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Editor, The Konformist
Karl Rove's no-name defense
July 10, 2005
George W. Bush never said publicly that Saddam Hussein masterminded
the attacks of Sept. 11. But if you sat through one of the
president's campaign speeches last year or his big Iraq speech this
month, you sure would have walked away with that notion.
Ever wonder how he learned that trick? Meet Karl Rove.
Rove never said publicly that he had nothing to do with leaking
Valerie Plame's identity to the press, but he sure managed to give
people that impression. When CNN asked him about the Plame case last
summer, Rove said: "I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name."
Maybe that was technically correct, but it's now clear that it was
something less than the whole truth. As Newsweek is reporting, Karl
Rove may not have referred to Plame by name when he spoke with
Time's Matthew Cooper on July 11, 2003. But the email messages Time
has turned over to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald show that,
in a phone call with Cooper that day, Rove tried to discredit Joseph
Wilson's conclusion that Iraq hadn't tried to buy uranium from Niger
by claiming that Wilson had been assigned to look into the Iraq-
Niger connection not by the vice president or by the director of the
CIA but by Wilson's wife. And Wilson's wife, Rove told Cooper, was a
CIA analyst working on WMD issues.
So Rove was the one who outed Plame, right? Well, you might think
so -- unless you're Rove or his lawyer. Remember, Rove said he
didn't know Plame's name and didn't leak her name. And in an
interview with the Washington Post Sunday, Rove's lawyer, Robert
Luskin, seized on that point, saying that his client "did not
mention [Plame's] name to Cooper." Of course, just three days after
Rove spoke with Cooper, Robert Novak wrote a column that sounded a
whole lot like the story that Rove had tried to spin for Time. In
Novak's telling of it, however, "Joseph Wilson's wife" suddenly had
a name. It was Valerie Plame, "an Agency operative on weapons of
mass destruction." How hard was it to get from "Joseph Wilson's
wife" to "Valerie Plame"? Not very. As Novak himself acknowledged in
a subsequent column, Wilson's wife's name was listed -- without
mention of her job at the CIA, of course -- in Wilson's "Who's Who
in America" entry.
So where does this leave things? Given the secrecy of Fitzgerald's
grand jury proceedings, it's hard to know for sure. It's plainly no
defense to the crime of leaking the identity of a CIA agent to say
that you didn't actually use her name: Federal law prohibits the
intentional disclosure of "any information identifying" a covert
agent. But if Fitzgerald is focused more on a perjury claim, then
what matters is what Rove told the grand jury. If Rove was as
careful there as he was with CNN -- that is, if he said he didn't
name names but stopped short of saying that he wasn't involved at
all -- then it will be hard for Fitzgerald to make a perjury charge
stick even if Rove's testimony amounted to something less than
coming entirely clean.
But what if Rove went a little further before the grand jury? What
if he came closer to an explicit denial of any involvement in
leaking Plame's identity? If Rove made that mistake, a perjury
charge could be in the offing. But Rove wouldn't be so stupid or so
arrogant to think he could get away with bluffing the grand jury,
right? Well, maybe. When White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan
was asked about the Plame case on Oct. 10, 2003, McClellan said he
had asked Rove and other White House officials and that "those
individuals assured me they were not involved" in "the leaking of
Maybe McClellan was lying. But if McClellan was offering an accurate
account of what Rove told him -- and if Rove repeated that story
under oath before the grand jury -- then Patrick Fitzgerald may soon
have something to teach the Bush administration about the importance
of telling the truth.
On Rove, Scott McClellan is suddenly silent
July 11, 2005
The White House press corps is finally asking questions about Karl
Rove's involvement in the outing of Valerie Plame. And all of a
sudden, it's White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan who doesn't
want to talk about the issue anymore.
Reporters peppered McClellan with questions about Rove and Plame at
today's White House press briefing. Did Karl Rove commit a crime?
Does the president still have confidence in Karl Rove? Is McClellan
concerned that he misrepresented facts about Rove's involvement in
the past? Has McClellan hired an attorney for himself? In a sign
that things are getting just a little more serious at the White
House, McClellan's answers were invariably -- and increasingly
testy -- variations on one theme: There's an "ongoing
investigation," and he's not saying anything about anything until
That's not a particularly unusual response for someone caught up in
a legal tangle, but it's a striking departure from the way in which
McClellan used to talk about the Plame case. In days gone by, the
White House press secretary was downright loquacious about the
On Sept. 29, 2003, McClellan told reporters that the president was
certain that Karl Rove was not involved in leaking Plame's identity.
When asked how he knew that the president knew, McClellan
said: "Well, I've made it very clear that it was a ridiculous
suggestion in the first place. I saw some comments this morning from
the person who made that suggestion, backing away from that. And I
said it is simply not true. So, I mean, it's public knowledge. I've
said that it's not true. . . . [T]here is simply no truth to that
suggestion. And I have spoken with Karl about it."
When McClellan was asked about Rove's involvement on Oct. 1, 2003,
he said: "Let me make it very clear. As I said previously, he was
not involved, and that allegation is not true in terms of leaking
classified information, nor would he condone it. So let me be very
And when McClellan was asked again about the case on Oct. 10, 2003,
he said that he had talked with Rove and other White House officials
and they'd all "assured me they were not involved in" the "leaking
of classified information."
With the revelations of the weekend -- it's now clear that Rove told
Time's Matthew Cooper that Joseph Wilson's wife was a CIA analyst --
those old denials must be sounding a little, well, quaint. McClellan
might want to revise and extend some of his earlier statements about
the case, and we're sure he will -- just as soon as the "ongoing
investigation" is over.
Why Karl Rove must go
July 11, 2005
There are still plenty of questions about Karl Rove's involvement in
the Valerie Plame case, and we trust that special prosecutor Patrick
Fitzgerald will eventually get to the bottom of them. But given what
we know today, the very best that anyone can say of Karl Rove is
that, on July 11, 2003, he broke the cover of a CIA analyst in order
to discredit criticism of the way George W. Bush used intelligence
in the run-up to the Iraq war.
That's not partisan hyperbole; incredibly, it is Karl Rove's
In order to show that Rove and his colleagues in the White House
weren't engaged in a conspiracy to reveal Plame's identity, Rove's
lawyer, Robert Luskin, says that Rove had another goal in mind when
he told Time's Matthew Cooper that Joseph Wilson's wife was a CIA
analyst: It was all about politics.
When Cooper called Rove on July 11, 2003, Wilson had just written an
Op-Ed piece for the New York Times in which he said that his
investigation into the allegation that Iraq had purchased uranium
yellowcake from Niger had left him with "little choice but to
conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear
weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." Cooper
asked Rove about the Wilson report at the end of their telephone
conversation. Rove's response? According to Cooper's e-mail message
to his editor, Rove warned Cooper "not to get too far out" on
Wilson's allegations because the source wasn't credible. Rove said
that neither Vice President Dick Cheney nor CIA Director George
Tenet had assigned Wilson to the Niger investigation. Rather, he
said, the job came from Wilson's own wife, who was, Rove told
Cooper, a CIA analyst working on WMD issues.
So you see, Luskin tells the New York Times, "A fair reading of the
e-mail as well as the context in which the conversation took place
makes it clear that the information conveyed was not part of an
organized effort to disclose Plame's identity." Rather, Luskin tells
the Washington Post: "What [Rove] was doing was discouraging Time
from perpetuating some statements that had been made publicly and
That defense may keep Karl Rove free from some sort of criminal
conspiracy charge. And Rove's sometimes careful denials about his
involvement -- "I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name" --
may keep him out of prison on a perjury conviction. But none of that
can change the fact that Karl Rove revealed the identity of a CIA
agent in order to discredit criticism of the president's use of
intelligence in the run-up to a war that has now claimed the lives
of at least 1,755 Americans.
It's one thing to orchestrate nasty whispering campaigns about your
political opponents when you're working as a private political
consultant. There's plenty of evidence that Rove engaged in those
kinds of tactics for Bush back in Texas and again for Bush during
the South Carolina primary in 2000. We might not like it, but as
Bush told John McCain during the 2000 campaign, "It's politics."
This is different. Rove isn't a private political consultant
anymore; he's a federal employee and the president's deputy chief of
staff. And outing a CIA agent isn't just political hardball,
or "fair game" as Rove once told Chris Matthews. As Bush himself
said of the Plame case last February, "Leaks of classified
information are bad things." How bad? So bad that Bush's press
secretary said back in September 2003 that, "if anyone in this
administration was involved" in the outing of Valerie Plame, that
person would "no longer be in this administration."
The press secretary isn't saying much today. At today's White House
press briefing, he repeatedly refused to answer questions about the
president's deputy chief of staff. "There will be a time to talk
about this," Scott McClellan said at one point, "but now is not the
time to talk about it."
He's right -- there will be plenty of time for talking later. Now is
a time for action. Karl Rove traded away the identity of a CIA agent
and, arguably, some portion of the nation's security in order to
discredit one of the president's critics on the question of war.
Thus, whatever comes of the criminal investigation that keeps
McClellan from answering questions, we know at a minimum that Rove
has breached the trust of his office and failed to live up to the
standards that Bush has set for his own administration. It is time
for Rove to go. And if he can't see that yet, it is time for the
president to tell him.
So many questions, so few answers
July 12, 2005
Scott McClellan is back in the White House briefing room, and he's
got to be feeling a little like Bill Murray's character
in "Groundhog Day."
The White House press corps is giving McClellan another opportunity
to answer many of the questions he declined to answer at yesterday's
briefing -- and McClellan is declining to answer them again. Every
time something even tangentially related to Karl Rove is asked,
McClellan says that the question arises "in the context of an
ongoing investigation" and that he won't be able to answer it until
the investigation is over.
Among the questions McClellan has declined to answer so far today:
Does he regret that he went so far in defending Rove in 2003?
Regardless whether it was illegal or not, was what Rove did right or
wrong? Should Rove's security clearance be suspended while the
investigation continues? What was Rove trying to accomplish when he
spoke with Time's Matthew Cooper? Does the president think what Rove
did was fair? How long has Bush known that Rove spoke with Cooper
about Valerie Plame? Has Rove apologized to McClellan for telling
him that he wasn't involved? "He put you on the spot," Helen Thomas
told McClellan. "He put your credibility on the line."
When a reporter asked if the White House now has a credibility
problem, McClellan said: "These are all questions that you're
bringing in the context of an investigation that is under way. This
is coming up in the context of news reports. I appreciate those
questions, and I think you're trying to get at the specific news
reports, wanting me to comment on those specific news reports." When
another reporter followed up, McClellan vouched for himself and for
his boss: "You all in this room know me very well. You know the type
of person that I am. You ... have dealt with me for quite some time.
The president is a very straightforward and plain-spoken person."
When a reporter asked McClellan if he'd let his attorney talk to the
press -- as Rove has apparently allowed his own attorney to do --
McClellan again refused to respond.
On just one point, McClellan said at least a little more than he did
yesterday. McClellan refused to say Monday whether the president
still had confidence in Karl Rove. In response to repeated questions
on that subject today, McClellan repeated a carefully crafted
line: "Any individual who works here at the White House has the
confidence of the president. They wouldn't be working at the White
House if they didn't have the confidence of the president."
Scott McClellan defends the silence
July 12, 2005
At today's White House press briefing, Scott McClellan tried to
argue that the sudden White House silence about the Valerie Plame
case has nothing to do with the evidence implicating Karl Rove and
everything to do with his claim that federal investigators asked him
not to talk about the case when he testified before the grand jury
in February 2004. "If you'll remember back two years ago or almost
two years ago, I did draw a line," McClellan said. "I said we're
just not going to get into commenting on . . . an investigation that
There's at least a little truth to McClellan's argument; McClellan
had much to say about the Plame case before he testified and has
said little if anything of substance since. But the same can't be
said of others in the Bush administration -- the "we" of whom
McClellan presumably speaks.
On Sept. 30, 2003, George W. Bush told reporters in Chicago that he
wanted to know if anyone in his administration had leaked Plame's
identity, and that "if the person has violated law, that person will
be taken care of." At a press conference in Georgia nine months
later -- which is to say, four months after McClellan testified
before the grand jury -- the president said he still intended to
fire anyone found to have leaked Plame's identity. And a few months
after that, late in the summer of 2004, Karl Rove himself told
CNN: "I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name."
Even now, there are signs that the White House may still be involved
in spinning the story of Rove and Plame. Ken Mehlman, who not so
long ago was running Bush's re-election campaign, has issued a
statement in which he complains about "blatant partisan political
attacks" on Rove coming from the "far-left, MoveOn wing" of the
Democratic Party. Mehlman's RNC has issued talking points to help
the party faithful wade through the fight. And as Think Progress
notes, a question asked by ABC's Terry Moran at today's White House
press briefing suggests that Rove himself is still trying to spin
the coverage, at least at Fox News.
Nobody asked McClellan today why he can't talk but everyone else
around him can, but it probably doesn't matter. He wouldn't have
Is Rove a "subject" and other big questions
July 12, 2005
Although we know a lot about Karl Rove's role in the outing of
Valerie Plame, there's still plenty that we don't know. Here's the
question at the top of our list at the moment: How -- and why -- did
Karl Rove know that Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the CIA?
We presume that Rove has the sort of security clearance that would
allow him to know such a thing. But why did he know it? Do people
who work at the White House just know, in some generalized way, who
among is a CIA employee and who isn't? Or did someone tell Rove that
Valerie Plame -- OK, "Joseph Wilson's wife" -- worked for the CIA
and had something to do with sending Wilson to Niger? If so, who?
And if so, why?
In an interview just posted at the National Review Online, Byron
York put that question to Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin. He wouldn't
answer it. Instead, while Scott McClellan insists that the White
House decided two years ago that it wouldn't be commenting further
on the Plame case, the lawyer for the president's deputy chief of
staff spent his time with York spinning the case around so that
Time's Matthew Cooper is to blame for "burning" Rove in the first
That sort of blame-the-messenger approach is to be expected from the
administration and its supporters; indeed, as Raw Story notes today,
the RNC is out with a new set of talking points that fires away all
over again at Joseph Wilson himself. But there are some nuggets of
more surprising news in York's interview with Luskin. Among them is
what seems to be a concession from Luskin that, while Rove isn't
a "target" of Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, he is a "subject,"
the next level down in terms of prosecutorial interest.
We can only wonder who else might be a subject or a target of
Fitzgerald's investigaton, and we're guessing that the list, if
there is one, includes whoever it is that told Rove the name of the
place where Joseph Wilson's wife worked. One might imagine a meeting
in the White House -- say, a meeting with Rove and Dick Cheney and a
few of their closest friends -- in which the agenda included the
troublesome allegations made by Joseph Wilson and the ways in which
those allegations might be discredited. One might wonder, while one
is wondering, why George W. Bush started consulting with a private
attorney in the Plame case at just about the same moment that George
Tenet resigned as the head of the CIA. It is speculation, pure and
simple, but when questions aren't being answered, it's hard to
resist the temptation to fill in the blanks yourself.
It has been a long day in Plameville, and we end it -- for now -- at
the same place we began: With the words of a senior congressional
Republican aide who told the New York Times yesterday that most
members of Congress are waiting to learn more abou the case before
they make any public statements: "The only fear here is where does
this go," the aide told the Times. "We can't know."