Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Another TPM Reader <$NoAd$> checks in ...

You're overlooking something HUGE in Novak's quote

Re-read the following quote: "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." And then compare that with the Rove testimony (and right-wing noise machine) claiming that Rove, at least, did not supply Plame's name to Cooper et al. Because here we have Novak, back in real time, saying straight out "they gave me the name." The only remaining question is, who? More importantly, Novak's admission should knock this particular meme (that nobody in the administration supplied Plame's name) out of the park, should it not?

Good point. See this post below for the quote the reader is referring to.

The comedy still doesn't end!

Wall Street Journal headline: "Karl Rove, Whistleblower."

On the other hand, can you blame them? Most of the kids there want White House jobs or other GOP-based promotions.

Larry Johnson is a retired CIA officer who was a classmate of Valerie Plame's when both entered the CIA in the mid-1980s. Johnson just did a guest post over at TPMCafe in which he explains the damage that was done when administration officials revealed Plame's identity, who's lying and who's not.

Check it out.

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, 2003.

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.

Slim Pickins?

I'm told the RNC is telling reporters that Sen. Cornyn, Sen. Coleman and Rep. Peter King are the designated point-men on Rove.

For all his occasional zaniness and bad positions on various issues, I've got a certain respect for King.

But these three are the water-carriers?

This is the best they can do?

A TPM Reader checks in ...


Let's not forget that the reason the <$NoAd$> Republicans were angry with Wilson is that he told the truth. And their preferred method of retaliation was to attack his wife. This is generally seen as the mark of a true coward. The remark by Rove that to me hints at the depths of his depravity is the comment that Valerie Plame was now "fair game." There is something in the offhand quality of that remark, even if Rove was not the one who revealed her identity, that is chilling. This was an agent of the CIA, a woman sufficiently patriotic to have dedicated her career to serving her country. This, supposedly, is what Republicans believe in. Yet once her husband angered the President, she was quickly made into "fair game." And fair game for what, exactly?

'Nuff said.

Late Alert for Red Herring <$NoAd$> Egregious Mumbojumbo Watch!

Ken Mehlman is now pushing the same argument as Rove attorney Robert Luskin.

This from the AP ...

Rove "was discouraging a reporter from writing a false story based on a false premise," said Mehlman. Cooper's e-mail says that Rove warned him away from the idea that Wilson's trip had been authorized by CIA Director George Tenet or Vice President Dick Cheney.

The argument, as elaborated by others, is that Rove was warning Cooper off Wilson's phoney story because it was about to be debunked by a soon-to-be-released statement by George Tenet.

A great argument. Only Wilson never said that. He said that the CIA, following up on a query from the vice president, sent him on a fact-finding mission to Niger.

Here's his account from his New York Times column ...

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.

After consulting with the State Department's African Affairs Bureau (and through it with Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, the United States ambassador to Niger), I agreed to make the trip. The mission I undertook was discreet but by no means secret. While the C.I.A. paid my expenses (my time was offered pro bono), I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.

Whatever else you can say about Wilson, no one has ever disputed these points. He never said that Cheney or Tenet authorized his trip. A vice-president would never 'authorize' such a trip. Nor would there be any need for the DCI to 'authorize' it. The whole thing is a dodge and a distraction. It's irrelevant to the question that was under discussion.

It's just yet another attempt to whip up a phoney cover story after the fact. Or, in other words, more scofflaw Republicanism.

Late Update: RawStory has just published a copy of RNC anti-Wilson talking points. Item three says that "The False Premise [which Rove was trying to knock down] Was Joe Wilson's Allegation That The Vice President Sent Him To Niger." This is such a ridiculous up-is-down lie you'll want to keep an eye out for gullible reporters who parrot it. Clear as day it's a lie. But if they think if they repeat it often enough people won't check.

A point that hasn't been made yet.

Everyone I hear from today says that the White House is going after Joe Wilson hard in their background conversations with reporters. Apparently Karl Rove himself.

Their main hit apparently is that it was Valerie Plame who authorized Wilson's trip to Niger or was the one who sent him -- which is as false today as it was two years ago.

Now, that's as much an attack on Plame as it is on Wilson. Actually, even more of one on her since the subtext is that she was either engaging in nepotism or advancing some private political agenda.

So now we know that Karl Rove started attacking Valerie Plame to get his boss out of the soup. And now two years later he continues to attack her.

True to form to the last. And every reporter in town knows it.

Did Byron bury the lede?

In Byron York's piece I linked below, he interviews Karl Rove's lawyer Robert 'Gold Bars' Luskin. The main substance of the article is Luskin's discussion of just what his client told Matt Cooper and the context in which he told it.

But down at the end of the article, as TPM Reader HS pointed out to me, is this graf ...

Luskin also addressed the question of whether Rove is a "subject" of the investigation. Luskin says Fitzgerald has told Rove he is not a "target" of the investigation, but, according to Luskin, Fitzgerald has also made it clear that virtually anyone whose conduct falls within the scope of the investigation, including Rove, is considered a "subject" of the probe. "'Target' is something we all understand, a very alarming term," Luskin says. On the other hand, Fitzgerald "has indicated to us that he takes a very broad view of what a subject is."

Now, Luskin has made a number of <$NoAd$> statements over the last few days meant to suggest that Fitzgerald has assured him that Rove is not the one he's after. I don't remember, though, precisely what language he used.

Cut through the mumbojumbo in the excerpted graf above and you can see that Fitzgerald has told Luskin that Rove is a 'subject' of the investigation.

What does that mean? The next level up is being a 'target' of the investigation, in which case you get a 'target letter'. Now, I'll defer to the members of the defense bar in the audience. But my understanding is that when you get the target letter you're in deep trouble, at least in terms of getting indicted. And being a 'subject' means just that: you're one of the people they're investigating.

So Rove is one of the people the grand jury is investigating.

Has Luskin said anything in the last few days that contradicts what he's saying now? Mind you, that's not a rhetorical question. It may be that he's carefully used the 'target' language in all cases. But I'm curious. And if anyone has any examples, drop me a line.