Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Reporter addressing Press Secretary Scott McClellan during a 2003 White House press briefing:
"(Joe) Wilson now believes that the person who did this was Karl Rove..."

McClellan's reply: "I haven't heard that. That's just totally ridiculous."

For the moment, at least, the furor over the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity to the press has waned a bit. But the tempest will renew itself when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald concludes his inquiry into the matter.

The central question? Who revealed to TIME reporter Matthew Cooper that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and then confirmed that information to columnist Robert Novak. Cooper has testified that it that it was Rove who leaked the info to him - specifically that the ambassador's wife worked at the CIA on WMD issues - without specifically using her name. However, a routine Google search turned up her name. Cooper says that he has a distinct memory of Rove ending their conversation by saying, "I've already said too much."

The 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a federal offense to intentionally reveal a covert operative's identity. But Fitzgerald's investigation may uncover other crimes as well, such as perjury or obstruction of justice. Wherever it's headed, the prosecutor is serious about his work. He's already interviewed both the President and the Vice President.

Bloomberg broke a story which revealed that Rove’s explanation to the grand jury of how he learned Plame’s identity differs sharply from the explanations journalists have given. That could mean Rove lied to the grand jury—a felony. Initially, Rove claimed that he heard of Plame's identity either through a reporter or someone else in the Administration - he just couldn't remember which.

The controversy has become a matter of splitting hairs, and defining the difference between illegal and unethical. Rove's explanation has evolved from insisting that he hadn't done anything to claiming that he hadn't done anything wrong. Walking a fine legal line, he said that he didn't know Plame's name or leak it. It's up to the special prosecutor to determine if Rove broke the law, but what's already clear is that Rove's actions were highly unscrupulous, irresponsible and unpatriotic. Rove has long been known as a tough and gritty political adversary, but he has now proven himself to be vindictive and ruthless as well.

The whole episode began in February 2002, when CIA officials sent Wilson to Niger to explore reports that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium yellowcake from the African nation. Wilson, an Africa expert who knew the Nigerian Prime Minister, determined that there was nothing to the claim and reported his findings to the CIA. It's also been revealed that the State Department had already disproved the allegation through its own inquiries. Nearly a year later, in his January 2003 State of the Union speech, President Bush publicly made the uranium claim anyway.

In a New York Times piece on July 6, 2003, when the war in Iraq was well underway, a bewildered and disturbed Wilson wrote that, "intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." A week later his wife's cover was blown as the White House went on damage control and sought to destroy Wilson's credibility.

The day after Wilson's article appeared, a classified State Department memo was sent to the White House. The memo, intended for Secretary of State Colin Powell, contained information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked "(S)" for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified. The paragraph identifying her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson was clearly marked to show that it contained classified material at the "secret" level. Seven days later, Plame was outed in a syndicated column by Robert Novak. Sending the memo to Powell was "directly in response to Wilson going public," says a senior Republican aide who is familiar with the document. Fitzgerald is said to be very interested in who else at the White House had access to the memo.

Cooper says he couldn't help wonder "why government officials, publicly and privately, seemed to be disparaging Wilson. It struck me as odd and unnecessary, especially after their saying the President's address should not have included the 16-word claim about Saddam and African uranium."

Undoubtedly this has turned into a partisan affair. Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman made the extraordinary claim that neither Plame nor Wilson were the victims, but instead that it was Rove who'd become the victim of "blatant partisan political attacks."

An ABC News poll shows that a solid majority of Americans—some 75 percent—support firing Rove for what he did. This is true even among 71 percent of Republicans.

President Bush came into office in 2001 proclaiming that his Administration would "restore honesty and integrity to the White House." To that end, Bush initially vowed to fire anyone in his Administration who was found to have leaked the name of Wilson's wife and blown her cover. But that's Rove's defense. Not only didn't he specifically use her name, but his defenders claim that she had no cover to blow. They claim that she was no longer undercover in her role at the Agency. But at least one CIA official strongly disagrees. "I am beyond disgusted. I am especially angry about the bullshit explanations that she is not a covert agent. That is an official status, and there are lots of people in this building who are on that status. It's not up to the Republican Party to determine when that status will end for an agent."

The controversy has worsened an already tenuous relationship between the White House and the CIA. CIA employees are said to be furious that one of their own was sacrificed in a political turf battle. Plame's colleagues at the CIA say the disclosure of her name has "destroyed her career, and put her at risk." Agency analysts have complained about evidence being distorted or ignored. One analyst said, "I know the analyst who was subjected to withering questioning on the Iraq / al-Qaeda links by (Lewis) Libby (VP Cheney's Chief of Staff) with the Vice President sitting there. So I think there was an anger at the CIA for not getting it and not being on board. The political side of the Administration was pissed at the CIA. So I can see how they responded to that - and Wilson - by implying he couldn't be trusted because, 'well just look where his wife works.'"

Following the disclosure, foreign intelligence services are known to have investigated her contacts in an attempt to uncover CIA operations in their countries. Lives could be at stake.

It's puzzling that Novak isn't facing the same heat and being forced to take responsibility for the outing. He's as guilty as Rove appears to be, and his actions seem to amount to treason. The first President Bush, a former head of the CIA, once described anyone who unmasked an undercover agent as "the most insidious of traitors." That seems to be a most apt description.

The President needs to be true to his word. His credibility is on the line. Karl Rove needs to be dismissed, and he should have been already. America deserves better. Republicans would never tolerate this sort of disclosure in a Democratic Administration. This isn't about partisanism; it's simply about doing the right thing.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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