The source is a very big fish.
Newsweek says it is Karl Rove, the president's political adviser and deputy chief of staff.
For more than a week this has been the talk. Now it's apparently the word. Newsweek on Sunday posted on its Web site a piece by Michael Isikoff that begins:
It was 11:07 on a Friday morning, July 11, 2003, and Time magazine correspondent Matt Cooper was tapping out an e-mail to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy. "Subject: Rove/P&C," (for personal and confidential), Cooper began. "Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation..."
It is illegal to knowingly identify an undercover CIA officer. Rove told CNN last year, "I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name." His lawyer told reporters last week that Rove did nothing wrong. His lawyer acknowledged that Rove spoke to Cooper for his article.
The outing of the operative has long been suspected to be the work of someone in the Bush administration unhappy with Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, and his effort to discredit the rationale for war against Iraq. Three days after Rove talked with Cooper, columnist Robert Novak described Plame as a CIA operative, and said he'd been talking to two senior administration officials. Novak isn't talking about this publicly.
In his conversation with Cooper, Rove warned the reporter off making too much of a op-ed piece in the New York Times in which Wilson denied that Iraq was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction with Niger's help. Wilson wrote that the CIA had sent him to the African country, and he'd found no evidence that Iraq was trying to buy uranium.
Newsweek reports that Rove told Cooper that trip was not authorized by the director of the CIA or by Vice President Dick Cheney. Cooper's email continues, "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd (weapons of mass destruction) issues who authorized the trip."
Time has given these emails to the prosecutor, over Cooper's protests. That has kept Cooper out of jail. The source has released their agreement of confidentially, so Cooper is free to talk to the grand jury. The New York Times, meanwhile, has refused to cooperate with the probe, and reporter Judith Miller, who wrote nothing of the case, but presumably spoke to administration sources, was ordered to jail Wednesday.
So, bombshell or mere backfire?
Newsweek's Isikoff writes "it is not clear whether (prosecutor Fitzgerald) is pursuing evidence that will result in indictments, or just tying up loose ends in a messy case."
But the Huffington Post hoists report on the Newsweek article into its top position Sunday. "Explosive," it captions the account. "A story that nails Rove," writes blogger David Corn, also the Washington editor of The Nation.
Well, not quite nails, he says later.
To be clear, this new evidence does not necessarily mean slammer-time for Rove. Under the relevant law, it's only a crime for a government official to identify a covert intelligence official if the government official knows the intelligence officer is under cover, and this documentary evidence, I'm told, does not address this particular point. But this new evidence does show that Rove -- despite his lawyers claim that Rove "did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA" -- did reveal to Cooper in a deep-background conversation that Wilson's wife was in the CIA. No wonder special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald pursued Cooper so fiercely.
Corn goes on: This new evidence could place Rove in serious political, if not legal, jeopardy (or, at least it should).
Captain's Quarters buys none of Corn's certainty.
Rove did not reveal Plame's name, nor did he tell Cooper that she was on a NOC (edit: non-official cover) list or performing any kind of covert work. Moreover, he told Cooper the truth, as the Senate Intelligence Committee found out. As the Washington Post reported almost a year ago, Wilson repeatedly lied about the role Plame had in pushing him for the assignment to Niger, as well as the information contained in his report on Niger. Rove warned Cooper not to trust Wilson or the public-relations offensive Wilson had launched to discredit the Bush administration by pointing out the conflict of interest that Wilson never acknowledged.
So far, this lead has gone nowhere in the Plame leak. Patrick Fitzgerald has done nothing but embarrass himself by jailing a reporter and turning her into a martyr over something that probably doesn't amount to a prosecutable crime in the first place. It will be damned difficult to generate any outrage on behalf of a CIA agent who sent her husband on a public mission to undermine the American government during a time of war, mostly through lies and half-truths, and who now wants to hide behind a covert status that no one can actually establish applied at the time.
Fitzgerald needs to close the case and let Judith Miller out of jail.
Roger Ailes (the lefty blogger, not the Fox News CEO) doesn't buy that.
First, violation of the law doesn't require the leaker to tell the leakee that the CIA agent was undercover, it only requires the leaker to disclose the identity of the agent, with knowledge that the agent is undercover.
Second, the prosecutor isn't limited to what the leaker said to a particular leakee to prove that the leaker knew the agent was undercover. That knowledge can be shown numerous ways: from people who informed the leaker of the agent's undercover status, from other people who were told by the leaker that the agent was undercover, from documents the leaker wrote or read, pre-leak, that refer to the agent's undercover status, etc. Further, Rove may have told Cooper more than Cooper said in the e-mail to Duffy. (Which is why Cooper's testimony is needed.)
Third, it doesn't matter if Rove knew Plame's name. He identified her as Ambassador Wilson's wife. If I said George W. Bush's wife was an Oxycontin addict (and it wasn't true, etc.), Mrs. Bush could sucessfully sue me for defamation even if I "didn't use Laura Bush's name." Rove identified a specific individual by description, that's all that's required.
Atrios notes the key question: The only possible issue left is whether Rove knew Plame was a covert agent.
John Hinderaker, an attorney who writes at Power Line, a conservative blog, concludes from this that it is unlikely that Rove or any other source violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. It's not clear to him that Plame was a covert agent, and it is unlikely to him that Rove would have testified falsely to the grand jury.
Still, he expects "a media feeding frenzy or potentially unprecedented proportions."