10/09/2005

The Next Hurrah: Did Libby Try to Telegraph Testimony to Judy, as Rove Did with Cooper?

Did Libby Try to Telegraph Testimony to Judy, as Rove Did with Cooper?

by emptywheel

Just before Matthew Cooper testified before the grand jury, Rove's lawyer leaked the story that Cooper had first called Rove to talk about welfare reform. As Cooper describes, that's not what he said when he called.

As I told the grand jury--and we went over this in microscopic, excruciating detail, which may someday prove relevant--I recall calling Rove from my office at TIME magazine through the White House switchboard and being transferred to his office. I believe a woman answered the phone and said words to the effect that Rove wasn't there or was busy before going on vacation. But then, I recall, she said something like, "Hang on," and I was transferred to him. I recall saying something like, "I'm writing about Wilson," before he interjected. "Don't get too far out on Wilson," he told me. I started taking notes on my computer, and while an e-mail I sent moments after the call has been leaked, my notes have not been.

But the grand jury was pretty interested if there was any truth to Rove's claim the call was about welfare reform.

A surprising line of questioning had to do with, of all things, welfare reform. The prosecutor asked if I had ever called Mr. Rove about the topic of welfare reform. Just the day before my grand jury testimony Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, had told journalists that when I telephoned Rove that July, it was about welfare reform and that I suddenly switched topics to the Wilson matter. After my grand jury appearance, I did go back and review my e-mails from that week, and it seems as if I was, at the beginning of the week, hoping to publish an article in TIME on lessons of the 1996 welfare-reform law, but the article got put aside, as often happens when news overtakes story plans. My welfare-reform story ran as a short item two months later, and I was asked about it extensively. To me this suggested that Rove may have testified that we had talked about welfare reform, and indeed earlier in the week, I may have left a message with his office asking if I could talk to him about welfare reform. But I can't find any record of talking about it with him on July 11, and I don't recall doing so.

As Cooper speculates, it appears that Rove testified that Cooper's call was primarily about welfare reform, and that it only touched on Plame in passing. Which may mean Luskin was telegraphing that testimony to Cooper before he testified, in hopes he would corroborate Karl's story.

I think something very similar happened yesterday, before Judy testified.

In yesterday's Steno Sue Schmidt article, the following leak appears:

According to a source familiar with Libby's account of his conversations with Miller in July 2003, the subject of Wilson's wife came up on two occasions. In the first, on July 8, Miller met with Libby to interview him about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the source said. [emphasis mine]

Libby's leaker here wants it known that Judy and Scooter first met to discuss WMDs, not to smear Joe Wilson. This is implausible in any circumstance. Judy conducted interviews on WMDs via phone and email from Iraq. Why would this interview require a face-to-face meeting? Particularly since the article Judy was ostensibly working on didn't contain any new information. She could have easily written that article sitting in NYC. Hell, after reading all Judy's Iraq coverage, I could have written that article sitting in NYC! Libby didn't provide new information and certainly none of the sort that was so classified that it would require a face-to-face meeting.

Who cares, right? Judy, starved for news coverage during her time in prison, is bound to read the WaPo and understand exactly what Libby wants her to say to the grand jury.

Well, there's a problem with that, beyond the obvious one that Judy had already signed a statement with Fitzgerald.

I'm fairly sure that, if Judy testified she was meeting with Scooter Libby about WMDs on July 8 2003, she would get the NYT in some hot water.

I've long been curious how the NYT avoided contempt charges whereas Time Magazine did not. Apparently, when asked to turn over anything they had related to Judy's meeting with Libby, NYT said they didn't have anything. And apparently, that convinced a skeptical prosecutor and some skeptical judges.

I have speculated that the NYT said something to the effect of, "We had told Judy she couldn't work on that story. Therefore, if she was working on it, then she was doing it on her own. It is not, therefore, work for hire and we don't own anything that has to do with the meeting."

This is plausible because we know Judy was on a sort of disciplinary status during the whole build-up to the Plame outing. As this June 29 2003 Post story entitled "Times Brass Puts Leash on Miller" explains,

Miller and a Times spokesman insist all is well. But she is now part of a "team" doing reporting on the weapons of mass destruction - a move which at least one source said was triggered by the editors' concerns about her reporting methods.

[snip]

Science reporter William Broad and one other reporter have been teamed with Miller, a source said.

All the stories she published between the time she returned from Iraq and Keller's appointment as Editor she co-bylined with Broad (and, in one case, with David Johnston) and they all related to WMDs.

So Libby's story--that he was meeting with Judy about WMDs--is plausible given the apparent restrictions on her work at the time. But if the meeting was about WMDs, then NYT would have materials relating to the meeting. At the very least, they would have documents relating to travel reimbursement (and, presumably, a justification for a face-to-face meeting) for the trip. And by most judgements, they would also own Judy's notes. But they said they had nothing. So either Libby lied to the grand jury about the purpose of his meeting with Judy or the NYT lied about whether it had materials relating to the meeting.

Given the fact that this exactly matches Rove's MO (and that a face-to-face WMD meeting doesn't make sense), I'm willing to give the NYT the benefit of the doubt here. Like Rove, Scooter seems to have tried to telegraph to a witness what he had testified presumably in hopes she would corroborate his story. In Rove's case, it didn't work because Cooper had no interest in lying for Rove (well, frankly, he seems to have missed the entire attempt). In Libby's case, if Judy were to lie it would put the NYT in serious jeopardy.

The Next Hurrah: Did Libby Try to Telegraph Testimony to Judy, as Rove Did with Cooper?

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