Tom DeFrank's piece in a Daily News is a touch vague about just when President Bush found out about Karl Rove's role in the Plame leak. The only explicit reference to timing comes in the lede where DeFrank writes that [emphasis added] "[a]n angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair."
Now, 'two years ago'.
In the Plame case a lot of things happened around two years ago. What happened almost exactly two years was the first intensive coverage of the story in the mainstream press. For the first couple months the scandal was largely the province of various disreputable blogs and other untouchables.
So, DeFrank really doesn't provide us with enough detail to say with any confidence precisely when the president knew. But it seems he's saying the president unloaded on Karl right about the time the story blew up into a serious scandal and spawned a Justice Department investigation.
So what was the president saying around that time?
One of his most detailed statements came on October 7th, in a brief exchange with the press just before a cabinet meeting ...
[T]he investigators will ask our staff about what people did or did not do. This is a town of -- where a lot of people leak. And I've constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks, particularly leaks of classified information. And I want to know, I want to know the truth. I want to see to it that the truth prevail. And I hope we can get this investigation done in a thorough way, as quickly as possible.
But the Justice Department will conduct this investigation. The professionals in the Justice Department will be involved in ferreting out the truth. These are citizens who will -- were here before this administration arrived and will be here after this administration leaves. And they'll come to the bottom of this, and we'll find out the truth. And that will be -- that's a good thing for this administration.
Randy, you tell me, how many sources have you had that's leaked information that you've exposed or have been exposed? Probably none. I mean this town is a -- is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators -- full disclosure, everything we know the investigators will find out. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is -- partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers. But we'll find out.
None of these sources offered additional specifics of what Bush and Rove discussed in conversations beginning shortly after the Justice Department informed the White House in September 2003 that a criminal investigation had been launched into the leak of CIA agent Plame's identity to columnist Robert Novak.
The President met with Pat Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney in charge of the leak investigation, as well as members of his team. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. It lasted for a little more than an hour, probably about an hour and 10 minutes ... He also recently retained a lawyer, Jim Sharp, who you all have reported about before. I would just say that -- what I've said previously, and what the President has said: The leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with those in charge of the investigation. He was pleased to do his part to help the investigation move forward. No one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than the President of the United States, and he has said on more than one occasion that if anyone -- inside or outside the government -- has information that can help the investigators get to the bottom of this, they should provide that information to the officials in charge.
Isikoff has a new brief piece out on Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert "Gold Bars" Luskin.
Actually, for what it's worth, GB sounds like he'd be sort of a fun person to hang out with. But don't tell anyone I said that.
As we were first to report back in July (at least in the context of the Rove case) Luskin, a Democrat, got in trouble with the Feds back in 1997. He took up the appeal of a precious metals dealer who'd been convicted of laundering tens of millions of dollars of drug money. The DOJ got a bit miffed when they discovered that Luskin was taking payment in gold bars.
Luskin tells Isikoff he did nothing wrong but now concedes "I was completely obtuse about the optics of the situation."
Perhaps we need to rename him Robert "Gift for Understatement" Luskin.
Right at the top of the gaggle this morning at the White House, reporters zeroed in one the DeFrank story ...
QUESTION: Scott, is it true that the President --
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Welcome back.
QUESTION: Thanks. Is it true that the President slapped Karl Rove upside the head a couple of years ago over the CIA leak?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Are you referring to, what, a New York Daily News report? Two things: One, we're not commenting on an ongoing investigation; two, and I would challenge the overall accuracy of that news account.
QUESTION: That's a comment.
QUESTION: Which part of it?
QUESTION: Yes, that is.
QUESTION: Which facts --
SCOTT McCLELLAN: No, I'm just saying -- no, I'm just trying to help you all.
QUESTION: So what facts are you challenging?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not going to comment on an ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: You can't say you're challenging the facts and then not say which ones you're challenging.
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Yes, I can. I just did. (Laughter.)
... QUESTION: Scott, let me come back to -- so you say you're challenging the accuracy, but you won't tell us why. Why would it be irresponsible for us to report that?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Report what?
QUESTION: What you said --
SCOTT McCLELLAN: It's up to you what you want to report. I'm just trying to --
QUESTION: Well, if you want us to say it's inaccurate, you need to give us a reason why, or it wouldn't be responsible to report it.
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Well, there's an ongoing investigation, and as you know, our policy is not to comment on it. So that's where we are.
QUESTION: You just did.
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Based on your personal knowledge, based on your opinion, based on your frustration with the story -- what caused you to say that?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: No, I mean, I read the story and I didn't view it as an accurate story.
QUESTION: Why not?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not going to go any further than that. There's an ongoing investigation. This is bringing up matters related to an ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: After you read the story, Scott, did you check with either the two people mentioned, the President or Rove, to ask them? Is that what you base --
SCOTT McCLELLAN: I don't have any further comment, Peter.
QUESTION: Well, is that what you base your guidance on, or is it just -- you know, is it just you're feeling that this couldn't have happened?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: I stand by what I just said and I'm going to leave it at that.
On the DeFrank story this morning, McClellan got hammered and tried to deny its accuracy, but really couldn't. We'll provide details shortly.
A few more thoughts on Tom DeFrank's article on President Bush, noted below.
According to DeFrank, President Bush knew about Karl Rove's role in leaking Valerie Plame's identity pretty much from the very start. He doesn't tell us whether the president knew in advance or while the purported crimes were occuring. But let's set that aside for the moment and stipulate, for the sake of discussion, the accuracy of DeFrank's nugget: that from the moment this became a public issue, President Bush has known Karl Rove was one of the culprits.
This raises several questions.
The possible perjury indictment hanging over Rove's head (to the extent we can know about these things from press reports) stems from his 'forgetting' to tell the grand jury that he leaked Plame's identity the first time around. Later, he 'remembered' this detail -- seemingly after Fitzgerald got other sworn testimony about it.
Did Rove tell the president about his role, then 'forget' before the grand jury, then 'remember' later? Not that many folks believe he forgot. But this would seem like the sort of chronological detail that could seal Rove's fate as far as a perjury indictment.
And that leads us to a second question.
Patrick Fitzgerald interviewed President Bush (at least, he was interviewed by his team; I don't remember whether it was Fitzgerald specifically who conducted it, though I would assume it was). The president's lawyers succeeded in getting Fitzgerald to agree that the interview not be under oath. Still, though, an interview took place and at the top of the list of questions must have been just what happened and what the president knew.
Did President Bush say that he knew Rove was involved? Did he deny it?
Obviously, we have many more questions than answers here. But if President Bush knew about Rove's role from the beginning, then all of these interviews and grand jury appearances and the almost inevitable contradictions between them become real trouble for the White House.
And one more question. For almost two years, Scott McClellan insisted that neither Karl Rove nor Scooter Libby had anything to do with the leaks. He knew because he asked them, he said. He was very categorical.
Now it seems that at least with reference to Rove, the president knew McClellan's statements weren't true. And yet he allowed McClellan to make them. Come to think of it, I guess this one really isn't even a question. It speaks for itself, doesn't it?
It's slightly sugar-coated. But the New York Daily News has the scoop of the day on Plame/Fitzgerald: the president knew what Karl Rove had done from the very beginning. So all that mumbojumbo about wanting to get to the bottom of it and fire the bad actors was, to revert to the King's English, crap.
He knew all along, as was certainly clear all along.
Now, the lede gives some sense of distancing ...
An angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair, sources told the Daily News.
"He made his displeasure known to Karl," a presidential counselor told The News. "He made his life miserable about this."
Bush has nevertheless remained doggedly loyal to Rove, who friends and even political adversaries acknowledge is the architect of the President's rise from baseball owner to leader of the free world.
Bush has always known that Rove often talks with reporters anonymously and he generally approved of such contacts, one source said.
But the President felt Rove and other members of the White House damage-control team did a clumsy job in their campaign to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, the ex-diplomat who criticized Bush's claim that Saddam Hussen tried to buy weapons-grade uranium in Niger.
A second well-placed source said some recently published reports implying Rove had deceived Bush about his involvement in the Wilson counterattack were incorrect and were leaked by White House aides trying to protect the President.
"Bush did not feel misled so much by Karl and others as believing that they handled it in a ham-handed and bush-league way," the source said.
TPM Reader TO notes an interesting little blip of information from Howie Kurtz's June 2003 Post article on the Judy Miller controversy.
Miller's role with MET Alpha [the WMD search team] was controversial within the Defense Department and among some staff members at the Times, where one reporter was assigned to check up on whether other embedded journalists followed similar procedures.