Sunday, October 16, 2005

CIA Leak Scandal: Rove Defied Bush's Command?
CIA Leak Scandal: Rove Defied Bush's Command?
David Corn

As I noted previously, it has been interesting to watch Karl Rove's defense evolve. After the news broke in September 2003 that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak in Bob Novak's July 14, 2003, column that outed former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie, as an undercover CIA officer, the White House declared that Rove and Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, were not involved in the leak--no ifs, ands or buts. Speaking of Rove, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "He wasn't involved. The president knows he wasn't involved." The White House was signaling--rightly or wrongly--that it had no worries about its uber-strategist. And a year later, a White House aide who had just left his job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue told me that the consensus view within the Bush gang at that point was that Rove was too smart for special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and that there was no reason for Rove to explain--or admit--anything. (One prominent Washington defense attorney said--after I recently mentioned this conversation--"only a fool would think he or she could outsmart a prosecutor.")

This past July, after Time agreed to turn over Matt Cooper's notes to Fitzgerald, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff revealed that Cooper had spoken to Rove about Joe Wilson. Responding to Isikoff's scoop, Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said that Rove "did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." But a week later, Isikoff disclosed that Cooper and Rove had discussed Wilson's wife and her employment at the CIA and that an email from Cooper to his editors had confirmed this. And days later, news reports--probably relying upon Luskin as an unidentified source--disclosed that Rove had told Novak that he, like Novak, had heard that Wilson's wife was a CIA officer. All this undermined the Rove camp's claim that Rove never mentioned Valerie Plame and her CIA position to any reporter. (I supposed Luskin could argue that Rove, during his chats with Cooper and Novak, had not referred to Wilson's wife as "Valerie Plame.")

In the three months since, Rove's defense has shifted further. This week, Luskin told CNN that "Karl has truthfully told everyone who's asked him that he did not circulate Valerie Plame's name to punish her husband, Joe Wilson." (When CNN asked if that included George W. Bush, Luskin added, "Everyone is everyone.") This line--Rove did not circulate Plame's name to punish Joseph Wilson--is a far cry from the assertion that Rove did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame was a CIA officer. It appears that Luskin and Rove are making up lyrics as the music changes. Rove detractors might find this legalistic squirming perversely enjoyable. But what's telling is a comparison between Rove's position (the current one) and that of his boss.

Two years ago, when Bush was asked about the Plame/CIA leak, he said:

I have told our administration, people in my administration, to be fully cooperative. I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true.

A journalist then asked:

Yesterday we were told that Karl Rove had no role in it. Have you talked to Karl and do you have confidence in him?

Bush answered:

Listen, I know of nobody--I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know, and we'll take the appropriate action. And this investigation is a good thing....And if people have got solid information, please come forward with it....And we can clarify this thing very quickly if people who have got solid evidence would come forward and speak out. And I would hope they would....I want to know who the leakers are.

By Rove's own admission--or that of his attorney--Rove did pass classified information (Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA was classified) to at least two reporters (Cooper and Novak). By Bush's statement, Rove deserves "appropriate action." Yet so far no "appropriate action" has apparently been taken. Why might that be?

Moreover, if Rove used his current defense--that he did not circulate the Plame name to punish Wilson--in his conversations with Bush, as Luskin suggested to CNN, then Rove engaged in insubordination. Bush had said that he wanted to know the truth and that anyone with information should "come forward and speak out." Did Rove do that? No. According to Luskin, Rove told people--including the president--that he did not circulate the name of Wilson's wife. This seems to indicate that Rove did not tell Bush that he actually had spoken to Cooper about Wilson's wife and that he had confirmed the leak to Novak--actions that Rove and Luskin apparently do not consider "circulating." In other words, Rove did not respond to Bush's public request for information. Bush said he wanted to know who the leakers were. Yet Rove, if Luskin is to be believed, only assured Bush that he had not disseminated Valerie Wilson's maiden name in an act of vengeance. That was not being responsive to Bush. That was not sharing the full truth with the president. That was being insubordinate.

Perhaps the latest version of Rove's defense is--shall we say--not fully accurate. Perhaps Rove told Bush more. That would mean that Bush knew the White House line--Rove ain't involved--was false and took no steps to better inform the public.

There is no way to reconcile Bush's statements on the leak investigation and Rove's new-and-improved defense. Rove disobeyed Bush's I-want-to-know command. And Bush has let this slide and tossed aside his vow to take "action" against the Plame/CIA leakers. The wait for indictments continues, but Rove is already guilty of spreading--if not circulating--classified information, and he is guilty of either disobeying the president or drawing him into a White House conspiracy to mislead the public. His continued presence at the White House indicates that Bush does not take his own words seriously.