Wednesday :: Jul 13, 2005

The Plame Saga


by Marie

Long on speculation and short on facts in the public domain. And it goes on and on.

Is the real story simple or complex. Do we even know where it begins? If it’s directly related to other important political stories of the past five years or is independent?

The mysterious Niger documents that claimed Saddam was seeking yellowcake figure too prominently in the sequence of events that led to the outing of Plame to be ignored. Fortunately for us, Billmon in “Paper Chase” recently reviewed the publicly available information on this. While some of us have long suspected that more than one set of reports making the same claim were floating around, Billmon confirms this and effectively debunks the impression that the CIA and Wilson were working from the documents that an Italian journalist turned over to the US Embassy and in early 2003 were easily declared to be forgeries by the IAEA. Where I would differ from Billmon is that I don’t think that the CIA found the claims all that credible because in the fall of 2002, Tenet was warning Bush not to use those claims and they weren’t used in Bush’s 2003 SOTU address. Instead, Bush had to make do with ascribing the claims to British Intelligence in the SOTU. What later became the infamous sixteen words.

Not that they were questioned by the MSM before the US invaded Iraq and when such questions could have changed the course of history. Of course the MSM seemed as hell bent to get a war as Bush did. No eyebrows were raised when after months of hearing almost nothing but how Iraq’s WMD were going to destroy us that on the eve of the invasion it was named Operation Iraqi Freedom. Only a few were raised when it became obvious that no effort had been made to secure the alleged WMD sites. More questions began to be asked after the BBC reported on 5/29/03 that the intelligence had been “sexed up.” That probably wouldn’t have made its way across the pond if not for Gilligan’s phraseology. American journalists simply can’t resist a “sex” story. That put Blair on defense. Bush was put on defense with Pincus’ 6/12/03 WAPO article that questioned those “sixteen words” and cited an “unnamed retired diplomat.“ Condi was dispatched to all the talk shows to do damage control. On 7/6/03 Wilson’s OpEd was published and stopped any speculation about the identity of the “unnamed retired diplomat.” And a few days later on 7/14/03 Novak blew Plame’s cover.

Shortly after the initial BBC report, the Blair team began pressuring the BBC to name their source. Demanding to know the identity of the whistleblower. Dr. David Kelly, an expert in WMD, stepped forward but disputed that he had said what Gilligan reported. "The David Kelly Affair" - John Cassidy - New Yorker The experience cost Dr. Kelly his life on 7/17/03. And then instead of anyone focusing on why one of Britain’s most esteemed experts on WMD had not played a leading role in the preparation of the British Dossier on Iraq’s WMD in September 2002, the focus became whether Dr. Kelly committed suicide or was murdered and the credibility of the BBC. Blair won the battle, the inquest returned a finding of suicide and the BBC had their wings clipped. This sad story may have no relevance to the Plame saga. May be nothing more than a concurrent one. However, there is one interesting factoid. It was not rare for the press to check in with Dr. Kelly on WMD, and one reporter had established some sort of relationship with him. That would be Judith Miller.

In tone and feel, Novak’s article is more straightforward than explosive. The controversial part is tucked away in the middle of it. “…Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two administrative officials told me Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson…” Note, Novak doesn’t disclose how he discovered either Plame’s name or her professional standing and repeated the erroneous claim about the documents the CIA was working from. The details about Plame were presented as background to explain how she could have been in a position to play a role in how Wilson came to be sent to Niger by the CIA. Even if it were true that she had sent her husband to Niger, how would that discredit Wilson or his report? Wilson was qualified for the assignment and wasn’t paid for his work. His work was completed long before GWB began his PR campaign for war. His Op-Ed was not published before the invasion nor in the midst of a political campaign. Why would the Bush administration have pushed this turkey for months and later concocted some never seen CIA memo to support the charge (interestingly planted with Guckert/Gannon for his 10/03 interview with Wilson)? (Red meat to the wing nuts, but not even a wet noodle to anyone with an IQ over 80.) This was the worst Rove created play, not created by Rove or noise to deflect attention away from a different primary objective. It not only didn’t work to destroy, embarrass or silence Wilson, it also didn‘t turn down the heat on the larger story about WMD that was swirling around at the same time. A story that didn’t die down in the MSM until a few weeks later when Tenet placed the blame for the pre-war WMD intelligence with the CIA.

Except for rightwing nuts, everybody knows that a federal crime was committed. A crime that jeopardized the life of Plame, her contacts, her associates at Brewster Jennings (a CIA front company) and their contacts and possibly compromised our national security. The culprit knows who he is. Novak knows the identity of who talked to him and what was said. (IIRC, the federal law includes an exemption for journalists, and therefore, Novak may have no legal liability.) Fitzgerald, his team and the grand jury know something and seem not to have leaked anything. We’ve known for a long time that Rove talked to several journalists after 7/14/03. Now we also know that Rove talked to Cooper before 7/14/03, and that Rove claimed to have talked to Cheney and Tenet before talking to Cooper. Judy sits in a jail cell. (As with the Schiavo case, there were too many judges involved in reviewing the case to conclude that they all got it wrong.) That’s all we know.

Like all crimes, “means, motive and opportunity“ must exist. As the rumors, hints and evidence begin to mount that Rove was pitching the story, what seems to get overlooked by most is that Rove in his position in the WH would not have had access to CIA personnel lists. As Lawrence O’Donnell is making clear, the primary crime was committed by an individual with the security clearance necessary to know the identity of Plame. (He should also have had a need to know which was probably the more widespread security violation in the WH.) Who is this person and who did he talk to?

“Getting Wilson” by destroying Plame’s career wasn’t a complicated task. Unlike Iran-Contra and Watergate, it could easily have been handled as a one-off. All that was needed was a loyal staffer. One that could plausibly claim to have been angered by Wilson and could have gotten access to Plame’s identity. One in the bowels of the WH that took action on his own. One so loyal that if need be, he was willing to take the fall for it. Being completely confident that he would be rewarded at a later date with a Presidential pardon and riches. I’m hard pressed to believe that this most secretive and cohesive WH didn’t have any number of people that could have been tasked for such an assignment. Why would Rove have taken such a direct role in this one? Or is that merely SOP for Rove?

O’Donnell is of the opinion that Rove didn’t know that blowing Plame’s cover was a crime. That he was only engaged in another smear campaign. O’Donnell isn’t exactly unbiased in his conclusion because he thinks that the governors and their teams that we send to the WH are complete boobs on questions of federal law and policy. He’s probably not wrong on that but most members of Congress don’t seem any better. What O’Donnell’s take doesn’t explain is why Rove would be given the information without fair warning that it couldn’t be used. Or failing that, once the deed had been done, not warning Rove to back off? Or did the traitor have a complete failure of imagination, never anticipating that any of them could be unmasked?

Even if everybody in the Bush WH is a complete boob, on this matter, George Tenet would have immediately known the seriousness of the crime. Would he have failed to apprise the WH of this fact? But wouldn’t Tenet have also been the person with the closet ties to the WH that was in the best position to discover Plame’s identity? Is it plausible that Tenet would have shared it with anyone not in Bush’s inner circle, and therefore, also knew the only possible sources for the leak? But wouldn’t that have given Tenet some power over the WH? Yet, he subsequently acted as if the WH was the one with the power. He took a bullet for the WH. Sold out the CIA by accepting responsibility for a pre-war WMD intelligence failure that wasn‘t true. Had Tenet been compromised with the Plame disclosure? Had he passed it to Rove? Not realizing how careless Rove would be with it, and then later forced to make a deal in an attempt to escape detection? Or was he already so far in bed with the Bush WH that the Plame leak was merely a timing coincidence and had nothing to do with Tenet?

The CIA referred the matter to the FBI in September 2003 (reported by NBC on 9/26/03). Was Tenet powerless to stop that referral? Tenet resigned to spend more time with his family on June 3, 2004. More coincidences? O’Donnell is also convinced that Fitzgerald isn’t digging a dry well and only looking at some perjury charges. If that’s correct, then Fitzgerald has narrowed down who could have leaked the information to Rove, and to make the case, he has to prove that Rove (and maybe another yet to be identified conduit) had it. Fitzgerald somehow uncovered that Rove talked to Cooper before Novak published his article. It’s not just who Cooper talked to but what the source knew that is important. (Miller’s source may or may not be Rove, but again, it’s what the source knew that is critical.) Neither Cooper nor Miller are likely to have any knowledge as to whether or not Rove knew that identifying Plame violated a federal statute, a necessary element if a case against Rove were being prepared. But that’s not what Fitzgerald has been doing. Fitzgerald was seeking information from Miller and Cooper not to build a case against their source but instead against someone else. That explains why the courts ruled against them as well as why certain information that Fitzgerald provided to the judges could not be shared with Miller, Cooper and their attorneys. (I doubt that Miller has opted for jail to protect the confidentiality of a conversation about Plame, but will resist the temptation to speculate on that.)

If Rove didn’t commit perjury before the grand jury (O’Donnell doubts that he did), he could in theory escape with a plausible deniability excuse. But the window of opportunity for that is rapidly closing (if not already shut) and stalling isn’t going to work this time. Maybe like Iraq, they neglected to prepare an exit strategy before Fitzgerald began collecting evidence. Concocting one now risks compounding the crime. Too many people recall Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre for them to risk firing Fitzgerald. Now that Fitzgerald has nailed down enough of what Rove knew, Rove will be compelled to testify to disclose who gave him the information.

Politically, Rove is dead meat, and the longer Bush, Cheney and Rove remain in denial, the worse it’s going to get for them. Rove has demonstrated that he cannot be trusted with classified information, and Bush will be damaged by backtracking from his promise to fire anyone involved in outing Plame. If Rove opts not to talk and join Judy in jail, that will only look as if he’s protecting Bush. Regardless of whether he talks or not, how does he explain covering this up for two years and escape an obstruction of justice charge? Fitzgerald is constructing a box for Rove, one that puts him on defense with no way to switch back to offense. The new breed of Republicans are soft and crumble quickly when denied an offensive field of play. Democrats and the MSM that are rushing to Miller’s defense are doing their best to put the ball back in the hands of the GOP. Fortunately, Fitzgerald and the federal courts have been tougher and wiser. However, Democrats should not expect him to do their work. Fitzgerald’s assignment is to indict a traitor and not to blow the cover on the Bush Administration’s web of deceit, lies, fraud and self dealing. Sadly, too many Democrats only want to replace an unprincipled, unethical and dishonest GOP with a slightly less unprincipled, unethical and dishonest DEM. To close the latest revival of the Bush Dynasty and open a revival of the Clinton Cotton Club. Entertainment. Lots of fiddles playing.

Marie :: 5:12 PM :: Comments (21) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!