Daily Kos: My Magnum Opus on the Plame Scandal

My Magnum Opus on the Plame Scandal
by emptywheel
Thu Oct 6th, 2005 at 12:40:32 CDT

A couple of months ago, I summarized the Plame Affair best as I could speculate. A lot of new information has come to light, so I decided to update that narrative. Here goes--everything you wanted to know about the Plame Affair, but were afraid to ask.

The Background--Niger Claims and Power Struggles

I'll start with some background. There are two reasons why members of the Bush Administration were reckless enough to out a NOC out of petty revenge. First, Wilson's criticisms risked exposing their elaborate plot to plant Niger forgeries. There is now a lot of circumstantial evidence that Iran-Contra operative Michael Ledeen and Harold Rhode planted the Niger forgeries with SISMI, Italian intelligence...

But that's not the only reason BushCo were reckless enough to out a NOC. Up to and during the war, Cheney and Rummy's DOD were in an epic fight with State and some factions within the CIA over control of the Iraq reconstruction. This was no mere bureaucratic struggle. In fact, the Pentagon was making tactical decisions to support Rummy's attempt to outflank or pre-empt State's efforts to establish a wide-ranging Iraqi interim government. They did this most notably when they flew Chalabi and his forces into Iraq to undercut a State Department conference on Iraqi governance, and did it again when they flew Chalabi into Baghdad so he would be the first exile leader in the capital. The struggle between Defense and State may have extended so far that Judy--by repeating an accusation made by an anonymous INC member--may have exposed Chalabi rival Saad Janabi as a CIA asset...

The Smear: March to July 2003

So when a long-term State Department employee with ties to CIA's reality-based faction started publicly attacking the Bush Administration's Niger claims, they struck out...

At this point, this is in no way remarkable for this Administration. Nor, as Howard Fineman described, did they probably think consciously about breaking the law.

It's unlikely that any White House officials considered that they were doing anything illegal in going after Joe Wilson. Indeed, the line between national security and politics had long since been all but erased by the Bush administration.

They just did what they always do. Find the dirt (or, if need be, invent it) and run with it.

Here's my speculation of how they learned about Plame. After Libby chaired the meeting in Cheney's office, they likely asked for input on this "work-up" from people that included John Bolton and Stephen Hadley. So when John Bolton received a copy of the famous INR memo around June 10, he made note that Wilson's wife (not named as Plame at this point) was a CIA employee. Bolton may have asked his Chief of Staff, Fred Fleitz, for more information. Or, he may have circulated the news (and possibly the memo) to the other people doing a "work-up" on Wilson, including Stephen Hadley. Both Fleitz and David Shedd, a Hadley aide, were dually asigned CIA analysts, either of whom may have known Ms. Wilson as Valerie Plame, either of whom may have known of her NOC cover with Brewster and Jennings...

Playing Dumb: July to September 2003

Novak published his column on July 14. Within two days, David Corn recognized what had happened and wondered whether it was a violation of the law. Novak's first instinct was to defend his own actions. From Corn,

Novak tells me that he was indeed tipped off by government officials about Wilson's wife and had no reluctance about naming her. "I figured if they gave it to me," he says. "They'd give it to others....I'm a reporter. Somebody gives me information and it's accurate. I generally use it." And Wilson says Novak told him that his sources were administration officials.

And from Phelps and Royce of Newsday, who published a story pretty much confirming the outing,

Novak, in an interview, said his sources had come to him with the information. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

The WH didn't seem to take this seriously yet. When asked, they issued blanket denials that a crime took place, ridiculing the idea. Otherwise, they kept silent, hunkering down in the hopes that by ignoring the issue, calls for an investigation wouldn't gather enough momentum to actually take hold.

Behind the scenes, though, the CIA started the process of asking for an investigation into this leak.

The Fix Is In October to December 2003

The WH's hunker down period ends on September 28, with the publication of a WaPo article reporting that DOJ would conduct an investigation. The article also quotes a Senior Administration Official damning the smear operation:

a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife.


"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.


It is rare for one Bush administration official to turn on another. Asked about the motive for describing the leaks, the senior official said the leaks were "wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson's credibility."

The same source reiterated his statement the following week, in response to a Novak article refuting this story...

The anonymous official is widely believed to be either Tenet or Powell. Either would qualify as a "Senior Administration Official." Tenet might have made such a statement to cap the pre-investigation stage, to reassure CIA personnel he took this seriously (also, the Dana Priest byline would support a Tenet quote). Powell might have been genuinely disgusted by the smear--as Fineman characterized Powell's involvement,

who should carry the freight on the following Sunday's talk shows? The message: protect Cheney by explaining that he had had nothing to do with sending Wilson to Niger, and dismiss the yellowcake issue. Powell was ruled out. He wasn't a team player, as he had proved by his dismissive comments about the "sixteen words."

Further, either Tenet or Powell might be willing to speak out against this outing as one more volley in the struggle between Defense and State.

The WH response--publicly, at least, was to switch from a general denial to a technical denial. Now, they no longer mocked the idea that an operative had been outed was ridiculous. Now, they claimed that Rove, Libby, and Abrams had not been involved in the leaking of classified information....

[And Novak got in the cover up by publishing this column] Note some important features of this story: they didn't call Novak, he called them. And he asked the same question that--remarkably--Libby says Judy asked, "why did Wilson get sent"?

One more detail that may become important. Novak seemed to be responding directly to the WaPo article I cited above, mocking the idea that six reporters had been called. He doesn't refute it, mind you. He just mocks it. Then he goes on to claim his first source wasn't a "partisan gunslinger"--a comment which many people have (unfortunately) taken as truthful, in spite of the fact the rest of the article is so clearly misdirection.

Novak was trying to suggest his source wasn't Rove or Libby, both of whom would clearly be considered a partisan gunslinger. Given the leaks that occurred in July (which I'll describe below), I think this was an attempt to implicate precisely the person who was willing to testify that the smear was planned and deliberate. This was an attempt to cast blame on the person who will, I'm confident, end up being one of Fitzgerald's key witnesses.

Murray Waas provides us with more evidence that Novak's story was the result of deliberate coordination.

Federal investigators have been skeptical of Novak's assertions that he referred to Plame as a CIA "operative" due to his own error, instead of having been explicitly told that was the case by his sources, according to attorneys familiar with the criminal probe.

Really? You think? Waas continues:

Also of interest to investigators have been a series of telephone contacts between Novak and Rove, and other White House officials, in the days just after press reports first disclosed the existence of a federal criminal investigation as to who leaked Plame's identity. Investigators have been concerned that Novak and his sources might have conceived or co-ordinated a cover story to disguise the nature of their conversations.

At this stage, it seems likely that the WH was coordinating with Novak and other conservative columnists to spread the technical exoneration story.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the White House seems have been working to ensure the investigation would amount to no more than a whitewash. They did this in several ways.

First, Alberto Gonzales and DOJ several times stalled the flow of evidence. It took four days between the time the investigation started and the time Gonzales announces it officially to the WH. Then, Gonzales waited 11 hours between the time he sent a general email alerting WH personnel of the investigation and the time he sent an email detailing the specific kinds of evidence that should be saved...

Then, Gonzales held the evidence for two weeks to "review it for relevancy." In other words, after the WH seems to have "fixed" its story with Bob Novak, it bought time before it turned over evidence to the FBI.

The WH (or DOJ) also made sure that Bush or Rove supporters will control all aspects of the investigation. As a Democratic House Judiciary Committee dissent details (PDF),

[Karl Rove] worked on Attorney General Ashcroft's campaigns throughout the 1980's and 90's raking in nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in fees. While at first blush, it might appear that the Attorney General wouldn't be involved with the investigation on a regular basis, Associate Deputy Attorney General Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he regularly briefs the AG on the investigation. These conflicts existed not only between the Attorney General and likely targets of the investigation, but between lower level investigators and the President. Robert McCallum, the Assistant Attorney General who initially oversaw the investigation is an old friend of the President's from Yale.

Throughout this early phase of the investigation, then, the WH had one of Bush's old Skull and Bones buddies (McCallum) and John Ashcroft monitoring the course of the investigation.

The WH did two more things during this period. Perhaps to push back against the CIA for pushing this investigation (or perhaps to punish Tenet for speaking to the WaPo reporters?) they made damn sure not only Plame, but her front company Brewster Jennings, was outed....

Then, Novak wrote another article, inventing a reason (Plame's political donations) to publish the name of the company.

The WH also started to leak the INR memo that (it is now clear) is a central piece of evidence in the case. The WSJ first mentioned the memo on October 17. Jeff Gannon and a few real news outlets mentioned it later that month. In a later Gannon piece, he said of the memo,

A memo written by an INR (Intelligence and Research) analyst who made notes of the meeting at which Wilson was asked to go to Niger sensed that something fishy was going on. That report made it to the outside world courtesy of some patriotic whistleblower that realized that a bag job was underway.


The classified document that slipped out sometime after the meeting put her name before the public, albeit a small group of inside-the-beltway types, but effectively ended the notion that she was still covert.

As the WaPo described in December, the memo was an ongoing point of aggravation to the CIA.

But sources said the CIA believes that people in the administration continue to release classified information to damage the figures at the center of the controversy, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, Valerie Plame,..

Sources said the CIA is angry about the circulation of a still-classified document to conservative news outlets suggesting Plame had a role in arranging her husband's trip to Africa for the CIA. The document, written by a State Department official who works for its Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), describes a meeting at the CIA where the Niger trip by Wilson was discussed, said a senior administration official who has seen it...

Note the comment: "people in the administration continue to release classified information." I've said I don't think the INR memo is critical to the leak in July. But just as anyone sharing the contents of a paragraph marked (S) in July would be in violation of their security clearance agreement, so would they be guilty in October or November.

The Real Investigation Begins January to June 2004

The WH whitewash attempts foundered on December 30, when Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation and just after Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed prosecutor for the case. Right away, WH personnel were asked to sign waivers of confidentiality agreements, a move Bush had been resisting thus far (this is the waiver, btw, that was the subject of the dispute between Libby's lawyer Tate and Judy's lawyer Abrams just last week). Fitzgerald also started to go after some WH personnel with grants of immunity to get people to talk. And the Grand Jury interviewed a number of Bush officials in sometimes combative interview.

Officials interviewed by the FBI include Karl Rove, Bush's senior adviser; McClellan; Matalin; Levine; White House communications director Dan Bartlett; former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer; I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff; and Cathie Martin, a Cheney aide, according to the sources.

I suspect, btw, that at least some of these people have talked. The day Matalin testified, for example, an article announced she would do ongoing work with the Bush Administration during the election, work I've found no evidence she did. Instead, she went on to write a children's book. Oh, and her husband seems to keep getting some great leaks about the case from somewhere...

By the end of January, Fitzgerald subpoenaed records including Air Force One phone logs.

Of note, Fitzgerald asked interviewees to keep information confidential. Partly as a result (and, just as likely, because it became clear that obstruction charges were a possibility), the WH switched back into silence mode at this point. "I can't comment on an ongoing investigation."

The Real Investigation Expands into Obstruction and Conspiracy Charges June to October 2004

Things started to really heat up in June, when Bush and Cheney lawyered up and are interviewed (not under oath). Alberto Gonzales testified. In July Powell testified, reportedly without the counsel of a lawyer.

One person close to Mr. Powell said he did not have a lawyer when he testified to the grand jury investigating the leak and does not have one now.

Call me crazy, but the only way I'd take on a Fitzgerald grand jury without a lawyer is if I were absolutely certain I was not going to be charged.

By the end of June, Fitzgerald began to interview journalists who talked with Scooter Libby, after the journalists received limited waivers from Libby to speak. These included Glen Kessler, Tim Russert, and Walter Pincus and Matt Cooper. Note, Fitzgerald specifically reminds (PDF) Libby he gave these specific wavers in his recent letter to Libby's lawyer...

Take a look at Fitzgerald's comment above. Judy may be guilty of a lot of things. But she was right when she said she had not gotten a specific waiver. Indeed, she had not gotten the waiver that Libby had given happily to several other journalists. Which is pretty good indication that Libby did not want Judy to talk.

The Administration remains largely silent during this period. At least about Plame. They're pretty busy slamming John Kerry by claiming he is a coward and liar. (Note--why didn't Kerry hammer BushCO on their involvement with Plame during the election?)

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part October 2004 to July 2005

And then, just after Rove testified again, the Grand Jury ground to a halt while the world waited to see whether Cooper and Miller would win their appeal of the contempt charge.

On the surface at least, the Plame investigation went dead and the White House is silent.

There were, however, three events which might be related. First, on October 18 Karl Rove pulled a silly stunt on the campaign trail, laying down under the wheels of Air Force One. He had testified a few days earlier (October 15) in front of the Grand Jury. According to Murray Waas, Rove told the Grand Jury information that we now know to be false...

Then, in a move that largely stupefied observers, Karl Rove got a promotion to Deputy Chief of Staff in February. It wasn't clear why he was getting a promotion. As Dan Froomkin observed, the promotion doesn't earn Karl any extra money. It got him a new office, but Karl has always seemed like a man whose office says little about his stature anyway. I have wondered--but so far have had no one answer my question--whether this move might provide Karl more Executive Privilege once he gets his indictments.

Then, in the week before SCOTUS recessed (and therefore, it was fairly clear by this point, in the week before SCOTUS would refuse to take Miller and Cooper's appeal), Karl made comments that--even for him--are beyond the pale.

"Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," Rove said. "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war."

Democrats (and liberals more generally) reacted furiously. But Republicans and the WH, perhaps predictably, jumped to the defense of Karl Rove.

(Incidentally, at about the same time, Dick Cheney made a comment which was also remarkable even for him, insisting the insurgents in Iraq were in their "last throes.")

It seems like, throughout this waiting period, the WH knew what was coming. Karl probably lied to the Grand Jury in October (taking one for Bush, as it were?). In the interim, the Bush Administration seemed to have made concrete moves to shore up support for Rove. And as I speculated at the time, Rove may have been preparing the ground for what happened after SCOTUS refused Cooper's and Miller's case....

July to September 2005: Spinning their Wheels

I asked in this post who was giving more advice: Rove's lawyer telling Rove how to avoid jail, or Rove telling Luskin how to spin things in the public. I'm pretty confident we know the answer to that question was the latter. Once it became clear Cooper would testify, the WH (or certainly Karl Rove) went in full spin mode, simultaneously trying to smear critics (Cooper, Wilson, probably soon Fitzgerald?) while trying to resuscitate the now discredited narrow technicality defense they had planned in October.

There were actually conflicting signals, though, what the WH spin strategy is. If Luskin is to be believed when he told Murray Waas that he hadn't yet decided how much to leak, it suggests the WH was making it up on the fly.

On Tuesday night, as I was completing a blogging post that disclosed that Novak had been cooperating with federal authorities, I spoke to Luskin and told him that I was preparing a lengthier story detailing Rove's contacts with Novak and others. Luskin asked me to delay publication for a day or two, before deciding on what he wanted to say for the article. He said he would comment for the record regarding what he understood transpired between Rove and Novak.

I think there were indications that WH unity may may have started unraveling. As soon as it became clear that Rove and Libby might face consequences for this ratfuck, Rove turned on Libby.

Apparently, according to two journalist sources of mine, when Rove learned that he might have violated the law, he turned on Cheney and Libby and made it clear that he held them responsible for the problem they had created for the administration. The protracted silence on this topic from the White House masks considerable tension between the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President.

And it appears that Libby and Rove might have started poaching each others' plausible deniability defenses. Both, for example, apparently lay claim to the line, "Oh I heard that too." (Cooper said Libby used it.)

Just after Cooper testified,Michael Isikoff revealed that the White House is worried about prosecutor interest in Rove...

Was a lawyer representing someone else at the WH--someone sympathetic to the WH but also under suspicion himself, someone like Libby--emphasizing Rove's guilt to steer attention away from his client?

At about the same time, a bunch of leaks appeared to implicate Powell...

..and Ari Fleischer...

Particularly given Novak's earlier comment that his source "was not a partisan gunslinger," these leaks seem to be a Rove or Libby attempt to implicate probably witnesses against them, rather than reliable information about how the leak happened.

September and After: The Post Judy World

I think, throughout this period, Rove and Libby had one hope to avoid indictments. So long as Judy refused to talk, they could continue to claim they learned of Plame's identity from a journalist. Then they could avoid responsibility for the primary leak and probably make a case (as JimmyJeff had done for them, many months earlier) that Plame's identity was common knowledge. Sure, there'd be some indictments, like a violation of their security clearance agreements. But nothing like willfully outing a spy.

But something made Judy talk.

I think a variety of things happened. First, it appears that NYT came under some legal jeopardy. I suspect this may relate to their claim they did not have anything related to Judy source. You'll recall that Time magazine was held in contempt along with Cooper for not handing over his notes. Somehow, the NYT avoided this. I suspect they made some claim that, because Judy was being disciplined, if she were writing an article about Plame it couldn't be considered work for hire and therefore couldn't be considered their property. Which works if Judy's and Libby's meeting related exclusively to Plame. But if, as Libby claims, it related to WMDs (the only subject Judy was allowed to write on, apparently), then the NYT claim might come under scrutiny.

Another possibility is that Bolton's famous visit to prison had some effect on her. We know from Murray Waas that Judy started dealing just after Bolton's visit.

I'm also beginning to wonder wheter Charles Duelfer's visit might have had an impact. The Duelfer Report misrepresents who found the uranium document Judy claims to have found in Iraq. If, as I suspect, that document was also a forgery, and if as Libby says he and Judy were talking about
WMDs, they may have been discussing what to do about that forgery. So Duelfer might have said more to Judy than just brag that he had finally tainted Kofi Annan with the UN Oil for Food scandal.

At the same time, though, Waas' article seems to have provided Fitzgerald with enough leverage to pressure Libby to waive Judy's confidentiality agreement.

It remains to be seen, finally, whether Judy said enough to indict the whole crowd. Or whether Libby managed to direct Judy's testimony so it matched his. We're finally at a point where we can hold our breath.

Daily Kos: My Magnum Opus on the Plame Scandal


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