Friday, July 22, 2005

Getting Closer To Frog-Marching Time

Three different mainstream media sources are reporting three different Rovegate stories tonight that are potentially damaging to the White House.

First, Bloomberg News suggests that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby perjured themselves before the grand jury investigating the Plame leak:

"July 22 (Bloomberg) -- Two top White House aides have given accounts to a special prosecutor about how reporters first told them the identity of a CIA agent that are at odds with what the reporters have said, according to people familiar with the case.

Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he first learned from NBC News reporter Tim Russert of the identity of Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador and Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, one person said. Russert has testified before a federal grand jury that he didn't tell Libby of Plame's identity, the person said.

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove told Fitzgerald that he first learned the identity of the CIA agent from syndicated columnist Robert Novak, according a person familiar with the matter. Novak, who was first to report Plame's name and connection to Wilson, has given a somewhat different version to the special prosecutor, the person said.

These discrepancies may be important because Fitzgerald is investigating whether Libby, Rove or other administration officials made false statements during the course of the investigation. The Plame case has its genesis in whether any administration officials violated a 1982 law making it illegal to knowingly reveal the name of a covert intelligence agent.

Next, The New York Times suggests that Rove and Libby may have conspired on some matters in the Plame case (even though much of the information in the article appears to have been leaked by Rove's people):

"WASHINGTON, July 21 - At the same time in July 2003 that a C.I.A. operative's identity was exposed, two key White House officials who talked to journalists about the officer were also working closely together on a related underlying issue: whether President Bush was correct in suggesting earlier that year that Iraq had been trying to acquire nuclear materials from Africa.

The two issues had become inextricably linked because Joseph C. Wilson IV, the husband of the unmasked C.I.A. officer, had questioned Mr. Bush's assertion, prompting a damage-control effort by the White House that included challenging Mr. Wilson's standing and his credentials. A federal grand jury investigation is under way by a special counsel to determine whether someone illegally leaked the officer's identity and possibly into whether perjury or obstruction of justice occurred during the inquiry.

People who have been briefed on the case said the White House officials, Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby, were helping prepare what became the administration's primary response to criticism that a flawed phrase about the nuclear materials in Africa had been in Mr. Bush's State of the Union address six months earlier.

They had exchanged e-mail correspondence and drafts of a proposed statement by George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, to explain how the disputed wording had gotten into the address. Mr. Rove, the president's political strategist, and Mr. Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, coordinated their efforts with Stephen J. Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, who was in turn consulting with Mr. Tenet.

At the same time, they were grappling with the fallout from an Op-Ed article on July 6, 2003, in The New York Times by Mr. Wilson, a former diplomat, in which he criticized the way the administration had used intelligence to support the claim in Mr. Bush's speech.

The work done by Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby on the Tenet statement during this intense period has not been previously disclosed. People who have been briefed on the case discussed this critical time period and the events surrounding it to demonstrate that Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby were not involved in an orchestrated scheme to discredit Mr. Wilson or disclose the undercover status of his wife, Valerie Wilson, but were intent on clarifying the use of intelligence in the president's address. Those people who have been briefed requested anonymity because prosecutors have asked them not to discuss matters under investigation.

The special counsel in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has been examining this period of time to determine whether the officials' work on the Tenet statement led in some way to the disclosure of Ms. Wilson's identity to Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist, according to the people who have been briefed.

It is not clear what information Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby might have collected about Ms. Wilson as they worked on the Tenet statement. Mr. Rove has said he learned her name from Mr. Novak. Mr. Libby has declined to discuss the matter.

The effort was striking because to an unusual degree, the circle of officials involved included those from the White House's political and national security operations, which are often separately run. Both arms were drawn into the effort to defend the administration during the period."

The Times suggests that more Bush administration officials may be subjects of Fitzgerald's investigation than just Rove and Libby:

In another indication of how wide a net investigators have cast in the case, Karen Hughes, a former top communications aide to Mr. Bush, and Robert Joseph, who was then the National Security Council's expert on weapons proliferation, have both told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that they were interviewed by the special prosecutor.

Ms. Hughes is to have her confirmation hearing on Friday on her nomination to lead the State Department's public diplomacy operation. Mr. Joseph was recently confirmed as under secretary of state for arms control and international security. As part of their confirmation proceedings, both had to fill out questionnaires listing any legal matters they had become involved in.

The Times article also opens the possibilityAri Fleischer may have perjured himself before the grand jury when asked about the infamous State Department memo that identified Valerie Plame Wilson by name:

Among those asked if he had seen the memo was Ari Fleischer, then the White House press secretary, who was on Air Force One with Mr. Bush and Mr. Powell during the Africa trip. Mr. Fleischer told the grand jury that he never saw the document, a person familiar with the testimony said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the prosecutor's admonitions about not disclosing what is said to the grand jury.

Mr. Fleischer's role has been scrutinized by investigators, in part because his telephone log showed a call on the day after Mr. Wilson's article appeared from Mr. Novak, the columnist who, on July 14, 2003, was the first to report Ms. Wilson's identity.

In his column, Mr. Novak referred to her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame, which she had used when first employed by the C.I.A. Mr. Fleischer has told the grand jury that he did not return Mr. Novak's call, a person familiar with the testimony said.

If you compare this account of Fleischer's doings with a July 18, 2005 story run by Bloomberg where a "former administration official who was on the trip" (i.e., Colin Powell) says Fleischer was seen "perusing the memo on Wilson and his wife," you start to get the idea that Fleischer may have lied when he told prosecutors and/or the grand jury that he never saw the State Dept. memo.

Finally, The Wall Street Journal (Via Countdown With Keith Olbermann/AmericaBlog) is set to report tomorrow that the State Dept. memo that identified Ms. Plame by name was marked "Top Secret - No Foreign," meaning any government agent who saw the memo would know that information contained therein, including Ms. Plame's name and identity, should not be divulged to anyone without a security clearance.

Not a good news day tomorrow for the preznit and his band of merry men. John Arivosis at AmericaBlog sums up the current state of Rovegate quite nicely:

"Think about this, folks. We've got the Washington Post, the New York Times, Bloomberg and, of all publications, the friggin' Wall Street Journal all competing to be THE news service that breaks the true story of what the White House did with regards to RoveGate. That's pretty amazing, and it spells big trouble for moose and squirrel at the White House.

The mainstream media gets it. They get this story. They get why it's important. And now, they want it - bad. And when you get four top news services (and probably more) all fighting tooth and nail to scoop each other on a major story, that's serious trouble for the guys on the receiving end of that story.

Bush is in serious trouble."

Oh, yes he is...and so's Rove, Libby, Flesicher, and possibly a few other Bush administration officials like Karen Hughes and Stephen Hadley. The Supreme Court diversion got the Bushies approximately a 24 hour moratorium in Rovegate coverage. But ever since the Washington Post published the article about the State Dept. memo last night, news has been breaking fast in the Rovegate case.

Somebody should call Newsweek's Howard "Always Wrong" Fineman and ask him how brilliant he thinks Bush is today.

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