As Atrios rightly notes, the real scoop or hint in Murray Waas's blog post tonight is the suggestion that Fitzgerald is looking seriously at conspiracy or obstruction charges against Rove et al. and perhaps even Novak himself.
Here are two key passages ...
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.
That skepticism has been one of several reasons that the special prosecutor has pressed so hard for the testimony of Time magazine's Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
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. That concern was a reason-- although only one of many-- that led prosecutors to press for the testimony of Cooper and Miller, sources said.
They're right to be skeptical of Novak's mendacious claim.
I know I've been something of a <$Ad$> broken record on this. But I have to again refer back to this October 9th, 2003 post
which I think shows quite clearly that Novak has a history of being careful and precise when he uses the term 'operative' in a CIA or intelligence context.
A review of Novak's earlier columns
shows he only uses it to refer to clandestine or covert agents.
To suggest that in this one case he simply lapsed into a colloquialism (as one might refer to a 'Democratic political operative'), as he has repeatedly claimed, just doesn't pass the laugh test.
And, if you'll indulge me, a reference to one more old post, this one from several hours earlier on the same day, October 9th
As I've stated above, once the Plame story burst into the open and the DOJ got involved, Novak made the rounds claiming that neither he nor his sources knew she was covert. But, particularly with the alleged spate of phone calls between Novak and his White House sources, the relevant question would be, What was he saying before
the story caught fire?
As we noted in that earlier post
, there's a way we can get at this question.
The first newspaper report
on the Plame outing was written by Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce in Newsday
on July 22nd, 2003, about a week after Novak's column first ran.
The story's lede read: "The identity of an undercover CIA officer whose husband started the Iraq uranium intelligence controversy has been publicly revealed by a conservative Washington columnist citing 'two senior administration officials.'"
As you'd expect from that introduction, the whole focus of the article was Novak's exposure of an 'undercover' or covert agent. And the article, as you might also suspect, had a number of quotes from Wilson and others arguing for how damaging it was to have revealed the identity of a covert agent.
They interviewed Novak too. And this was his response: "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."
Plame's covert status was a centerpiece of the article. Phelps and Royce must have raised the point when they talked to Novak. Yet, at this point, before the controversy became a big media story and prior to the beginning of a DOJ investigation
, Novak made no attempt to claim that his article said anything other than what it appeared to say. He made no effort to claim he didn't know Plame was covert, that his sources didn't know; or that they were the source of his knowledge.
All he said is that he thought it was newsworthy and so he used it.
Given what we know now, I think that speaks volumes. Novak's claims that he didn't mean 'operative' when he wrote 'operative' don't hold up against his history of intelligence reportage. And he only started making this claim after
federal investigators got involved -- and after, it would seem, a series of phone conversations with Rove and other White House officials.