Monday, August 15, 2005

Frog March Watch Begins

Disclaimer: Murray Waas is not exactly the most administration-friendly reporter. However, since this information will eventually become public one way or another, it's a pretty big limb for him to go out on if he doesn't have some pretty good evidence that this story is true.

And if the story is true, well, that's very bad news for Karl Rove. According to Waas:

During his initial interview with the FBI, in the fall of 2003, Rove did not disclose that he had ever discussed Plame with Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper, according to two legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

Now, before I get on Bob Somerby's shit list (don't I wish), let me say that this may not be as damning as it sounds. It's possible that the questions Rove was asked by the special prosecutor were not specific enough to make Rove's failure to disclose his conversation with Cooper rise to the level of perjury. Keep in mind that Rove was initially interviewed not by Fitzgerald's team of pit bulls but by FBI people who were still working for Ashcroft. So it's possible Ashcroft had focused the investigation just so, such that the tough questions were not being asked. That in itself, of course, would be a story.

The Waas article is very interesting for several reasons.

One, it underscores the importance of tough confirmation hearings even when a nominee is almost sure to be confirmed.

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Comey had pledged that he would personally see to it that the independence and integrity of the investigation would not be compromised in any way.

At one point during those hearings, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) cited the close relationships between Ashcroft and Rove, and also between Ashcroft and others also likely to be questioned during the leak probe. Schumer asked Comey:

Now, by all accounts I've read, Comey has a lot of integrity, and he didn't need Schumer to tell him that he was to keep investigations of the executive branch fiercely impartial. But it's nice to get it in the record.

Second, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Judy Miller's trip to jail is not as clean-cut as it once appeared. It seems that prosecutors are mainly interested in what she told Rove, not the other way around. So the key in all this is not whether Rove is Miller's source, but whether Miller was Rove's. Of course, if she was the conduit for this information, the question again becomes: who told Miller?

The third thing that's interesting about the piece is that, read in timeline form the way Waas lays it out, it has the feel of a major criminal scandal. If this sequence of events is really accurate, that the FBI became convinced in 2003 that Rove was trying to mislead investigators, and they've really been looking at Rove for this long, he's probably going to be indicted. It would be a major setback for Fitzgerald's career - which seemed on the fast track to the attorney general's office before he got involved in the Plame case - for him not to return any indictments now, after a long and expensive investigation.

The Frog March Watch Begins.


the greatness said...

I'm going to ask a question that underscores my tremendous ignorance of the situation: why isn't everybody all over Novak? Or the "senior administration official"?

Adam P. Short said...

Well, the way the story has shaken out, Novak has turned out to be something a of a bit player, except in the sense that he was the one to actually publish Plame's name. It appears that by the time Novak got the dirt on Plame, the information was already basically everywhere except the papers (where he finally put it.)

So now the question is how the information got out in the first place. It appears quite clear at this point that Novak's two "senior administration officials" at the time were Rove (the confirming source) and one other person, probably Scooter Libby, who actually gave him Plame's name.

Thus there is really little to be learned from Novak at this point. The trouble is, Libby and Rove claim they got the Plame information from a journalist whose name they cannot recall. This is almost certainly Judith Miller, who was extremely cozy with Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans, the agency that was created to stovepipe Iraqi WMD intelligence that the CIA was ignoring or downplaying (Miller's prewar role was to hype the OSP intel in the New York Times.) It's quite possible that some low-level player (compared to Libby and Rove, anyway) from the OSP leaked the information to Miller initially as just kind of a piece of gossip they had picked up, and Miller inadvertently (or advertently) caused the whole thing to snowball by mentioning it to Libby or Rove.

If that is how it went down, and Miller was the first person to disclose this information to Rove and Libby, then they couldn't have violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which states that the offender must have gained the knowledge through their official capacity. So Miller may be withholding nominally exculpatory evidence (although there are other laws in play as well dealing more generally with disclosing classified information.)

Since Miller won't talk about any aspect of her conversations with Libby, Rove, or any other administration official, the grand jury is at something of an impasse.

The main problem for the subjects of the investigation (at least Rove and Libby but possibly more than a dozen past and present executive officials) is that there is so much testimony after two years of investigation that inconsistencies are starting to emerge.

The probable outcome at this point is that when the grand jury expires in October, Fitzgerald will hand out whatever indictments he's got (probably secondary offenses like perjury and obstruction of justice) and let Miller go.