What Did Rove and Libby Do in Plame Case?
Jim VandeHei and Walter Pincus attempt to piece together the role of White House domestic policy advisor Karl Rove and Cheney chief of staff “Scooter” Libby in the Valerie Plame matter.
Role of Rove, Libby in CIA Leak Case Clearer (WaPo, A5)
With New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s release from jail Thursday and testimony Friday before a federal grand jury, the role of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, came into clearer focus. Libby, a central figure in the probe since its earliest days and the vice president’s main counselor, discussed Plame with at least two reporters but testified that he never mentioned her name or her covert status at the CIA, according to lawyers in the case. His story is similar to that of Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser. Rove, who was not an initial focus of the investigation, testified that he, too, talked with two reporters about Plame but never supplied her name or CIA role.
Their testimony seems to contradict what the White House was saying a few months after Plame’s CIA job became public. In October 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that he personally asked Libby and Rove whether they were involved, “so I could come back to you and say they were not involved.” Asked if that was a categorical denial of their involvement, he said, “That is correct.”
What remains a central mystery in the case is whether special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has accumulated evidence during his two-year investigation that any crime was committed. His investigation has White House aides and congressional Republicans on edge as they await Fitzgerald’s announcement of an indictment or the conclusion of the probe with no charges. The grand jury is scheduled to expire Oct. 28, and lawyers in the case expect Fitzgerald to signal his intentions as early as this week.
I would argue that it’s not unreasonable, when asked whether they had leaked the fact that Valerie Plame was a CIA officer to the press, for Rove and Libby to have said No if in fact they did not mention the name “Valerie Plame” or indicate that she is in the CIA.
Many lawyers in the case have been skeptical that Fitzgerald has the evidence to prove a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which is the complicated crime he first set out to investigate, and which requires showing that government officials knew an operative had covert status and intentionally leaked the operative’s identity.
But a new theory about Fitzgerald’s aim has emerged in recent weeks from two lawyers who have had extensive conversations with the prosecutor while representing witnesses in the case. They surmise that Fitzgerald is considering whether he can bring charges of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by a group of senior Bush administration officials. Under this legal tactic, Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife. To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose.
Lawyers involved in the case interviewed for this report agreed to talk only if their names were not used, citing Fitzgerald’s request for secrecy. One source briefed on Miller’s account of conversations with Libby said it is doubtful her testimony would on its own lead to charges against any government officials. But, the source said, her account could establish a piece of a web of actions taken by officials that had an underlying criminal purpose.
So, lawyers working on a case about government officials giving secret information to reporters are themselves violating a secrecy pledge and giving secret work product information to reporters? Lovely.
Aside from that, what exactly would Rove and Libby “underlying criminal purpose” have been? Rather clearly, the goal was to discredit Joe Wilson not “out” his wife. So, their purpose wasn’t criminal. The allegation is that their method–knowingly exposing an undercover intelligence operative–was. Most of the evidence, though, seems to point to Plame 1) not having functioned as an undercover operative since marrying Wilson and 2) her employment with the CIA being common knowledge.
Other lawyers in the case surmise Fitzgerald does not have evidence of any crime at all and put Miller in jail simply to get her testimony and finalize the investigation. “Even assuming . . . that somebody decided to answer back a critic, that is politics, not criminal behavior,” said one lawyer in the case. This lawyer said the most benign outcome would be Fitzgerald announcing that he completed a thorough investigation, concluded no crime was committed and would not issue a report.
Prosecutors don’t have the power to put people in jail for contempt of court; only judges can do that. Still, if Fitzgerald honestly expected to get no meaningful evidence from Miller’s testimony, it would be a travesty indeed to plead for her imprisonment simply so that he could cross every “t” and dot every “i” in his paperwork.