10/08/2005

Daily Kos: Plame Case Solidifies: White House Defendants in Apparent Panic Mode?

Plame Case Solidifies: White House Defendants in Apparent Panic Mode?
by Hunter
Sun Oct 9th, 2005 at 00:20:18 CDT

The last few days have seen a number of intriguing developments in the Plame case, most of them flowing from Judith Miller's release and testimony. The LA Times produced a solid piece breaking one impossible-to-resist mini-tidbit:

[Fitzgerald] phoned [Joseph] Wilson on Sept. 29, the same day Miller, the New York Times reporter jailed for refusing to divulge her confidential source, was released from jail after agreeing to testify in the case. She testified the next day.

Wilson declined in an interview to discuss the nature of their conversation, but confirmed that it occurred.

And Reuters brings us this potential bombshell:

A New York Times reporter has given investigators notes from a conversation she had with a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney weeks earlier than was previously known, suggesting White House involvement started well before the outing of a CIA operative, legal sources said.

Times reporter Judith Miller discovered the notes -- about a June 2003 conversation she had with Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- after her testimony before the grand jury last week, the sources said on Friday. She turned the notes over to federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and is expected to meet him again next Tuesday, the sources said.

Miller's notes could help Fitzgerald establish that Libby had started talking to reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, weeks before Wilson publicly criticized the administration's Iraq policy in a Times opinion piece, the sources said.

All speculation requires an abundance of caution, but the first gleaned mini-scoop does seemingly hint that Miller's testimony is very directly tied to Wilson himself, giving even more credibility to previous suggestions that Miller had been working on a story about Wilson, possibly obtaining information about his wife as early as June. Fitzgerald either needed to confirm some information through Wilson -- perhaps clarifying some points of Miller's own contacts with Wilson, could we glean? -- or at the very least was contacting Wilson for some reason that didn't exist until Miller finally agreed to testify. Tantalizing, for true Plameologists.

But the "discovered" notes, in addition to solidly confirming that the pushback against Wilson and Plame began not in July after Wilson's Op-Ed, but even earlier than that -- with some involvement between Miller and Libby -- highlights another interesting bit of more important informed speculation. Whereas Fitzgerald had previously been widely regarded as having moved on from attempts to find the "original" leaker, concentrating on perjury, obstruction or conspiracy charges against the White House figures who sought to protect that original criminal act, the intense focus on Miller herself points closer and closer to the source of the original leak. And, it would seem, Fitzgerald has more information towards that point than perhaps the White House has given him credit for.

* ::
*

Now the next weekend tidbit, this new Reuters story indicating that Libby's "release" of Miller to testify was largely a concoction between the various parties, prodded by Fitzgerald into a make-or-break decision.

A top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney got a push from a prosecutor before telling New York Times reporter Judith Miller that he wanted her to testify in a probe into the outing of a CIA operative whose diplomat husband was an Iraq-war critic. [...]

Some lawyers in the case called the letter a thinly veiled threat seeking Libby's cooperation, and said it raised questions about whether Libby's waiver was as voluntary as Miller and her lawyers had described.

"Mr. Libby, of course, retains the right not to so reaffirm his waiver ... if he would prefer that the status quo continue and Ms. Miller remain in jail rather than testify about their conversations," Fitzgerald wrote.

Well, no kidding. We've been expected to believe, so far, that Miller sat in jail for nearly three months because of a "misunderstanding" between the two parties -- described at one point as Libby being "unaware" that the source Miller was protecting was him. Nice to see that fiction being dropped: Libby didn't want Miller to testify. Miller wanted out of jail, principles be damned. And Fitzgerald, like any good prosecutor, was more than happy to stick a hot poker into the scene after the appropriate period of contemplative concrete-walled jailtime had elapsed.

But the fact that Libby wasn't eager to see Miller testify -- or at least, wasn't willing to do squat to help her, until the prosecutor "prodded" him with a bit of force -- would hint that Miller's testimony was probably not helpful to Libby. In that light, one could be forgiven for viewing Libby's overly prosaic letter as, perhaps, a circuitous sorry-I-let-your-ass-rot-in-jail-lets-make-up-and-be-nice-please-please-please-for-the-love-of-God apology letter.

Hmm. One might presume that Libby is himself worried about taking an unscheduled trip to the Asspen?


OK, now let's move on to the perhaps more interesting news.

Over the last few days -- seemingly immediately after we began to learn that Rove, Miller, and allegedly a number of other White House figures were going to be called in, in the next week, for a new round of post-Miller testimony, the defense team for Rove and the others have seemingly gone into a full-court assault. The AP's John Solomon and Pete Yost have both come out with Bush-didn't-know stories fairly transparently, though ostensibly "anonymously", sourced to Luskin or other defense figures; more intriguingly, Murray Waas has documented what seemingly are all the core chunks of the defense strategy for Rove and others.

And in terms of raw credibility, it looks bad.

Oof. What's important about this is that, as I said above, this is largely the information coming from the defense. Essentially, the defense is relying on a version of events in which:

* News luminary Robert Novak is a journalistic novice who strings very specific words together with the crude targeting with which a gorilla throws his own scat, just "happening" to stumble on the word "operative" for someone who was, in fact, an "operative"...

* White House master strategist Karl Rove is an easily-duped innocent who didn't realize Novak was using him as a source for the classified information, and even long after the column appeared still didn't make the connection that he was one of the two "administration sources" Novak was referring to...

* After Plame's covert status was leaked to Novak, Novak's column was printed, an uproar over the CIA outing ensued, Rove remarkably "forgot" that he also had apparently nearly identical conversations with other reporters, despite questions from the FBI and grand jury specifically to that point...

* And throughout all of it, Rove allegedly maintained to the President of the United States for nearly two years that he wasn't involved with the case at all, even though Rove, once pressed, testified to the contrary to both the FBI and grand jury.

Or, to crudely summarize: "I didn't do it, I forgot I did it, you can't prove I did it, it was an accident anyway, and the President never knew a thing about it." Hmm. When you consider just the information that has come out in public, including the now-known involvement of multiple linked high-level White House sources in distributing Plame's covert status to a number of now-known figures within the press (including, reportedly, MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell), you can begin to see how taut the threads of that argument are.

And that public information doesn't even count the phone records, notes, emails, reporter testimony, staff testimony, and the CIA-provided information as to who in the White House had access to the classified, strictly compartmentalized information to begin with -- all of which Fitzgerald presumably has had pinned to pegboards in his offices for months. Or the wildcard hinted at in other public reports, in which at least one "senior administration official" has provided testimony to the grand jury that flatly conflicts with that of the de facto targets of the case.

I think we can see why the grand jury has been calling Karl Rove, in particular, back for repeat performances. At this point, you have to wonder whether they'll start selling tickets.

But why the sudden three-reporter anonymous leaked pushback on protecting, specifically, the president? What does the defense know that makes that a necessary story to push now, when it wasn't, say, two weeks ago?


Waas' solidly detailed story is helpful in another, more concrete way. It indicates that the defense has now largely solidified around a particular eyebrow-raising chain of events -- one that relies, as all such versions do, on the prosecution not having information to the contrary -- which they're not afraid to leak to the press in a now-suddenly-urgent fashion. That means that the time has now passed when Rove and others could creatively reinterpret their testimony, and they're going with what they've currently got. At this point, everyone is nailed down to their previous stories -- which means Fitzgerald, in this next round of testimony, will have the gift of new Miller-provided evidence coupled with witnesses who are pinned to their pre-Miller stories. All the elements are in place for a potentially explosive week.

None of this is to say that indictments will be issued. As I cautioned in my last post, there's no way of knowing that. But it seems that the defense is mounting a behind-the-scenes press push to get their version of events out there, and it seems that Miller's testimony has shaken something loose that has piqued Fitzgerald enough to call all the main players back for a final is-that-the-story-you're-going-with interview.

That's a pretty good indication that all this smoke is coming from a behind-the-scenes fire.

Daily Kos: Plame Case Solidifies: White House Defendants in Apparent Panic Mode?

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