July 13, 2005

L'Affaire Rove--Very Prelim Analysis

(ADMIN NOTE: SOMEHOW THIS POST DROPPED OFF MY FRONT PAGE AT SOME POINT TODAY. IT WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN (TOO) LATE LAST NIGHT AND I'M JUST FINDING THIS OUT AFTER WORK. APOLOGIES FOR ANYONE WHO SAW IT IN EUROPE OVERNIGHT ONLY TO SEE IT DISAPPEAR LATER IN THEIR DAY).

The law sez:

Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified
information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not
authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the
information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the
United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert
agent's intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined not more than $50,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both
.

This will be a tough one to prove (did Rove actually have the requisite formal authorized access to the classified information in question? Did he know that the U.S. was taking "affirmative measures" to conceal Plame's identity?), and unless Rove is found to have violated the letter of the law it is hard to see Bush casting him overboard. This is because Bush will rationalize that he is not being overly Clintonian but honoring his original representations on the matter. How so? Read on, via David Sanger!

But until this week, it was Mr. Wilson's word against the White House's insistence that Mr. Rove was not involved. That is what has changed. An e-mail message that Time magazine turned over to the prosecutor investigating the naming of Ms. Wilson asserts that Mr. Rove discussed Ms. Wilson's role, though apparently without naming her or suggesting she was a covert officer. If that version is correct, it is not clear that anything Mr. Rove said could be considered a crime.

It could also save his job. Mr. Bush was asked in June 2004 whether he would fire anyone who leaked Ms. Wilson's name. Without hesitation, he said "yes." But if Ms. Wilson was discussed - but not named - current and former White House officials say Mr. Bush may not feel he is violating his pledge by keeping the political engineer who, as deputy chief of staff, is now formulating much of the domestic policy agenda of Mr. Bush's second term.

As David Gergen is making the rounds saying, Rove is Bush's "right arm". If he is not found to have actually violated the law, it is unlikely Bush will ditch him--he will take the heat and vitriole--and hope that the O'Connor battles move the subject to, say, buddy Alberto a few weeks hence. Indeed, expect in the coming days that Ken Melhman will rush the ramparts to furiously fight back the Democrat onslaught on Rove and hope the O'Connor Replacement Fight will end up overshadowing l'affaire Rove. Meantime, Rove attorney Luskin will work the PR/legal angles and sometimes move the goalposts somewhat (after all, just because the call started out about welfare and the Time reporter called Rove rather than vice versa, it doesn't make a difference in terms of the legal issues as far as I can tell--though Luskin will doubtless argue it has a bearing on the "intent" requirement).

Still, this is terrible P.R. for an administration that is said to pride itself on straight-shooting and honesty (though for the greater public this may just look like another Beltway maelstrom that ends up impacting support, either way, for POTUS insignificantly). Karl may very well survive, but this White House looks less and less above the Clintonian parsing it and its admirers (B.D. included) so derided (Plame, "last throes"). That said, this is a very complex story indeed, and it is too early to draw any definitive conclusions. It's also very late just now, and I'm piggy-backing on a scratchy Wifi connection on the Tribeca block I just moved to (alas, the apartment is still Road-Runner-less), so I'm going to pack it up for tonight. I hope to have more on l'affaire Rove soon, however. I'll leave you with this pretty fair appraisal from Joe Hagan of the WSJ:

The unmasking of Mr. Rove marks an important milestone in the case. On the one hand, the details of Mr. Rove's discussion with Mr. Cooper -- especially if he didn't name Ms. Plame -- may exculpate him of the intentional, illegal disclosure of the identity of a covert CIA operative. Much will depend on whether Mr. Rove truthfully described any conversations in testimony before the grand jury. If he did, that would clear him of even a perjury charge and any criminal liability.

That said, the disclosure that Mr. Bush's top political strategist discussed the CIA employment of Mr. Wilson's wife amounts to a political embarrassment for Mr. Rove and the White House. A presidential spokesman had previously given what appeared to be an unequivocal public assurance that Mr. Rove hadn't been involved in the disclosure of Ms. Plame as a CIA operative. Discovery that earlier denials may have been carefully parsed would represent another blow to the administration's credibility, compounding damage from the underlying issue that initially brought Mr. Wilson into the spotlight.

That's about right, but as I said, let's see how all this plays out over the coming days before drawing any definitive conclusions--whilst keeping in mind that outing covert agents is hugely reprehensible and anyone charged with doing so knowingly should be prosecuted to the full extent the law provides and fired without delay.

It's going to be an interesting few weeks, isn't it?

P.S. I suppose it's no secret I'm no fan of Joe Wilson's (just plug in his name in the search function to the right for all the gory details). I view him as something of a charlatan, frankly, and his credibility is very low indeed--but this certainly doesn't, in any way of course, mean that others can prattle on willy-nilly about the covert status of his spouse (yes, yes--even if Aldrich had outed before!).

Posted by Gregory at July 13, 2005 04:54 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Greg --

It's your blog and I'm not suggesting this affair isn't worthy of your consideration, but it'd be a shame if you spent too much of your blogging oxygen on this to the detriment of the foreign affairs coverage. It might also make the comments section more vitriolic than usual.

Posted by: Guy at July 13, 2005 07:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hardly vitriol, just a little mild regret.

Good heavens, Greg, what does your ringing statement of principle:

"...whilst keeping in mind that outing covert agents is hugely reprehensible and anyone charged with doing so knowingly should be prosecuted to the full extent the law provides and fired without delay."

have to do with the case? The only source for VP's status as a covert op is Joe Wilson. Let's try to keep in mind that the 9-11 Commission discredited him so thoroughly that even the Kerry campaign had to drop him. Prosecuted and fired without delay? What is that? Verdict first, trial afterwards?

Look. The question of was she/was she not? named is far from Clintonian parsing. It is one thing to say "Wilson's wife, who works for the CIA, recommended him for the job," and something else entirely to say "Wilson's wife, nťe Valerie Plame, is a covert op."
For all we know, not even Novak's WH sources actually named her. Novak could very well have found her name in Wilson's "our_team" bio published by the Turkish lobbying outfit that considers him a strategic advisor. Best of British luck to them.

Posted by: John Van Laer at July 13, 2005 11:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"This will be a tough one to prove (did Rove actually have the requisite formal authorized access to the classified information in question? Did he know that the U.S. was taking "affirmative measures" to conceal Plame's identity?)....."

Is Rove an adult with a resume working at the highest levels of government?

Are the Republicans the party of personal responsibility?

It was encumbent upon Rove to ascertain whether or not Plame was covert.

If he didn't attempt ascertain such before releasing the information then he is still guilty - something along the lines of willful and wanton misconduct (though that is form civil law).

If I dust off my M16 and fire a full 30 round clip to the East - where there is a small housing development about 800 meters out - and a child is hit in the head by one of my rounds and dies while watching cartoons in the den of her parents' home, I most certainly would be tried and convicted of manslaughter.

It doesn't matter that I really didn't mean to shoot anyone, my actions were such that a reasonable person should have known what the consequences could be and would have taken action to prevent them from occurring (eg shooting in a different direction or not shooting at all).

Same goes for Rove, I would say. Of course, I'm no lawyer. However, I'd also say that the preceding is common sense and if you can't - or won't - recognize it as such then you are completely dense and/or morally depraved.

As an aside, it is so interesting to watch the "support our troops" crowd defend someone (or someones) who hung a CIA operative out on a limb and who compromised - possibly onto death - that operative's contacts.

Furthermore, the same crowd loudly trumpets national security as the most important policy issue known to our times, yet they cozy up to scum that ruin an operative working on - oh the irony of it all - nuclear weapons proliferation containment.

BTW, the question of whether or not Plame was covert was settled two years ago. Fact, she was. She also was still operating in the field in covert operations (even though she also had a desk).

Regardless of what the elements of the 101st fighting key boardists commenting here think, CIA operatives are, indeed, troops. They fight for your security and freedom day after day, year after year. They courageously risk their lives. Sometimes they lose their lives. Don't you think your support of the troops should extend to them, too?

Posted by: avedis at July 14, 2005 12:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Novak could very well have found her name in Wilson's "our_team" bio published by the Turkish lobbying outfit that considers him a strategic advisor. Best of British luck to them."

Pretty lame defense.

If Novak could have found out so easily who Wilson's wife is then so could anyone interesting in counter-intelligence.

That is, once Rove had revealed that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a reason to check into Wilson's wife's status as an operative would there? She had a reasonable cover after-all.

Duh.

Did you think that up all on your own? Or does the RNC email you ditto heads this sort of crap?

Posted by: avedis at July 14, 2005 12:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

John said:

"The only source for VP's status as a covert op is Joe Wilson."

How about this?

MSNBC, September 30, 2003:
CIA lawyers answered a series of 11 questions "affirming that the woman's identity was classified, that whoever released it was not authorized to do so and that the news media would not have been able to guess her identity without the leak."

Or this?

Newsday, July 21, 2003:
Intelligence officials confirmed to Newsday Monday that Valerie Plame, wife of retired Ambassador Joseph Wilson, works at the agency on weapons of mass destruction issues in an undercover capacity -- at least she was undercover until last week when she was named by columnist Robert Novak.

....A senior intelligence official confirmed that Plame was a Directorate of Operations undercover officer who worked "alongside" the operations officers who asked her husband to travel to Niger.

How about Larry Johnson?

Valerie Plame was a classmate of mine from the day she started with the CIA. I entered on duty at the CIA in September 1985. All of my classmates were undercover--in other words, we told our family and friends that we were working for other overt U.S. Government agencies. We had official cover. That means we had a black passport--i.e., a diplomatic passport. If we were caught overseas engaged in espionage activity the black passport was a get out of jail free card.

A few of my classmates, and Valerie was one of these, became a non-official cover officer. That meant she agreed to operate overseas without the protection of a diplomatic passport. If caught in that status she would have been executed.

The lies by people like Victoria Toensing, Representative Peter King, and P. J. O'Rourke insist that Valerie was nothing, just a desk jockey. Yet, until Robert Novak betrayed her she was still undercover and the company that was her front was still a secret to the world. When Novak outed Valerie he also compromised her company and every individual overseas who had been in contact with that company and with her.

The Republicans now want to hide behind the legalism that "no laws were broken". I don't know if a man made law was broken but an ethical and moral code was breached. For the first time a group of partisan political operatives publically [sic] identified a CIA NOC. They have set a precendent [sic] that the next group of political hacks may feel free to violate.

And John,

At the end of the day, the fact that he only said "Wilson's wife" and not "Valerie Plame" is a pretty weak card to play - at least from an ethical and moral stand point. Joe Wilson's wife's name wasn't the crucial secret. Her status as a NOC was.

Posted by: Eric Martin at July 14, 2005 12:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

John said:

"The only source for VP's status as a covert op is Joe Wilson."

How about this?

MSNBC, September 30, 2003:
CIA lawyers answered a series of 11 questions "affirming that the woman's identity was classified, that whoever released it was not authorized to do so and that the news media would not have been able to guess her identity without the leak."

Or this?

Newsday, July 21, 2003:
Intelligence officials confirmed to Newsday Monday that Valerie Plame, wife of retired Ambassador Joseph Wilson, works at the agency on weapons of mass destruction issues in an undercover capacity -- at least she was undercover until last week when she was named by columnist Robert Novak.

....A senior intelligence official confirmed that Plame was a Directorate of Operations undercover officer who worked "alongside" the operations officers who asked her husband to travel to Niger.

How about Larry Johnson?

Valerie Plame was a classmate of mine from the day she started with the CIA. I entered on duty at the CIA in September 1985. All of my classmates were undercover--in other words, we told our family and friends that we were working for other overt U.S. Government agencies. We had official cover. That means we had a black passport--i.e., a diplomatic passport. If we were caught overseas engaged in espionage activity the black passport was a get out of jail free card.

A few of my classmates, and Valerie was one of these, became a non-official cover officer. That meant she agreed to operate overseas without the protection of a diplomatic passport. If caught in that status she would have been executed.

The lies by people like Victoria Toensing, Representative Peter King, and P. J. O'Rourke insist that Valerie was nothing, just a desk jockey. Yet, until Robert Novak betrayed her she was still undercover and the company that was her front was still a secret to the world. When Novak outed Valerie he also compromised her company and every individual overseas who had been in contact with that company and with her.

The Republicans now want to hide behind the legalism that "no laws were broken". I don't know if a man made law was broken but an ethical and moral code was breached. For the first time a group of partisan political operatives publically [sic] identified a CIA NOC. They have set a precendent [sic] that the next group of political hacks may feel free to violate.

And John,

At the end of the day, the fact that he only said "Wilson's wife" and not "Valerie Plame" is a pretty weak card to play - at least from an ethical and moral stand point. Joe Wilson's wife's name wasn't the crucial secret. Her status as a NOC was.

Posted by: Eric Martin at July 14, 2005 12:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh crap, pardon the double post....it's Greg's new commenting requirements...homeland security and all that

Posted by: Eric Martin at July 14, 2005 01:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm about Roved out at the moment. I expect this Fitzgerald fellow will wrap up his investigation, and this affair will either proceed into a criminal phase or vanish like light dust in a high wind.

One point, though: Rove is said to have tried to "warn reporters off" Wilson's story with his tales about Plame instigating Wilson's Niger trip. It isn't very likely he did this on his own initiative. Not because he couldn't, if he felt the President's political interests were being threatened -- the point is they really weren't. NSA Rice had already said the famous "16 words" didn't belong in the SotU speech in 2003, and no one has suggested that Bush was involved in the Niger uranium business after the speech.

But Dick Cheney was, at least according to Wilson. My thinking is that Rove, in trying to discredit Wilson, was acting more on Cheney's behalf than Bush's. It's just an interesting commentary on why things happen in this White House. The Niger uranium story was dead, and Rove's actions helped resurrect it two years later. I thought it useful to consider why he would do something so apparently pointless.

Posted by: JEB at July 14, 2005 02:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

According to Mark Kleiman, Rove has clearly violated the Espionage Act:

link

Posted by: Les Brunswick at July 14, 2005 03:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Haven't the headlines gone from (a) "a crime has been committed" to (b) "no crime was committed" to (c) "a crime has been committed", based on the individuals who seem to be in jeopardy?

For those of you keeping score, that was: (a) an unnamed White House source, to (b) Judith Miller and Matt Cooper, to (c) Karl Rove.

I donít think all the cards have been played yet, so why donít we at least wait until the grand jury finishes their work? Letís see what charges the independent prosecutor brings before we all weigh in on Roveís political future and Bushís moral compass.

I realize this is just the kind of thing that keeps the NYT and WaPo selling papers, not to mention the blog revenue flowing, but itís also the type of story that separates the thinking people (on both sides) from the knee-jerk reactionaries (on both sides).

Now Iíll step back and let everyone show their true colorsÖ

Posted by: kevin at July 14, 2005 03:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg....

The law you referenced is, of course, not only relevant law in this case.

Statements predicated on assumptions like "[i]f he is not found to have actually violated the law..." erroneously assume that the only relevant law is the one you cited.

And, its rather pathetic that you hold Joe Wilson to such a high standard of credibility, yet won't call for the impeachment of Bush and the resignation of various people in the Bush administration whose lies, distortions, and "misstatements" make Joe Wilson look like the apotheosis of character, honor, and integrity.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at July 14, 2005 03:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

kevin, maybe it's because a and c are at least the same person or people, while your b folks aren't?

Posted by: just me at July 14, 2005 05:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So being covert means driving from your home in your car to CIA head quarters everyday for years? No wonder the CIA sucks so bad.

Posted by: tracelan at July 14, 2005 05:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

just me -

Well, (a) was originally thought to be Dick Cheney, but if your point is sentiment seems to change about whether a crime has been committed based on the target du jour, I agree.

Posted by: kevin at July 14, 2005 11:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tracelan, do you know what a NOC is? If not, research it.

Posted by: Eric Martin at July 14, 2005 03:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
"Awake"
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
Search
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Columnists
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
Security
Books
The City
Western Europe
France
United Kingdom
Germany
Italy
Netherlands
Spain
Central and Eastern Europe
CIS/FSU
Russia
Armenia
East Asia
China
Japan
South Korea
Middle East
Egypt
Israel
Lebanon
Syria
B.D. In the Press
Archives
Categories
Syndicate this site:
XML RSS RDF

G2E

Powered by