As I noted previously, it has been interesting to watch Karl Rove’s defense evolve. After the news broke in September 2003 that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak in Bob Novak’s July 14, 2003, column that outed former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie, as an undercover CIA officer, the White House declared that Rove and Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, were not involved in the leak–no ifs, ands or buts. Speaking of Rove, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, “He wasn’t involved. The president knows hewasn’t involved.” The White House was signaling–rightly or wrongly–that it had no worries about its uber-strategist. And a year later, a White House aide who had just left his job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue told me that the consensus view within the Bush gang at that point was that Rove was too smart for special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and that there was no reason for Rove to explain–or admit–anything. (One prominent Washington defense attorney said–after I recently mentioned this conversation–“only a fool would think he or she could outsmart a prosecutor.”)
This past July, after Time agreed to turn over Matt Cooper’s notes to Fitzgerald, Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff revealed that Cooper had spoken to Rove about Joe Wilson. Responding to Isikoff’s scoop, Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, said that Rove “did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.” But a week later, Isikoff disclosed that Cooper and Rove had discussed Wilson’s wife and her employment at the CIA and that an email from Cooper to his editors had confirmed this. And days later, news reports–probably relying upon Luskin as an unidentified source–disclosed that Rove had told Novak that he, like Novak, had heard that Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer. All this undermined the Rove camp’s claim that Rove never mentioned Valerie Plame and her CIA position to any reporter. (I supposed Luskin could argue that Rove, during his chats with Cooper and Novak, had not referred to Wilson’s wife as “Valerie Plame.”)
In the three months since, Rove’s defense has shifted further. This week, Luskin told CNN that “Karl has truthfully told everyone who’s asked him that he did not circulate Valerie Plame’s name to punish her husband, Joe Wilson.” (When CNN asked if that included George W. Bush, Luskin added, “Everyone is everyone.”) This line–Rove did not circulate Plame’s name to punish Joseph Wilson–is a far cry from the assertion that Rove did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame was a CIA officer. It appears that Luskin and Rove are making up lyrics as the music changes. Rove detractors might find this legalistic squirming perversely enjoyable. But what’s telling is a comparison between Rove’s position (the current one) and that of his boss.