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Jason Leopold: Plame Leak(s)

Plame Leak(s)

By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Friday 01 September 2006

Richard Armitage, the former deputy Secretary of State, may be syndicated columnist Robert Novak's primary source who told him on July 8, 2003, that Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA. But that doesn't change the fact that Karl Rove told former Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper the same thing three days later - and then subsequently failed to tell federal investigators about it for a year.

Cooper summed up Rove's role in the leak succinctly in a first-person account he wrote for Time magazine last year following his grand jury testimony.

"Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes," wrote Cooper, who at the time of the leak was Time magazine's Washington correspondent. "Did Rove say that she worked at the 'agency' on 'WMD?' Yes,"

Rove also told Novak that Plame worked for the CIA and that she was married to Wilson the same day the columnist spoke to Armitage. And Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff who was indicted in the case on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, first told former New York Times reporter Judith Miller about Plame's CIA status a couple of weeks earlier, and reminded the reporter again that Plame was a CIA officer on July 8, 2003 - the same day Novak spoke to Armitage.

"Mr. Libby told me that Mr. Wilson's wife may have worked on unconventional weapons at the CIA," a few weeks before Novak's column was published, Miller wrote in a lengthy account of her grand jury testimony.

Keep in mind that Rove and Libby disseminated information about Plame to these reporters a week before Novak published his column identifying her. Since the Armitage reports surfaced last weekend, the media have seemingly ignored these facts and have tried to rewrite history by removing Rove and Libby's culpability in the matter.

The leak, Wilson contends, was a deliberate attempt to silence him because he publicly criticized the administration's claims that Iraq tried to acquire uranium from Niger, which for all intents and purposes forced the White House to issue a mea culpa - a day before White House officials unmasked Plame to journalists - admitting that the infamous "16 words" in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address pertaining to Niger and uranium should not have been in the speech.

Whether Armitage came clean about his role in the leak to the Justice Department in October 2003, a claim Newsweek made last weekend, the fact remains that other senior administration officials were disclosing Plame's covert CIA status to reporters in the same time frame. Since each instance of the leak would have constituted a separate crime, the Justice Department was bound to investigate whether officials knowingly leaked classified information, which under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act would have constituted a felony.

When Rove was first questioned by federal investigators in October 2003, he said he first discovered Plame's identity and CIA employment by reading Novak's column and only after doing so did he share the information with other journalists, according to numerous published reports.

Rove did not disclose that he was a source for Cooper's July 17, 2003, story on Wilson and Plame. It would take more than a year and a few additional appearances before the grand jury before Rove finally revealed that fact.

"It is one thing if Rove happened to hear from a reporter that Plame was a CIA officer, casually confirmed that he had already heard that to another reporter (Novak) and incidentally spread the word to a third (Cooper)," Time magazine wrote in a July 2005 cover story on Rove's role in the leak "It's perhaps something else if Administration officials made an effort to gather information on Wilson, discovered that his wife was a CIA officer and carried out a strategy to discredit Wilson that included outing his wife to a number of reporters. It is still another thing to do the second and pretend, under oath, that you had done the first."

It's true Fitzgerald knew the identity of the leaker early on in the investigation. Truthout reported as much in an April 3 report.

However, Fitzgerald shifted gears a month or so after he was appointed special counsel and began pursuing obstruction of justice and perjury charges due to conflicting testimony he obtained from Rove and Libby.

Libby and Rove said in interviews with FBI investigators and during testimony before the grand jury that they found out about Plame's identity from reporters. Rove testified that he couldn't recall who in the media told him that Plame worked for the CIA and was married to the former ambassador.

In late January 2004, Fitzgerald sent a letter to his boss, then-acting Attorney General James Comey, seeking confirmation that he had the authority to investigate and prosecute individuals for additional crimes that may have been committed during the probe.

Comey responded to Fitzgerald in writing on February 6, 2004, confirming that the special prosecutor had the authority to prosecute "perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses."

The same day Fitzgerald received the response letter from Comey, the White House faced a deadline of turning over to the grand jury investigating the leak emails, calendars, and phone logs related to conversations about Wilson and/or Plame administration officials had with 25 journalists.

Besides Cooper, and Novak, other journalists cited in the January 22, 2004, subpoena include: Knut Royce and Timothy M. Phelps from Newsday; Walter Pincus, Richard Leiby, Mike Allen, Dana Priest and Glenn Kessler from the Washington Post; John Dickerson, Massimo Calabresi, Michael Duffy and James Carney from Time magazine; Evan Thomas from Newsweek; Andrea Mitchell from NBC's "Meet the Press;" Chris Matthews from MSNBC's "Hardball;" Tim Russert and Campbell Brown from NBC; Nicholas D. Kristof, David E. Sanger and Judith Miller from the New York Times; Greg Hitt and Paul Gigot from the Wall Street Journal; John Solomon from the Associated Press; and Jeff Gannon from Talon News.

In February 2004, a couple of weeks after Comey sent Fitzgerald a written authorization letter assuring him he could pursue other crimes administration officials may have committed during the course of the probe, Rove was scheduled to testify before the grand jury.

Fitzgerald's suspicions about Rove's story turned out to be prescient. Rove failed to tell the grand jury that he had been a source for Cooper. Instead, Rove said he found out about Plame and then subsequently shared information about her with other journalists - including Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC's "Hardball" - only after Novak published his column.

Explaining the discrepancy to the Special Prosecutor in October 2005, Luskin, Rove's attorney, told Fitzgerald that Rove had truly forgotten about his conversation with Cooper, but Luskin jogged his memory thanks to a tip he says he received from Cooper's Time colleague, Viveca Novak (no relation to the conservative columnist Robert Novak).

Hours before Libby's indictment in October, Luskin told Fitzgerald that he had gone for drinks with Novak in late January or early February 2004 and she had inadvertently revealed that the buzz inside Time magazine was that Rove had been a source for Matt Cooper's story on Plame Wilson.

Luskin told Fitzgerald that Novak's tip prompted him and Rove to conduct an exhaustive search for documentary evidence to determine if Rove had spoken with Cooper. That's when an email Rove sent to the then-deputy national security adviser immediately following Rove's conversation with Cooper turned up, which Luskin said he promptly turned over to Fitzgerald, and which led Rove to change his testimony and disclose that he did speak with Cooper.


Jason Leopold is former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.

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