What's the Real Story on Karl Rove?

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Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: What’s in Those Eight Blank Pages?

When MSNBC’s chief political correspondent Lawrence O’Donnell broke
the Karl Rove story on the July 4th weekend, for a few days it looked
like it was going nowhere. O’Donnell had announced on NBC’s McLaughlin
Group that the President’s alter-ego and chief political confidante
was the source who had told Time’s Matt Cooper that Joseph
Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA agent, had sent him to Niger,
where Wilson had served as U.S. Ambassador in the Clinton administration,
to find out if Saddam Hussein really was in the market for uranium
oxide, “yellowcake,” which would certainly mean he was still trying
to produce nuclear weapons.

If it were true, this would mean Rove might have perjured himself
before the federal grand jury — which had been called to ascertain
if one or more government officials in revealing the name of a covert
CIA operative had committed a felony. For the last two years, while
this story has simmered in Washington, it had been assumed Rove
was in the clear. Syndicated columnist Bob Novak, who first wrote
about Valerie Plame’s role in Wilson’s mission in a July 14, 2003
column, had subsequently explained that he didn’t know she was a
“covert” CIA agent, but thought she was a Langley desk jockey, an
“operative.” Novak refused to reveal the names of the two administration
sources who confirmed Plame’s role, but he did say it wasn’t Rove.
In addition, Rove signed a general waiver of confidentiality that
would seem to have released Matt Cooper from his promise of confidentiality.
So if it were Rove, Cooper could name him and not face jail time
for remaining silent.

This seems to be why O’Donnell’s assertion that it was Rove seemed
unlikely. Yet then, within days, Rove’s lawyer announced that Rove
had talked to Cooper about Wilson and his CIA “wife,” but that he
had never mentioned her by name. Hmmmm. Cooper still refused to
name his source, but when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear
the case and perhaps rule he didn’t have to reveal his source, Time
magazine decided to turn Cooper’s notes over to the grand jury.
At this point, knowing he would eventually get tagged anyway, Rove
gave Cooper a specific waiver of confidentiality to discuss
his conversation with him back in 2003. Judith Miller of the NYTimes,
who had reported on the Plame story, having been told by someone
in the administration about it, now sits in a federal prison because
she refused to reveal who that person is — someone obviously not
Rove. More about her later.

All of this led me to believe there had to be more to this story
than the surface noise, or Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald
would not have spent two years of his life trying to get to the
bottom of things — when it never seemed clear that Ms. Plame was
a covert agent, traveling openly back and forth to her desk at Langley.
It’s now clear that there may be something VERY big going on here
to explain all this time, money and effort. We don’t know what it
is, but it is in the hands of the prosecution and the federal courts,
summarized in eight pages that Lawrence O’Donnell could write on
July 7, on Ariana Huffington’s website,
“The One Very Good Reason Karl Rove Might Be Indicted.”
headline is shocking in itself, coming from O’Donnell, a respected
journalist, a man I’ve known since he served as chief of staff to
the late Sen. Pat Moynihan in the 1980s.

In his July 7 blog, the “one good reason” he cites involves eight
blank pages in a February decision by Circuit Court Judge David
Tatel who joined his colleagues in ordering Cooper and Miller to
reveal their sources. Tatel had earlier indicated he would dissent
because the matter did not seem to be a danger to national security,
but after looking at the evidence presented by the prosecution he
decided they had to testify because, as O’Donnell puts it, “he found
that the press privilege had to give way to the gravity of the suspected
crime.” He also notes: “All the judges who have seen the prosecutors
secret evidence firmly believe he is pursuing a very serious crime,
and they have done everything they can to help him get an indictment.”

I certainly have no idea what’s in those eight blank pages, but
I do know the Plame case involved President Bush’s assertion in
his State of the Union Address prior to the decision to invade Iraq
that Saddam Hussein had been attempting to buy “yellowcake,” clear
proof that he was still attempting to reconstitute a nuclear arsenal.
It turns out that before the President made this assertion to the
nation, members of his team, including CIA Director George Tenet,
knew the documents supposedly proving Iraq’s interest in yellowcake
had been forged, and they also knew Joseph Wilson had returned from
Niger months before the State of the Union address with a report
that the information was false.

It was only after the invasion that Wilson wrote an op-ed for the
New York Times on July 6, 2003, laying out the case that
the Bush administration had misled the nation. And it was within
days that the press contacts began from the administration to the
press, aimed at discrediting Wilson as a partisan who had supported
Senator Kerry. Rove did complicate matters by calling Chris Matthews,
host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” telling him that Plame was “fair game.”

There have been all kinds of “impeachment” movements kicking around
the Internet from antiwar advocates. The most serious followed revelations
of the so-called Downing Street Memo several weeks ago, with British
intelligence suggesting that Mr. Bush had made the firm decision
to get rid of Saddam in the summer of 2002 and that he would make
the intelligence “fit the policy.” But I did not take any of that
seriously because, in the end, we could never know if the President
truly decided to lead the nation to war on false information or
if he himself was misled by his team. Remember CIA Director George
Tenet’s “slam dunk” on Saddam’s WMD?

The Niger “yellowcake” story is a more serious problem for the administration,
because it would be practically impossible to believe the President
was misled at that late date if the man closest to him, Karl Rove,
knew there was nothing to the Niger story but let the President
go ahead with it anyway without telling him it was false. The precaution
taken in the President’s address was to put the story to “British
intelligence,” so that would hopefully take care of that. But unless
we know what’s in those eight blank pages we can’t be sure this
still small cloud won’t grow and darken.

Judith Miller’s willingness to go to jail for at least four months
is another matter. We do know there was no journalist in America
more responsible for promoting the idea that Saddam was hiding chemical
and biological weapons. She’d written a book about it and it has
subsequently been revealed that her primary source in the months
before and after the war was Ahmed Chalabi. Now a member of the
new National Assembly in Iraq, Chalabi is supposedly “out of favor”
with the Bush administration on CIA reports that he was revealing
classified information to Iran, but that is clearly a charade and
Chalabi remains as close to the neo-cons as he ever was. His connections
go back to his days as a fellow classmate at the University of Chicago
with Paul Wolfowitz, now World Bank president, and the chief architect
of the war. In 2003, Miller would have no reason to get a phone
call from anyone in the White House about the Plame affair, but
because she was a trusted advocate for the war among the neo-cons,
she might have gotten the leak from another administration source
who would not give her the clearance Miller got because it might
blow the whole business sky high.

I’ve still been wondering what is in those eight blank pages. In
the week that elapsed since O’Donnell focused on them, there had
been no other effort that I saw in the press to even speculate on
“the gravity” supposedly therein. Last night, at least, I caught
the Lou Dobbs show on CNN where he interviewed John Dean, the man
largely responsible for doing in his boss, Richard Nixon, when he
served as White House counsel during the Watergate period. Here
was the exchange that interested me, when Dobbs commented on Judith
Miller being in jail when there is still no evidence of a crime
being committed:

DEAN: No question. It’s a travesty that she’s in jail at
this point and she’s protecting some source, who is not in jail
or who is not even fessing up to relieve her of that responsibility.
But you know, there are a lot of potentials here that – how this
may unwind and the reason I think the fact that there’s more to
happen, is that when I read the opinion of Judge Hogan in the contempt
proceeding, and I read the court of appeals decision of Judge Tatel…

DOBBS: Judge Hogan, the judge who sentenced Judith Miller
for contempt.

DEAN: Correct. And Judge Tatel was the – on the Appellate
Court that reviewed that decision before it went to the Supreme
Court and both of them have looked at the sealed record. And in
that record, which they redacted in their opinion, but in their
look at it, they said, this case is not where it started, it has
made a dramatic turn, and this information that is now being requested
by this special counsel, Fitzgerald, is needed. And therefore, they
could see no basis to get around the problem of holding her in contempt
or Cooper, if he wasn’t willing to testify. So, something’s happened
in this case, Lou, that we don’t know and that’s why I think it
may be – well, it may be close to being over, we – the fat lady
hasn’t gotten near the stage yet.

14, 2005

Wanniski [send him mail]
runs the financial/political advisory service Wanniski.com.

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