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July 12, 2005
Dafydd: Abbott and Costello Meet "If It's Rove"...

I probably should not assume that everyone is on the same page of the dictionary. But one of the commenters to a previous post of mine, Dafydd: Bride of "If It's Rove"..., raised a definitional point that deserves response.

Attempting to prove that Bush indeed made some sort of "firing pledge," he notes a press conference on June 10, 2004 in Savannah, GA, in which the following exchange occurred:

Q: Given -- given recent developments in the CIA leak case, particularly Vice President Cheney's discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent's name?

THE PRESIDENT: That's up to --

Q: And, and, do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. And that's up to the U.S. Attorney to find the facts.

The first point that leaps out at me is that the last sentence indicates that Bush's "yes" was in fact answering the first question -- whether it would be difficult to find the source -- not the second about some "pledge" that in fact cannot seem to be located. The referrant of the word "that" in Bush's response cannot possibly be the pledge, unless Bush is suggesting that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald should be trying to discover whether any such "firing promise" was made.

The second point is one that also went unnoticed by the commenter: the rather wide divergence between the "pledge" that Bush is said to have made, to "fire anyone found to have" "leaked the agent's name," and what Sen. Reid claimed yesterday that Bush had pledged: "The White House promised that if anyone was involved in the Valerie Plame affair, they would no longer be in this administration, his administration."

Even if such a pledge were made, Reid's statement was still a wild-eyed exaggeration of it.

But there is an even more basic question to be asked: what, exactly, is a "leaker," and would the term apply to Karl Rove?

When used as a transitive verb, certainly as the president might have used it, the meaning of leak is clear: to deliberately divulge information that one knows is confidential. (To do so accidentally is called "being a blabbermouth," or having "loose lips," or "running off at the mouth"... not being a "leaker.")

That is, even if such a pledge were made (to fire anyone found to have "leaked" classified information) it would naturally be restricted to a person who had done so deliberately and with full knowledge that the information was classified.

So we are thrown back to the question I discussed in Dafydd: If It's Rove... Part Deux: is there any evidence at all that Karl Rove was aware that Plame's employment was classified information? The answer to that question is no, there is not. If there were, I trust that it would have been a banner headline, above the fold, on every newspaper in the country. Rather, as Andrea Mitchell and others have admitted (and as I mentioned before), Plame's employment was commonly known around the D.C. cocktail circuit, and that is almost certainly where Rove found out about it -- not from classified sources that he would have had no access to in the first place.

There is thus every reason to suppose not only that Rove did not believe that information to be classified, but further that he was under the impression that reporters already knew it... as indeed they may well have. After all, the focus of Rove's comment was not that she was in the CIA but rather that she, not Cheney or Tenet, was the one who suggested her husband, Joe Wilson, for the trip.

Rove, therefore, did not "leak" this information to Matthew Cooper, Judith Miller, or any other reporter; and even if Bush had made a pledge to fire anyone found to have deliberately leaked Plame's identity, it would not apply in this case.

But my wife Sachi just raised the more intriguing question: given all that has come out to date, the general waiver Rove signed, the specific waiver he gave Cooper, and the revelation of Cooper's e-mail by his employer... why is Judith Miller still sitting in the pen? Why hasn't she sung? Aside from the simple possibility of churlish stubbornness, there are only two answers that I can see, one extraordinarily unlikely:

Speculation alert!

1) (The unlikely one) If Karl Rove said to Miller, "now Judy, this is classified information because Plame is an undercover agent, but I'm going to tell you so you can help us take revenge on Joe Wilson;" then Miller might conclude that Rove's waiver to Cooper wouldn't cover all this extra information. This is almost too silly even to bring up... except that if I don't, somebody will post the suggestion in the comments and accuse me of covering it up. Consider this a pre-emptive strike.

2) (Much more likely) Judith Miller may in fact be sitting on two sources. Perhaps she got the same information from Rove that Cooper got. But suppose she decided to nail down whether Plame really did work for the CIA.

Miller might have a contact actually inside the Company who she called to confirm the claim; and that contact may have "authorized access" to the CIA personnel files. He or she may have consulted those files and verified to Miller that yes, indeed, Valerie Plame was an agent. And therefore, that contact may actually be a "covered person" under U.S. Code Section 421. Protection of identities of certain United States undercover intelligence officers, agents, informants, and sources.

If that is the case, then she really would be shielding her (other) source from likely discharge, indictment, conviction, and prison time, especially in a case as highly charged politically as this... and especially especially after the Democrats have repeatedly claimed (without evidence) that Bush "promised" or "pledged" to "fire anyone found to have" "leaked the agent's name."

If my speculation is correct, we will never know, alas; because Miller will take that information into and out of the country-club jail she now calls home.

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Posted by Dafydd at July 12, 2005 5:25 PM

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