did Rove tell Bush about this, and when?
There are at least two new questions:
· Who it this mysterious reporter who allegedly told Rove about Plame in the first place?
· And who is this new anonymous leaker?
And of course, we still don't know about Novak's first source and his or her motives.The New Leak
David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times: "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. . . .
After hearing Novak's account of Plame's role in her husband's trip to Niger to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq, "the person who has been briefed on the matter said, Mr. Rove told the columnist: 'I heard that, too.' . . .
"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. . . .
"On Oct. 1, 2003, Mr. Novak wrote another column in which he described calling two officials who were his sources for the earlier column. The first source, whose identity has not been revealed, provided the outlines of the story and was described by Mr. Novak as 'no partisan gunslinger.' Mr. Novak wrote that when he called a second official for confirmation, the source said, 'Oh, you know about it.' . . .
"Asked by investigators how he knew enough to leave Mr. Novak with the impression that his information was accurate, Mr. Rove said he had heard parts of the story from other journalists but had not heard Ms. Wilson's name."
Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "White House senior adviser Karl Rove indirectly confirmed the CIA affiliation of an administration critic's wife for Robert D. Novak the week before the columnist named her and revealed her position, a lawyer involved in the case said last night. . . .
"The lawyer, who has knowledge of the conversations between Rove and prosecutors, said President Bush's deputy chief of staff has told investigators that he first learned about the operative from a journalist and that he later learned her name from Novak. . . .
"The new account means that Rove talked to both of the journalists who are known to have published original accounts about Plame. Rove's representatives have said that he mentioned the issue in the most general terms and did not name Plame. Democrats say he was trying to fuel stories that would punish an administration critic."
Allen also writes: "Sources who have reviewed some of the testimony before the grand jury say there is significant evidence that reporters were in some cases alerting officials about Plame's identity and relationship to Wilson -- not the other way around."
John Solomon writes for the Associated Press: "Chief presidential adviser Karl Rove testified to a grand jury that he talked with two journalists before they divulged the identity of an undercover CIA officer but that he originally learned about the operative from the news media and not government sources, according to a person briefed on the testimony. . . .
"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."A Cover Up?
And there's another possible blockbuster story this morning from Thomas M. DeFrank and Kenneth R. Bazinet , who write in the New York Daily News: "The special prosecutor probing the outing of a CIA spy is looking beyond who leaked Valerie Plame's identity, seeking whether White House aides tried to cover their tracks after her name went public, sources told the Daily News.
"Along with Bush political guru Karl Rove, the grand jury is investigating what role, if any, ex-White House mouthpiece Ari Fleischer may have played in the revelation that the former covert operative Plame was married to former Ambassador Joe Wilson. . . .
"A State Department memo that included background on Wilson -- and who in the White House had access to it -- appears to be a key to revealing who gave conservative columnist Robert Novak Plame's name, [two] sources said."Bloglust
The blogosphere, where mistrust of the mainstream media transcends politics, is going absolutely bananas over the possibility that the press itself is responsible for this whole mess.
Tom Maguire writes: "[I]f the media is really just keeping quiet about their role in this, well, I can't imagine how I could respect our media less, but I will think of something."
Lorie Byrd writes: "This report from the NYT, if true, strikes me as a bombshell, Rove is innocent, Dems are full of it, and reporters have gotten this story completely wrong revelation."
Even ABC News's The Note asks archly: "Does the reporter who allegedly first told Karl Rove about Valerie Plame know who he or she is?"
Mickey Kaus writes on Slate.com that it's possible New York Times reporter Judith Miller was Rove's source. "[T]his theory is what many MSM journalists, who know more about the case than I do, are worried about."
Tom on the Corrente blog writes: "Am I the only person who realizes that it doesn't matter how Rove found out? Rove simply shouldn't have disclosed anything at all. . . . He disclosed it and therefore broke the law and it really doesn't matter how he found out."
The Liberal Oasis blog points out some interesting foreshadowing of today's leak.
"Why do we know this is the White House strategy? Because Fox News already told us, during Wednesday's pundit roundtable on Special Report with Brit Hume:
"JEFF BIRNBAUM (W. Post): We are missing an important fact. And that is, where did Karl Rove get his information? --
"HUME: Well, I do know one thing. I know what the Rove camp says. The Rove camp says he actually heard about it from a journalist. . . .
"BIRNBAUM: . . . if Karl Rove did not get his information from the CIA or from someone who should not have told him under this law . . . then he's sort of off-the-hook."Show of Support
Charles Babington writes in The Washington Post: "Rove, President Bush's deputy chief of staff, accompanied the president on a trip to Indianapolis -- both men walking together from the White House to the Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn. Bush usually walks alone to the helicopter, and their public stroll was widely perceived as a presidential show of support."
John King showed that clip on CNN. "If it were anyone else, Karl Rove might have advised the president to keep his distance from a political lightning rod like himself. But today in the midst of the CIA leak investigation, Mr. Bush and his uberstrategist stood and walked shoulder to shoulder," King said.
He asked John Harris, political editor of The Washington Post: "What do you make of the pictures today?"
Harris replied: "Well, I think they say everything. That clearly that was what the message they want to say. Look, forget about it if you're going to chase Rove out of town in this frenzy. It's not going to happen. And I take that at face value. I don't think Rove is going anywhere."The Luskin Factor
It's not clear if the Times, The Post, and the Associated Press shared a single source on their stories. Who exactly is in a position to be "officially briefed" on Rove's grand jury testimony? What sort of lawyer "has knowledge of the conversations between Rove and prosecutors?"
Up until now, of course, the official voice of Rove on this matter has been that of his lawyer, Robert Luskin. And he himself is coming under closer scrutiny.
Howard Kurtz writes in washingtonpost.com about some of Luskin's more arguable assertions.
For instance: "Luskin told The Washington Post : 'Karl did nothing wrong. Karl didn't disclose Valerie Plame's identity to Mr. Cooper or anybody else,' adding that the question remains unanswered: 'Who outed this woman? . . . It wasn't Karl.'
"This answer now seems to be a) hair-splittingly legalistic, b) misleading, or c) flatly untrue. You decide. Depends on the meaning of the word 'disclose,' I guess."
Kurtz also notes that "Luskin, in 1998, had to return $245,000 in fees from a client convicted of drug-money laundering. The settlement with the Justice Department, which argued that the attorney should have known he was receiving tainted money, followed the disclosure that Luskin had accepted half a million of his payment in gold bars."
Luskin is a partner at the Patton Boggs law firm.1992 -- a Foreshadowing?
It's come up now and again, but just recently there have been a spate of mentions of a story that dates back to 1992 and involves a possible leak from Rove to Novak.
Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten wrote about it in their Rove profile in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday:
"During George H.W. Bush's second presidential campaign, Rove was fired from the campaign team because of suspicions that he had leaked information to columnist Robert Novak -- the same columnist who first reported Plame's CIA role in 2003, citing anonymous administration sources."
Ken Herman mentioned it in his Cox News Service report yesterday.
And Johnston and Stevenson mention it in today's New York Times: "This is not the first time Mr. Rove has been linked to a leak reported by Mr. Novak. . . . "Taking It to the Hill
Charles Babington writes in The Washington Post: "In bitingly partisan exchanges yesterday, lawmakers plunged into the dispute over Karl Rove's hand in leaking a covert CIA operative's identity."
Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) proposed an amendment aimed at Rove "to deny access to classified information to any federal employee who discloses a covert CIA agent's identity."
Then Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) retaliated by offering an amendment designed to strip the security clearances of the chamber's top two Democrats, Reid and Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.).
Reid's amendment fell by a party-line vote. Twenty Republicans joined all present Democrats in voting against Frist's.Agenda Worries
John D. McKinnon writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Mr. Rove, who has been largely responsible for Mr. Bush's triumphs, now could become the undoing of Mr. Bush's second-term agenda, unless he can find a way to put the story to rest. . . .
"A decision by prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald to charge Mr. Rove, either with illegally leaking Valerie Plame's name or with perjury over his grand-jury testimony, would force the president's hand. . . .
"Mr. Bush's calculations would turn on the extent to which Mr. Rove was a distraction from administration goals, and how much the strategist's effectiveness has been damaged."Yesterday's Grilling
Press secretary Scott McClellan didn't do a full briefing yesterday, only an in-flight gaggle on the way to Indiana.
It was brief, but not merciful. An excerpt:
"Q Will Karl come back and talk to us at the event?
"MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't expect that today.
"Q Why not?
"MR. McCLELLAN: I just don't -- there's no plans for him to do that.
"Q How long is he going to stay on the staff?
"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I expressed the President's views yesterday, when it comes to Karl.
"Q Remind me, how long is he going to stay on the staff?
"MR. McCLELLAN: That's a nice try. . . . "
Former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry writes on Huffingtonpost.com that he feels bad for McClellan.
Howard Fineman writes on Newsweek.com: "Several media, political and Washington vectors intersected to create an explosive Rove Reaction."Opinion Watch
Washington Post editorial: "There are serious questions about Mr. Rove's behavior, as well as his misleading public accounting for it during the past two years. . . . But much is still unknown, and Democratic demands that Mr. Rove be fired immediately seem premature given the murky state of the evidence."
Los Angeles Times editorial: "The White House cannot justify remaining silent by hiding behind the ongoing investigation. Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan, who once called the notion of Rove being the leaker 'totally ridiculous,' has looked ridiculous himself in recent days while dodging questions about the matter. Bush must order Rove to come clean about what he said to reporters, and when he said it. Otherwise, Bush will soon look 'totally ridiculous' too."
National Review editorial: "At the appropriate time, Rove and McClellan may owe some apologies. But we doubt that there will be firing offenses here, still less indictable ones. Democrats searching for a way to best the man who has done more than anyone but President Bush to win the last three elections, and reporters on the hunt for a big second-term scandal, will have to look elsewhere."
Paul Krugman in the New York Times: "John Gibson of Fox News says that Karl Rove should be given a medal. I agree: Mr. Rove should receive a medal from the American Political Science Association for his pioneering discoveries about modern American politics. The medal can, if necessary, be delivered to his prison cell."
E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post: "As long ago as October 2002, when Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank wrote a memorable story under the headline 'For Bush, Facts Are Malleable,' the administration has been accused of distortions, exaggerations and falsehoods. The spectacle of McClellan's being unable to back up his previous denials -- he said in the fall of 2003 that Rove and two other administration officials 'assured me they were not involved in this' -- brought this problem home as no catalogue of questionable administration statements ever could."
Dick Morris in The Hill: "Washington is a mean town where human sacrifice has been raised to an art form. But Karl Rove does not deserve this fate. He has served loyally and well, resisting enormous opportunities to leave midway and reap a bonanza of income in the private sector. He has shown himself to be a man of uncommon integrity and selflessness in serving this administration and this country. He should not be tossed to the partisan wolves."
San Francisco Chronicle editorial: "The person who should step down immediately is White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
"Every White House correspondent knows that a press secretary's job involves a good deal of 'spin' and administration-friendly interpretations of the facts. But it can't involve what now seem like outright falsehoods. And that is the trap in which McClellan now finds himself."Bubble Ahead
Jim Morrill and Tim Funk write in the Charlotte Observer: "President Bush will visit a Belmont textile plant Friday during a whirlwind visit to shore up thin Southern support for a controversial new trade pact. . . .
"In coming to Rep. Sue Myrick's 9th Congressional District, the president is coming to the only district in the Carolinas whose representative publicly supports the pact. . . .
"Traveling to Myrick's district was apparently not the White House's first choice in planning the trip. Weeks ago, Bush's advisers had hoped to send the president to Rep. Howard Coble's district to try to turn the Greensboro Republican into a key 'yes' vote on CAFTA.
" 'They called and asked us how would we feel about the president coming to the 6th (Congressional) District and how would that affect his vote on CAFTA,' Coble spokesman Ed McDonald said. 'We said it would not move (Coble) one inch closer (to supporting the treaty).' "
Megan Ward writes in the Shelby (N.C.) Star that Bush's speech will be held at Gaston College. But "the college has had no say in who will appear at the event. . . .
"Jeanie Mamo, a White House spokeswoman, said Bush will meet with textile workers and community and business leaders. The Gaston College speech is a by-ticket-only event."Poll Watch
A new Associated Press-Ipsos poll has Bush's overall job approval down one point from last month, to 42 percent, with 56 percent disapproving.
A new Fox News poll has Bush's job approval rating down a point from last month to 47, with disapproval up four points to 47.Social Security Watch
Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "With their disputes only deepening, House and Senate lawmakers agreed yesterday to put off action on Social Security restructuring again -- this time until September at the earliest."Supreme Court News
Gina Holland writes for the Associated Press: "Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's pledge to continue working despite his thyroid cancer leaves the White House with just one Supreme Court seat to fill, suddenly changing the dynamic of the summer confirmation battle."
Charles Lane and Peter Baker write in The Washington Post: "The White House had no notice of Rehnquist's intentions, press secretary Scott McClellan said. 'We didn't know before the statement,' he said by telephone last night. McClellan added: 'The chief justice is doing an outstanding job, and we are pleased that he will continue his great service to the nation.' "Bush and Blacks
Michael A. Fletcher writes in The Washington Post: "Making a rare appearance before a predominantly black audience, President Bush on Thursday touted his administration's initiatives to bolster education, increase homeownership and restructure Social Security, saying those efforts accrue to the benefit of African Americans. . . .
"Before Thursday's speech, Indiana Black Expo honored Bush with its lifetime achievement award."
Here's the text of his speech.
Matthew Tully , a columnist for the Indianapolis Star, writes that Bush "had a lot of time to prepare a thoughtful, meaningful speech for a major black organization -- but . . . struck out woefully with a boy-is-the-world-great defense of his presidency."While in Indianapolis
Bill McCleery writes in the Indianapolis Star: "President George W. Bush met for 10 minutes Thursday with the parents and two siblings of Claire Tatom, the 7-year-old Fortville girl who died July 4 of brain cancer.
"The president comforted the family and talked of his own sister who died of leukemia as a child, said Shane Tatom, Claire's father. . . .
"Bush talked of having grown closer to God over the years, giving up drinking at the age of 40 and spending more time reading his Bible, Tatom said."