Surprise, surprise! None other than Karl Rove has been named as the source who leaked that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent, a crime for which two journalists may yet do time, even though they didn’t commit it. Time magazine has now gone over the head of its own reporter Matt Cooper—who took a principled stance in refusing to name his source despite a federal subpoena—and released his e-mails regarding the case to the Justice Department, so he may be off the hook in terms of prison time. (Not so Judith Miller of the New York Times, whose own shameless pom-pom waving for Bush’s military escapades makes her an unlikely hero.) The e-mails apparently confirm that he at least discussed the story with Rove, and allegations are mounting that Rove was in fact the source. So this is a convenient little double-whammy for the Bush administration. First they got to discredit Plame’s husband Ambassador Joseph Wilson when he was claiming (correctly, it turns out) that Saddam did not seek uranium from Africa. Then, it uses the case sparked by the leak to erode the principle of journalistic privilege. Pretty Machiavellian. One wishes their hubris would catch up with these guys already, as it did for Machiavelli in the end. From the July 2 Editor & Publisher:
Now that Time Inc. has turned over documents to a federal judge, revealing who its reporter, Matt Cooper, identified as his source or sources in the Valerie Plame/CIA case, speculation runs rampant. Lawrence O’Donnell, senior MSNBC political analyst, now claims that at least two authoritative sources have confirmed that one name is top White House mastermind Karl Rove.
This afternoon, Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff confirmed that Cooper did indeed talk to Rove for his story, but Rove’s lawyer denied he was the key leaker in the case.
“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,” Isikoff writes on the Newsweek web site. “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.”
According to Isikoff, 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 noted that Rove 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.
MSNBC’s O’Donnell first offered the Rove revelation Friday night on the syndicated McLaughlin Group political talk show. Today, he went beyond that, writing a brief entry at the Huffington Post blog:
“I revealed in yesterday’s taping of the McLaughlin Group that Time magazine’s e-mails 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.”
This is definitely a bizarre as well as dangerous case, and its political paradoxes were articulated with rare clarity by Hendrik Hertzberg in the May 9 edition of The New Yorker:
The Cooper-Miller case is rife with ironies and curiosities. Everything about it is upside down. In the ideal template, the person being protected is an unnamed whistle-blower trying to expose government wrongdoing. This time, the protectee or protectees are unnamed government wrongdoers trying to discredit a (named) whistle-blower. Normally, the reporter is being told to testify about his or her knowledge of a crime; this time, the reporter’s conversation—the source’s half of it, anyway—is itself the crime, if a crime there was. Normally, in recent years, the threats to the Washington press corps’s ability to do its job have come from the Bush Administration, which is notoriously secretive, manipulative, and vindictive to journalists who fail to bend the knee. This time, though, the threat is coming from an investigation, a perfectly legitimate one, that targets the Administration, or persons within it, precisely for misusing the press—in this case, by ruining the career of a C.I.A. operative. Then, there is the role of Robert Novak. It was Novak who outed the agent, but it is not Novak who is in trouble. Was he subpoenaed? If not, why not? If he was, and he refused to name his source, why isn’t he in the same jail-bound boat as they are? If he did name names, why the relentless pursuit of Cooper and Miller? No one knows—except Novak and the prosecutors.
Among other things, the entire brouhaha illuminates the changing meaning of the C.I.A. as a political trope. In the nineteen-forties and fifties, C.I.A. agents were swashbuckling, sophisticated Ivy Leaguers. In the sixties and seventies, they were conspirators against populist governments the world over. In the eighties and nineties, they were the Spy vs. Spy spooks of the later Cold War. Once, they were the left’s favorite villain. That changed when the agency’s analysts proved unable to provide intelligence that consistently and precisely corresponded with the preconceptions of the Bush-Cheney team. Now matters have reached a point where associating a diplomat with a C.I.A. agent (his wife) is apparently thought sufficient to smear him as a Saddam-appeasing, liberal-loving softie.
The law that has sideswiped Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, was passed in 1982. It was aimed at treacherous government officials and also at the sort of activist journalists, pretty much exclusively of the left, who might (and on a few occasions did) set out to expose agents with the intent of compromising their safety or, at the very least, making their work impossible. Whether the act applies to the Plame outing is a debatable point. (Two of its primary drafters are on record as saying that it does not.) So, for that matter, is the question of whether the confidentiality of sources should be seen as a constitutional right or—as it is in thirty-one states and the District of Columbia but not, unfortunately, at the federal level—a privilege both guaranteed and circumscribed by law. If anyone is indicted, it will likely be on some secondary charge, such as perjury or lying to investigators. Cooper and Miller are not targets of the investigation. But they may yet be forced to a choice between breaking their promise and going to jail; and it is a near-certainty that, as a matter of personal and professional honor, they would choose the latter. There is, then, a strong possibility that (a) a serious abuse of power, possibly a crime, will have been committed by one or more White House officials, and (b), in consequence, two journalists will have been imprisoned. That would be a strange kind of justice, and a singularly grim parody of accountability.
See our last post on the case.