Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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This point is admittedly very deep in the weeds. But if you're playing the Rove/Plame/Niger sleuth game like many of the rest of us, it's a significant point.

Much now turns, you'll remember, on this classified State Department memo, which seems likely to have been the source of the information about Joe Wilson and his wife that was circulating between reporters and White House staffers in early July 2003.

A couple days ago the Times reported that "the memorandum was dated June 10, 2003." That squares with what we know about the administration's concerns (or 'interest' if you're the gullible type) dating more than a month before his Times oped.

Today, however, Bloomberg reports that it was "prepared by the State Department on July 7, 2003."

Big difference.

Now, I guess you could say that a document needn't be prepared at the time it was dated. But had the memo been backdated a month I assume we'd have heard about this already, since that would be pretty big news in itself.

Bloomberg follows up with these grafs ...

On the same day the memo was prepared, White House phone logs show Novak placed a call to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, according to lawyers familiar with the case and a witness who has testified before the grand jury. Those people say it is not clear whether Fleischer returned the call, and Fleischer has refused to comment.

The Novak call may loom large in the investigation because Fleischer was among a group of administration officials who left Washington later that day on a presidential trip to Africa. On the flight to Africa, Fleischer was seen perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife, according to a former administration official who was also on the trip.

At first I assumed that the discrepancy was simply the result of an editorial error from the Times or Bloomberg. But as you can see, both articles hang a significant theory of the case on the date. So it seems unlikely that June has simply been transposed for July, or vice versa.

The answer comes down deep in the Bloomberg article ...

The July 7 memo was largely a reproduction of an earlier State Department report prepared around June 12. Another key question that Fitzgerald is interested in, according to the grand jury witness and the lawyers familiar with the case, is whether Rove or Libby learned of this earlier report and, if so, shared its content with reporters.

Now, presumably, this second version of the memo is what is referenced in this portion of the article in the Times ...

When Mr. Wilson's Op-Ed article appeared on July 6, 2003, a Sunday, Richard L. Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, called Carl W. Ford Jr., the assistant secretary for intelligence and research, at home, a former State Department official said. Mr. Armitage asked Mr. Ford to send a copy of the memorandum to Mr. Powell, who was preparing to leave for Africa with Mr. Bush, the former official said. Mr. Ford sent it to the White House for transmission to Mr. Powell.

I suppose this is where I venture some theory as to what it all means. But I'm not sure what it does mean. Let me add a few more details though and ask a couple questions.

The Bloomberg article says that Novak put in a call to Ari Fleischer on the same day (July 7th) the second memo was prepared at the State Department, and that Fleischer did see the second memo.

My question is about the point in the Times graf above about Carl Ford. And it's not a rhetorical question. Does an assistant secretary of State send a document to the White House if he's trying to send it to the Secretary? Even if the Secretary is about to leave on a foreign trip with the president? Perhaps that's how it would be done. I don't know.

Secondly, where at State did the first memo originate? Bloomberg seems clear that the second memo was prepared at INR, State's in-house intel bureau. But they're less clear on whether the first one came from there.

It's certainly possible that the difference between these two memos is little more than the difference between xeroxing it or slapping another date at the top. But as long as we're all blind men feeling one part of the elephant, let's try to cover as much of the animal as possible.

Gaggle follow-up to-do list.

A few points that might do with clarifying. Under the president's new policy, is an indictment sufficient for dismissal, or conviction necessary? Assuming conviction is necessary, can staff continue to serve while the case is taken up on appeal?

Late Update: We're discussing possible interpretations of the president's new rule here.

A friend raises the interesting point about whether there's a grandfather clause on the president's new no-felons-employed here rule. If you committed a crime during Iran-Contra, can you work in this administration? Or does the rule -- presumably -- only apply to felonies commited in the course of employment.

I really want to recommend Kevin Drum's post today on what was behind the White House's war on Joe Wilson.

A TPM Reader's lament ...

On NPR this morning, Juan Williams engaged in his usual brand of incompetent journalism and spouted two Republican Party talking points. (1) He stated twice that violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 requires the disclosure of the actual name of the covert agent, and that Rove did not reveal Plame's name. (2) He stated that Rove was not a "target" of the investigation without disclosing that Rove is likely a "subject" of the investigation and without explaining the technical meaning of the term "target," so that someone without much knowledge of the situation might assume that prosecutors have no interest in Rove. Standard Juan Williams.

Creeping Foxification ...

There's a headline the White House must just love. Right now on MSNBC front page: "Subtle Shift: Bush appears to narrow criteria for firing in CIA leak case."

'Bush Breaks Pledge' would have been pithier. But I guess it's progress.

Late Update: Fox News tries to help out, calls it a 'reiteration'.

Is Robert 'GB' Luskin, Karl Rove's attorney, possibly the worst lawyer in Washington?

I had to leave for the day today just as the key morning shows were getting started. But I caught a bit of the Russert/Cooper interview, in which Russert pressed Cooper on whether he'd really gotten a clear release from Rove or whether he'd somehow let himself off easy in agreeing to testify.

In making that point Russert referred to this passage in an article in yesterday's Post ...

Luskin has said that he merely reaffirmed the blanket waiver by Rove, who is the president's deputy chief of staff, and that the assurance would have been available at any time. He said that Cooper's description of last-minute theatrics "does not look so good" and that "it just looks to me like there was less a desire to protect a source."

For all I know, Luskin may <$Ad$> be right in his appraisal of Cooper's actions and motives. (I said a couple days ago that Luskin's inept public lawyering may have given Cooper the out he was looking for.) But how precisely does this help his client?

Luskin's point here is that Cooper burned his source to avoid jail.

But accusing him now of burning his source simply telegraphs what we suggested a few days ago -- that he and his client wanted Cooper to keep his mouth shut notwithstanding Luskin's voluble public claims that they were happy to have him talk.

Before Cooper sang, holding him to his commitment may have made sense. But since he has, Luskin might at least reap whatever benefit there might be of claiming he had nothing to hide or asked Cooper to come forward. But Luskin, having goofed into giving Cooper an out, now seems intent on letting everybody know that Rove did so unwillingly.


Just when everyone seemed about to get bogged down in the rain forest of minutiae, batting down lies like flies, here come two articles with an aerial view of the case, putting all into perspective.

First is Frank Rich's Sunday New York Times OpEd. As Rich says, this isn't about Valerie Plame or Joe Wilson or even Karl Rove. It's not about exposing a CIA agent. That's merely the tear in the fabric, the third-rate burglary, if you will. This is about a president who knowingly took his country to war on the basis of lies and the war on the homefront against anyone and everyone who's tried to peel back the lies and expose the truth.

Second is an oddly parallel story in the Washington Post by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen. Here's the macro view of the Wilson story, both before his name became a household word and long into the criminal investigation itself. As we've long suspected, Dick Cheney's office became concerned about Joe Wilson a couple months before he went public on July 6th, 2003. From there forward you can see the coordinated campaign to destroy him as a critic, with the release of information about his wife's identity just one part of the effort. Read the Post piece and it puts the whole matter into some clarifying perspective. (Also see this Oct. 12, 2003 article, which covers some of the same ground in greater detail.)

Later of course this must come to folks like Sen. Roberts (R) and others who covered up and bamboozled on the president's behalf, those the president and his inner circle suborned.

Let's review some interesting connections.

Today's article about the Plame case in the New York Times focused on this classified State Department memo. This is the memo which stated that Valerie Plame (identified as 'Valerie Wilson' in the memo) had recommended or arranged for Joe Wilson to make the fact-finding trip to Niger. And Fitzgerald's office appears to believe that that memo was the ultimate source of the information that eventually made its way into print in Robert Novak's column.

But remember, the CIA believes that that memo contains not just incorrect but fraudulent information. TPM Reader DK very helpfully reminded me of this passage from an article in the Post from December 2003 ...

But sources said the CIA believes that people in the administration continue to release classified information to damage the figures at the center of the controversy, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, Valerie Plame, who was exposed as a CIA officer by unidentified senior administration officials for a July 14 column by Robert D. Novak.

Wilson, a prominent critic of the administration over Iraq, has said that was done to retaliate against him for continuing to publicize his conclusion, after a 2002 mission for the CIA, that there was little evidence Iraq had sought uranium in Africa to develop nuclear weapons.

Sources said the CIA is angry about the circulation of a still-classified document to conservative news outlets suggesting Plame had a role in arranging her husband's trip to Africa for the CIA. The document, written by a State Department official who works for its Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), describes a meeting at the CIA where the Niger trip by Wilson was discussed, said a senior administration official who has seen it.

CIA officials have challenged the accuracy of the INR document, the official said, because the agency officer identified as talking about Plame's alleged role in arranging Wilson's trip could not have attended the meeting.

"It has been circulated around," one official said. CIA and State Department officials have refused to discuss the document.

On Oct. 28, Talon News, a news company tied to a group called GOP USA, posted on the Internet an interview with Wilson in which the Talon News questioner asks: "An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?"

The questioner, of course, was Jeff Gannon.

So a few <$NoAd$> questions.

Who requested that the memo be written? Who actually wrote it? Why does it contain the inaccuracies the CIA claims it does? Who were the administration officials who continued to circulate the classified document to conservative news outlets even after Plame's identity was initially revealed? And how did it get into the hands of Jeff Gannon?