The Plame/CIA leak case is getting what all good scandals need: props.
We now have the “missing notebook” and the “missing email.” The “missing notebook,” as several news reports noted at the end of last week, belongs to New York Times reporter Judith Miller and reportedly contains notes of a conversation regarding former Ambassador Joseph Wilson that she had with Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, on June 25, 2003. The date is intriguing, for this is weeks before Wilson published his now famous New York Times op-ed piece (in which he revealed that after traveling to Niger for the CIA he had concluded that the allegation that Iraq had been uranium shopping there was dubious). And, of course, this was weeks before Robert Novak wrote a column outing Wilson’s wife as an undercover CIA officer. So why were the two discussing Wilson at that point? Why did this notebook go missing within the paper’s Washington bureau? Who found it? Miller or someone else? Why won’t the Times explain to its readers how it came to be discovered? What do the notes in this notebook say?
The Case of the Missing Notebook does prompt much pondering. As Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher listed a set of questions raised by the missing notebook in his own column:
— Did Libby lie to the grand jury about not talking to Miller about Wilson earlier than July 8? Did Miller lie about that? If so, why?
— How did Fitzgerald find out about these notes? Did he know about the June conversation for quite some time but just recently found out about the notes? Or did Miller come forward herself? If she did, was it after someone tipped off Fitzgerald about the June interview?
— Does the existence of a Miller chat with Libby two weeks before the Wilson Op-Ed, and well before Robert Novak outed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent, indicate that Libby, indeed, was the original source of the Plame leak? And/or does it suggest that Miller herself was a “carrier” of that leak to others in the media and the administration, well before Novak’s bombshell?
What is frustrating is that the Times could have quickly cleared up a number of these matters. But it chose not to. So the final question on this front is, why?
On to the other new prop. This past weekend, Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff reported that Karl Rove’s return to the grand jury (for visit No. 4) was caused by the “White House’s handling of a potentially crucial e-mail sent by senior aide Karl Rove two years ago.” Apparently, when Rove was first interviewed by FBI agents and when he first appeared before Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury, he neglected to mention his July 11, 2003, conversation with Time‘s Matt Cooper, in which he told Cooper that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. But after that first grand jury appearance, Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, according to Isikoff’s report, found an email Rove had sent on July 11 that referred to his conversation with Cooper. Rove then went back to the grand jury to discuss his July 11 chat with Cooper. I suppose Rove merely needed to have his memory refreshed.
The Newsweek report doesn’t make clear what this missing email has to do with Rove’s latest trip to the grand jury room. But it does seem that this visit may be connected to possible discrepancies between Rove’s and Cooper’s account of their conversation.
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The Newsweek piece, though, does unveil Rove’s latest defense–and perhaps that of the White House. According to Luskin, Rove also did not initially tell Bush about his conversation with Cooper. In the fall of 2003, Rove only assured Bush that he was not part of a “scheme” to discredit Wilson by blowing the cover of his wife. So even though Rove did share classified information with at least two reporters (he also told Novak that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA), he now claims this was not done with any intent to undermine Wilson, a prominent critic of Bush’s policy in Iraq.
But when it comes to various laws under which Rove’s actions might be prosecutable, intent is not the issue. Moreover, note that in this telling Rove failed at first to tell his boss that he had discussed Wilson’s wife with reporters. Bush had said publicly that he wanted to find out what had happened and that aides who had leaked classified information would be punished. His White House also declared that neither Rove nor Libby had been involved in the Wilson leak (though now it’s clear they both were). So did Rove disobey the commander in chief by keeping the details from Bush and by only giving Bush a general assurance that he had not plotted against Wilson?
Who knows if the latest Luskin-Rove account is true? Luskin has peddled misleading information for Rove previously. But Rove’s aim appears to be to keep Bush out of the loop–even if that means Rove has to depict himself as a subordinate who did not fully come clean with the president. An account in which Rove does not share the full truth with his boss is better for the White House than one that implicates the president with knowledge. If Bush knew about Rove’s conversations with Cooper and Novak, then he would also have known that his White House’s assertion that Rove had been uninvolved in the leak was false. With this latest account, is Luskin building a firewall, rather than a stonewall?
Meanwhile, the Times reported on Friday that Fitzgerald might be using espionage-related laws to bring indictments in the CIA leak case. Regular readers of this column might recall that I noted this possibility two months ago. I pointed out then that the indictments in the AIPAC case were “bad news for the Bush White House and Karl Rove” because they show that “Rove and any other White House aide involved in the Plame/CIA leak might be vulnerable to prosecution under the Espionage Act.” For more on this legal twist, click here. In the meantime, keep your eye on the missing notebook and email. They don’t have the dramatic punch of that eighteen-and-a-half-minute gap on a Watergate tape. But they may have some legal resonance in a case that does seem, finally, to be giving the White House the jitters.