Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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More on the 'classified information' strategy.

Why are Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps named in the Gonzales memo noted below?

Perhaps because of this line in their July 22nd article on Novak and Wilson in Newsday ...

A senior intelligence official confirmed that Plame was a Directorate of Operations undercover officer who worked "alongside" the operations officers who asked her husband to travel to Niger.

That seems to show that after Novak had published Plame's name, someone at the CIA -- or another intelligence agency -- confirmed to Royce and Phelps that Plame was in fact at the DO.

Confirming that Plame was CIA after the information was publicized is quite different from the initial disclosure. But if the White House or the Justice Department was so inclined, it could be a good way of launching some sort of counter-attack against the CIA. That is, if they can be shown to have disclosed Plame's profession as well, even if only after the fact. (Maybe the White House leaked … Maybe the Agency did too. How far do you want this to go? etc.)

More importantly, consider this.

I noted earlier that in his comments yesterday President Bush never referred to the issue of blowing a covert operative's cover, only to his opposition to "leaks of classified information."

Now, what is the whole question we're dealing with here? The Wilson/Plame matter is an outgrowth of the Niger/Uranium controversy. And that's just part of the larger debate about the intelligence wars leading up to the war, the whole matter of politicized intelligence.

One of the questions that's been churning through Washington of late is when some of those disgruntled folks at CIA are going to go to the press and start talking about all the stuff that happened in the lead-up to war. That might involve some 'leaks of classified information' or at least leaks that get close enough to it to make some career person over at Langley scared to talk.

I don't think this is all part of some plan -- at least not one quite fully developed. But just keep this angle in mind: the possibility that the administration is going to try use this controversy to go on the offensive against those who might reveal further uncomfortable truths about what happened in the lead-up to war. After all, what started this whole mess was their attempt to shut up people down in the national security bureaucracy who might already have come forward or might be thinking of doing so.

A brief note on this whole 'everybody knew Plame was CIA' line being peddled by the usual suspects.

John Judis is one of the most respected political journalists in the country. And he cowrote with Spencer Ackerman one of the first big articles on the whole issue of politicized intelligence. ("The Selling of the Iraq War: The First Casualty," New Republic, June 30th, 2003).

Here's an email Judis sent me this morning ...

Novak says in his column this morning that it was "common knowledge" that Wilson's wife Valerie was in the CIA. I had dinner and breakfast with them before this controversy broke out -- at a conference last Spring -- and never learned from Wilson nor from his wife that she worked for the agency. I did ask her what she did for a living, but she said, as I remember, that she worked for some company. No hint that she worked for the CIA. Nick Kristof also spent some time with them, and I suspect he would say the same.

Now, this line from the right began, as nearly as I can tell, with Cliff May's piece in National Review Online a couple days ago. May said ...

I had been told that — but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of.

I think May revealed much more than he intended here. Common knowledge? Let's unpack this. I've met Wilson and have a great deal of respect for him. But before this whole brouhaha got churning, it's not like he was Henry Kissinger or something, someone who gets actively gossiped about at the cocktail parties. DC has many long-serving and distinguished former diplomats who've held many positions of responsibility and are highly respected, but unfortunately attract little notice among most politicos or journalists. People in the diplomatic community or those who follow Africa certainly knew of Wilson. But I doubt May -- who's an insider by any definition -- even knew who Wilson was before all this got started.

So how could it be 'common knowledge' that Wilson's wife was CIA, when Wilson himself was just one DC ex-diplomat and an occasional talking head on TV? Think about it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think the whole argument is just ridiculous on its face when you step back and look at it.

I think what May's comment probably shows is that after Wilson came forward, his enemies started trashing him pretty widely. Even I knew there was a big whispering campaign against him among the neo-cons. Part of that was apparently putting out word about his wife. Folks at the White House probably weren't just talking to reporters but also chatting up fellow Republican insiders and ideological allies. And I suspect one of them mentioned it -- even 'in an offhand manner' -- to May.

The Second Gonzales letter, released late Tuesday ...

The following notice was sent to all White House employees:


This communication is a follow-up to the directive I sent you this morning regarding the preservation of certain materials in the possession of the White House, its staff, or its employees.

Pursuant to a request from the Department of Justice, I am instructing you to preserve and maintain the following:

"[F]or the time period February 1, 2002 to the present, all documents, including without limitation all electronic records, telephone records of any kind (including but not limited to any records that memorialize telephone calls having been made), correspondence, computer records, storage devices, notes, memoranda, and diary and calendar entries, that relate in any way to:

1. Former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, and/or his wife's purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency;

2. Contacts with any member or representative of the news media about Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, and/or his wife's purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency; and

3. Contacts with reporters Knut Royce, Timothy M. Phelps, or Robert D. Novak, or any individual(s) acting directly or indirectly, on behalf of these reporters."

You must preserve all documents relating, in any way, directly or indirectly, to these subjects, even if there would be a question whether the document would be a presidential or federal record or even if its destruction might otherwise be permitted.

If you have any questions regarding any of the foregoing, please contact Associate Counsels Ted Ullyot or Raul Yanes in the Counsel to the President's Office.

Alberto R. Gonzales

Counsel to the President

Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps of Newsday have done some of the best reporting of anyone in town on the whole issue of Iraq, politicized intelligence and the Joe Wilson matter. They've clearly got some awfully good and pretty generous sources. What are their names doing in this memo?

They reported early on Novak's original column. But why that should put them in the mix here isn't immediately clear.

Here's the transcript of the president's brief remarks on Wilsongate today in Chicago.

If you look at his words, you can see immediately what talking points he was given. There's no mention of blowing the cover of a CIA covert operative, no mention of Wilson, the issue of retaliation, or anything like that.

His repeated mantra is his opposition to "leaks of classified information." That of course is a much broader issue and, not coincidentally, a charge that the White House has previously levelled at Congress.

They're trying to move the subject on to much more comfortable ground and push the whole controversy over into the long and muddled history of leaks of classified information.

The law which seems to have been violated, of course, is a different one. And this allows the president to sidestep entirely the issue of his staffers retaliating against a critic by ruining his wife's career.

All of which is to say that the president is still looking for a way to get around discussing the seriousness of what actually happened.

Fresh from the Department of Nice Try ...

Leaks of classified information are bad things, and we've had too many lately in Washington. We've had leaks from the executive branch and leaks from the legislative branch. I want to know who the leakers are.

George W. Bush
September 30th, 2003

Such a mystery, such a mystery ...

The Gonzales letter, released early Tuesday ...

The following notice was sent to all White House employees:

PLEASE READ: Important Message From Counsel's Office

We were informed last evening by the Department of Justice that it has opened an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee.


The Department advised us that it will be sending a letter today instructing us to preserve all materials that might be relevant to its investigation. Its letter will provide more specific instructions on the materials in which it is interested, and we will communicate those instructions directly to you. In the meantime, you must preserve all materials that might in any way be related to the Department's investigation. Any questions concerning this request should be directed to Associate Counsels Ted Ullyot or Raul Yanes in the Counsel to the President's office. The President has directed full cooperation with this investigation.

Alberto R. Gonzales

Counsel to the President

For the White House's defenders in the press, it looks like that 'she wasn't undercover' line is no longer operative ...

Another big problem with Novak's comments on Crossfire today.

Today he said ...

Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson's report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction.

But then there's this passage in a July 22nd article in Newsday ...

Novak, in an interview, said his sources had come to him with the information. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

I'd say the story's changed.

Bob Novak is is now saying that his source says that Valerie Plame was an "analyst" and not an "operative" at the CIA. TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.Joe Wilson remembers their conversation in July a bit differently.

According to what Wilson told TPM early Monday evening, when Novak first contacted him in July, he told him that he had a CIA source that told him that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a "CIA operative."

Would Wilson confirm it?

Wilson declined to discuss the matter, as Novak's original article made clear.

When Novak's article appeared, it sourced the story to "two senior administration officials."

Wilson says he called Novak back and asked why the article said 'two senior administration officials', whereas during their phone call he had sourced it to someone at the CIA

According to Wilson, Novak said "I misspoke the first time."

One thing this means is that, according to Wilson, Novak knew Plame was an "operative" rather than an "analyst" at the time he placed his first call to Wilson.

Oh that's classic. Again in NRO, Mark Levin says it's really Joe Wilson's fault. After all, he brought all this attention on himself, says Levin. He should have known that someone in the administration would blow his wife's cover to get even.

("Listen woman! If you didn't nag me so much, I wouldn't have to hit you!" Sounds sorta the same.)

In any case, Levin's piece along with Cliff May's noted earlier shows the dimensions of this story -- there's no spinning it. This mumbo-jumbo is the best they can come up with.

As the lawyers say, when the facts are on your side, bang the facts. When the law's on your side, bang the law. When you've got neither, bang the table.

When you don't even got a table, it would seem, you bang yourself.