In a weekend posting I asked if it was time to get ready for the Karl Rove frog-march. The question was prompted by a Newsweek article by reporter Michael Isikoff that disclosed the first documentary evidence showing that Rove revealed to a reporter that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. In a July 11, 2003, e-mail that Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper sent to his bureau chief, Cooper noted he had spoken to Rove on “double super secret background” and that Rove had told him that Wilson’s “wife…apparently works at the agency on wmd issues.” “Agency” means CIA. This is not good news for Rove and the White House.
The e-mail–which Time had turned over to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the Plame/CIA leak–may not be enough to prompt Fitzgerald to indict Rove. Under the narrowly written Intelligence Identities Protect Act, Fitzgerald would have to show that Rove knew Valerie Wilson (a k a Valerie Plame) was working at the CIA under cover–that is, as a secret employee–which she was. But Fitzgerald still could build such a case upon other evidence. And Rove also could be in legal peril if his previous testimony to Fitzgerald is contradicted by this e-mail–or the other material Time surrendered, over Cooper’s objections, to Fitzgerald or by Cooper’s forthcoming testimony to Fitzgerald’s grand jury. (Last week, Cooper declared his source, presumably Rove, had given him permission to testify before the grand jury.)
But let’s put aside the legal issues for a moment. This e-mail demonstrates that Rove committed a firing offense. He leaked national security information as part of a fierce campaign to undermine Wilson, who had criticized the White House on the war on Iraq. Rove’s overworked attorney, Robert Luskin, defends his client by arguing that Rove never revealed the name of Valerie Plame/Wilson to Cooper and that he only referred to her as Wilson’s wife. This is not much of a defense. If Cooper or any other journalist had written that “Wilson’s wife works for the CIA”–without mentioning her name–such a disclosure could have been expected to have the same effect as if her name had been used: Valerie Wilson would have been compromised, her anti-WMD work placed at risk and national security potentially harmed. Either Rove knew that he was revealing an undercover officer to a reporter or he was identifying a CIA officer without bothering to check on her status and without considering the consequences of outing her. Take your pick: In both scenarios Rove is acting in a reckless and cavalier fashion, ignoring national security interests to score a political point against a policy foe.