What happened on Wednesday in Courtroom 8 at the federal district courthouse in Washington, DC, gave rise to more questions than answers about the shrouded-in-secrecy Plame/CIA leak investigation. But those questions may not be good for Karl Rove.
The most dramatic moment of the hour-plus hearing was when federal District Court Judge Thomas Hogan ordered New York Times reporter Judith Miller to jail for failing to reveal a source to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been trying to find out which Bush administration officials outed undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the Bush White House. Conservative columnist Bob Novak first published the leak in a July 14, 2003 article that cited “two senior administration officials.” Three days later, Time magazine posted a piece cowritten by Cooper that noted that “government officials” had told Time about Valerie Wilson’s employment at the CIA. Miller wrote no article on this matter but apparently she talked to at least one source about it. Her decision to honor her pledge of confidentiality to her source and resist a court order might have afforded her source–whoever that might be–a measure of protection. But minutes earlier, Cooper–who had also been held in civil contempt for not cooperating with Fitzgerald–made a dramatic statement that could lead to trouble for a source he had previously protected, and that source might be Rove.
Cooper told the court that he had left home that morning–after saying good-bye to his six-year-old son and telling the boy that he might not see him for a while–resolved not to comply with Fitzgerald’s request that he testify before the grand jury. (Time had already surrendered Cooper’s notes and emails to Fitzgerald–over Cooper’s objections–but Fitzgerald still sought Cooper’s testimony.) But on the way to the courthouse, Cooper said to the judge, his source had contacted him and provided what Cooper called a “personal and unambiguous waiver to speak before the grand jury.” So Cooper declared that he was now prepared to answer Fitzgerald’s questions. He would not be sent off to the hoosegow.
What does this mean for Cooper’s source–a person apparently of intense interest to Fitzgerald?
This past weekend, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek reported that the emails and notes turned over by Time indicated that “one of Cooper’s sources [for Time‘s article that named Plame] was White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove.” Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, confirmed that Rove had been interviewed by Cooper for that article. But Luskin maintained that Rove “did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.” (But does that statement cover all possibilities? Might Rove have confirmed Valerie Plame had a job at the CIA? Might he have said that “Valerie Wilson”–not Plame–worked for the CIA?)
Is Rove indeed the Cooper source being pursued by Fitzgerald and the person who apparently gave Cooper the greenlight to tell all to the grand jury? After Cooper’s announcement, Rove’s lawyer told Newsweek that Rove and Cooper had not “spoken” about waiving confidentiality prior to the court hearing. Luskin may have been playing it cute. Perhaps the communication between Rove and Cooper was an email. And The New York Times reported that lawyers representing Cooper and Rove–not Cooper and Rove–had talked prior to hearing. Or could it be that another Cooper source is Fitzgerald’s target?
What’s come out so far still points to Rove. And it does seem clear that only one Cooper source is in the middle of this imbroglio. In a recent court filing, Fitzgerald repeatedly noted that he needed Cooper’s testimony regarding “a” source (not more than one). And in Cooper’s last-minute courtroom drama, he noted that his “source”–one person, that is–had released him.
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This focus on one person is curious. The Time story written by Cooper reported,
And some government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Note the plural “officials.” And Novak’s column cited “two” senior Bush administration officials. Given this, shouldn’t Fitzgerald be asking Cooper about more than one source? Shouldn’t Cooper have to obtain waivers from more than one person? Cooper’s article did carry two other bylines–Massimo Calabresi and John Dickerson–and it’s possible that Calabresi and/or Dickerson spoke to other sources about Valerie Wilson. But neither have been subpoenaed by Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald apparently has reason to believe that Cooper is the fellow responsible for the two-sentence portion of the article that covers Valerie Wilson.
So who else told Time about Wilson/Plame? I can think of explanations that might render this question moot. Perhaps the story was mis-edited in a fashion that mistakenly pluralized the sourcing on the key sentence. Maybe one government official disclosed Valerie Wilson’s CIA identity to Time prior to the Novak column, and another merely confirmed it after Novak had published the leak. But inquiring minds should want to know: what happened to Time‘s other source(s)?
But for now the most critical question is, what will Cooper tell the grand jury? Presumably, he will have to say which “government officials” talked to Time about Valerie Wilson and what they said. Will that place his source (or sources) in legal jeopardy? Fitzgerald has vigorously argued that Cooper’s information is important for his investigation. Since no White House official has acknowledged revealing Valerie Wilson’s CIA identity to any reporter, if Cooper fingers any one of them, that will be bad news for the White House. Any official named might be able to wiggle out of an indictment due to the narrow nature of the relevant law. (I explained how this might be done in my previous column.) Still, outing a CIA officer to score a political point ought to be a firing offense at any White House, even this one.
Which brings us to another intriguing wrinkle. Cooper’s source only granted him a waiver to speak before the grand jury. He is not free, Cooper told me after the hearing, to discuss in public this source and the contents of his conversation with this source. In essence, the source made sure that Cooper–if he were going to cooperate with Fitzgerald–would not be able to ID him (or her) in public. Not that Cooper seemed about to do so. Before the hearing, it seemed that Cooper was prepared to go to jail, even though Time had turned over his notes and emails and Newsweek had identified his source as Rove. But could it be that his source was not so sure of this and wanted to cut a deal (your freedom for your continuing public silence)? Or could it be that Cooper’s source simply felt bad about Cooper being placed in the slammer? Or could it be that the source believed that Cooper’s testimony might actually be beneficial for him or her? Or could it be that the source assumed he or she was already in legal peril and did not want also to be blamed for Cooper’s incarceration?
There are plenty of avenues of conjecture. But one thing is for certain. Fitzgerald, who does seem devoted to the task of investigating the leak and who does not appear to be pursuing (rightly or wrongly) reporters merely for the hell of it, will now be able to obtain Cooper’s testimony–information that he says is critical in determining what happened in the leak episode and whether a prosecutable crime was committed. The betting has to be that this is reason for the White House to be more nervous and not less.
And what of Novak? How has he managed to escape the clutches of Fitzgerald? Why does he not face the same legal dilemma as Miller? Well, he must have cooperated with Fitzpatrick. But to what end? And what did he say?For speculative answers to these and other questions about Novak’s role in this affair, see the piece I posted at TomPaine.com by clicking here.
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