TPM Editors Blog

That's odd.

Today's Times says that John Bolton did not disclose having given testimony before the Plame grand jury in the forms he had to fill out for his confirmation hearings. They took that to mean he hadn't been called.

But on Hardball yesterday David Shuster said Bolton did testify.

Who's right and who's wrong? Or are both right, and Bolton simply failed to disclose it?

We're discussing this here.

Ever wonder why George Tenet's July 11, 2003 mea culpa about the Niger uranium snafu seemed so protective of the White House?

Maybe that was because it was written by Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

Unless I'm mistaken this is one of several interesting (if not that surprising) tidbits in the Friday Times article on the Plame investigation. Says the Times ...

"Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby Jr., were helping to prepare what became the administration's primary response to criticism that a flawed phrase about the nuclear materials in Africa had been included 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 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 Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, who was in turn consulting with Mr. Tenet."

This tells us a few things.

One, the seamless (or perhaps 'seamy', take your pick) integration of the political and national security staffs at the White House in organizing the push back against Joe <$NoAd$> Wilson and the controversy he'd ignited about the White House's use of phoney intelligence about an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.

Read the whole article and you'll see that these two were working together on this with a number of top White House officials.

Two, these were the two men who we know had conversations with reporters about Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame. And it would seem that in the days leading up to the leak they were involved in active and detailed collaboration and/or dialog with Director Tenet about the Niger matter and the origins of Wilson's trip.

Another piece of the puzzle is suggested by a new article out from Bloomberg, which says that Rove's and Libby's testimony before the grand jury conflicts with testimony from the reporters whom they spoke to. Specifically, Libby reportedly told the grand jury that he heard of Plame's identity from Tim Russert. But Russert told the grand jury that that's not so.

Now, I know we've got a few balls in the air already. But let me note one other point.

A few days ago a former high-level administration official who was on Air Force One going to Africa with the president (and think for a moment how many now-former administration officials were on that flight in a position to vouch for this fact) told Bloomberg News that he saw Ari Fleischer "perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife."

So Perhaps Libby and Rove found out about Plame from Fleischer, who would have been calling back to the White House. Or perhaps they got it from their research and authorship of the Tenet mea culpa. It seems quite conceiveable that they got it from both directions. Remember, Libby would have had no shortage of access to former CIA officers and CIA personnel on loan to the administration who could have given him more backstory on Plame. The two channels might even help explain the two versions of her name that were in circulation.

In any case, there was no shortage of channels through which they might have gotten the information. But each, it seems, in his grand jury testimony, has claimed he learned the information from journalists -- even though the journalists disagree.

Over at TNR, Noam Scheiber mulls one of the big questions. Who's slimier, Duke or Tom DeLay?

A TPM Reader suggests an idea ...

Is it worth asking readers to report in as to whether or not their Congress member or Senator has commented on the outing of a CIA operative? I think it is important to not let these reps hide in the weeds as their spiritual leader is roasting.

I spoke with my rep's office (Judy Biggert IL-13, who by the way has not responded to my numerous requests re: Tom Delay. 9 months & counting), and they couldn't direct me to any statements on her website.

So maybe no one's asked the question? I'm going to call local papers and see if anyone has asked.

Good idea. What has your rep or senator <$NoAd$> said?

John Bolton, Frank Gaffney and other Black Helicopter Republicans. Prepare to laugh, then click here.

Gaffney says Bolton needs to be confirmed immediately to help fend off UN attempts to institute world government and prevent new taxes imposed on Americans by the UN.

As you know, here at TPM we've been reporting on the 2002 New Hampshire phone-jamming case for going on three years. There have now been a couple of guilty pleas. The former executive director of the state GOP is in prison. And, as we were the first to report, Jim Tobin, the former Northeast political director of the NRSC who orchestrated the scam, is now awaiting trial.

Now, in 2002 the NRSC (the National Republican Senatorial Committee) was run by Sen. Frist. Tobin worked for Frist. And Tobin is now under indictment for criminal conspiracy and election tampering for what he did while working as Frist's regional political director for the Northeast.

Not surprisingly, Republicans have tried to distance themselves from Tobin's action, implying that, if guilty, Tobin's scheme was no more than one man's rogue operation. Frist has basically managed to avoid answering any questions about it for two years.

But now comes word that Tobin's legal bills may be being paid by the RNC.

Today's Manchester Union Leader -- not exactly a liberal sheet -- reports that recently filed court documents show that one of Tobin's attorneys was representing him "in his capacity as an employee of the Republican National Committee."

Tobin's attorneys come from Williams & Connolly (a high profile DC firm that represents many in both parties). And the latest RNC disclosure filings show half a million dollars paid to W&C for "legal services."

The money to W&C means little in itself. They probably do various stuff for the RNC.

But most telling, the RNC refused to answer the Union Leader's questions about whether they were paying for Tobin's defense.

Remember, Tobin is under indictment for tampering with a federal election. Two of his alleged co-conspirators have already pled guilty and received jail sentences. Why would the RNC be footing the bill for his defense? And if they're not, why won't they say so?

Thoughts? We've got a discussion thread going on this over at TPMCafe.

You've probably seen reports now of a new round of bombings and evacuations in the London transportion system.

Before saying more, thankfully, these appear to be far less deadly, at a minimum, than those of two weeks ago.

But I'm not sure I remember seeing coverage of breaking news that was odder or more obscure. London authorities appear to be referring to these as 'incidents' and the bombs themselves are being referred to as 'minor' or 'small', almost as if they weren't large enough to do any serious damage.

The Post now has a piece in which they are calling them "attempted explosions" or 'small bombs'. They note BBC radio reporting that "detonators had exploded but not large-scale explosives."

The noose tightens.

Our topic again <$NoAd$> is that classified State Department memo, the one that contained a brief mention of Valerie Plame's relationship to Joe Wilson and which may have been the conduit through which White House officials learned about the connection.

A couple days ago the Journal published an article that revealed that the memo made clear that the information contained in it was sensitive and should not be divulged.

In tomorrow's Post, Walter Pincus provides the specifics.

A classified State Department memorandum central to a federal leak investigation contained information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked "(S)" for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified, according to current and former government officials.

...

The paragraph identifying her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV was clearly marked to show that it contained classified material at the "secret" level, two sources said. The CIA classifies as "secret" the names of officers whose identities are covert, according to former senior agency officials.

Anyone reading that paragraph should have been aware that it contained secret information, though that designation was not specifically attached to Plame's name and did not describe her status as covert, the sources said.

What does that mean? First of all, I think this is pretty much what we'd expect in such a memo that contained that sort of information. What this does is knock out one more basis for a defense based on ignorance. Whoever saw this memo knew that the information was not to be revealed.

I found this entry in the Reader Blogs section at TPMCafe. It suggests that Condi Rice might have been in the mix on the tar Joe Wilson with info about his wife plan too. What the reader comes up with is at best suggestive -- working from briefing transcripts. And it certainly doesn't prove anything. But I think he may be on to something. Take a look and let us know what you think.

When I first started thinking about and planning TPMCafe, one of the things I wanted to do was to be able to set up limited duration blogs to cover particular events -- sort of like we did with our Bankruptcy Bill blog. Now, in time for all the fun, we've just launched our Supreme Court Watch blog. The posts will also be cross-posted to the site's front page since this will be a regular topic of conversation with our regulars over the coming weeks. So you'll be able to read it there too.

We'll be adding a few more names to the list over the coming days. But we launched overnight with Professors Jack Balkin and Robert Gordon of Yale and Professor Peter Rubin of Georgetown. Rubin is also a founder of the American Constitution Society, whose staff we've worked with in assembling our group. Take a moment to check out their site and their organization blog. ACS, as we discussed a couple months ago, has set out to become a progressive counterweight to the highly influential Federalist Society on the right.

Robert Gordon put up his first post yesterday evening, giving an overview of the Roberts nomination here. We're also going to be adding a Supreme Court selection discussion table later this afternoon.

Today a group of 11 former intelligence officers delivered a letter to the Republican and Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate on the Plame case. See it here.

AP says it's John C. Roberts.

If Murray Waas's sources are right, Karl Rove is in a ton of trouble, even if he did nothing more than we know already. According to his sources, Rove didn't 'fess up about the conversation with Matt Cooper when he was first interviewed by the FBI in 2003.

Yes, yes, yes, I know. In a couple hours we'll know who the president's Supreme Court nominee is. Dobson will come charging down from his hillock. SpongeBob will run for the hills. And all hell will likely break loose.

But don't miss the piece in today's Wall Street Journal (available to non-subscribers) which adds a bit of new information. That classified State Dept. memo, which was probably the ultimate source of the Plame leak, "made clear that information identifying an agent and her role in her husband's intelligence-gathering mission was sensitive and shouldn't be shared."

We don't know enough details yet to know precisely how that piece fits into the puzzle. But it likely makes a defense based on ignorance much more difficult for someone.

As I just wrote over at TPMCafe, the one thing I've read about Edith Clement on abortion rights is a reference to her writing that Roe is settled law. If that's even close to an accurate representation of her views, that would mean war between the White House and the religious right. Something here doesn't fit. We're discussing in this thread at TPMCafe.

Late Update: Late idle speculation seems now to point away from Clement and toward Judge Edith Jones. No matter how baseless the speculation, you know where to go to discuss it!

Over the last few days I've done several <$NoAd$>posts on how that classified State Department memo in the Plame case made its way through the State Department and then to then-Secy. Powell on the president's trip to Africa. Last night I got an email from a longtime reader who is a retired US ambassador, a career foreign service officer and Asia specialist ...

Josh, in your posting on talking points, you asked about the briefing books for Presidential trips. For your background info:

The State Department is responsible for preparing the briefing books for the President. The NSC often boils the big briefing books (very thick, usually one or two volumes) down into more concise memos and talking points for the President.

The Secretary of State has additional briefing books that consist of memos for any meetings that are his/her own and separate from the President.

In addition, the Secretary's staff often puts together an informal collection of materials for the Secretary to read while on the plane.

As you noted, on July 6 Rich Armitage asked Carl Ford to send a copy of the June INR memo to Powell. I read that the original memo in June was from INR to Marc Grossman. The way State works, someone on the 7th floor could have made a copy of the June memo for Armitage, or Grossman could have brought it to Armitage's attention. That's how he learned about it, and when he read Joe's op-ed on that July Sunday, he immediately remembered about it and called Ford and said to send Powell a copy.

The question is, did that memo end up in the President's briefing book, the Secretary's briefing book, or the Secretary's pile of reading material?

It doesn't really matter. When you're on Air Force One, you are in a confined space. If someone -- anyone -- read that memo, they could have walked 10 feet and shared it with anyone else. All the bureaucratic boundaries of Washington break down when you're in one of those situations. You're all together. Bloomberg said that Ari Fleischer was seen reading it. Plus according to other accounts, he started telling reporters on board that they should ask about how it was that Wilson got to go on the trip. Plus we know that Ari made phone calls from the plane -- they could have been to Rove, Libby, Novak, or whoever, to alert them to what he had just read. When Rove says "I never read anything/saw any memo," he could very well be right. But someone should have asked him, "did you hear about the memo? Did someone describe its contents to you?"

There is another way that Rove could have heard about Valerie Plame, and that is via Scooter Libby. I haven't seen anyone suggest this route, but we all know that Scooter and Cheney were deep into the intelligence. They went out to the Agency to meet with the analysts (and allegedly harrassed them). I am sure that Scooter participated in meetings in the White House/EOB where CIA analysts on WMD and Iraq were present. As we know, Valerie was one such analyst. Is it not possible that Scooter had met her on one or more occasions before Joe Wilson started going public? Since she's a looker, he certainly would have remembered her face and name. And then, once Joe writes his op-ed, Scooter realizes the connection between Valerie and Joe, or he asks around and quickly finds out. He then informs Rove. This is all speculation on my part. Joe would know whether Valerie had met Scooter before.

The third possibility is Bolton or his staff. (Remember that his chief of staff was from the CIA.) Again, Bolton was deeply into the intelligence on Iraq and WMD. When INR sent the memo to Grossman in June, Bolton's office no doubt got a copy of it, given the way the Department works. Given the neo-con circle in the Administration, it would not have taken long for Bolton to tip off Libby to the Wilson-Plame-CIA connection.

(ed.note: Later he added the following.)

As I reread my email, my guess is that the INR memo to Powell would have been put in his reading folder and not in the president's briefing book -- that's because the briefing books are usually printed up one week in advance, so if the memo was sent on July 6 or whatever, and they were flying to africa the next day or so, it would have been too late to put it in the official briefing book.

Is it peculiarly tragic or perhaps not-so-peculiarly tragic that Christopher Hitchens ends up an apologist for, among others, Karl Rove, latter-day practitioner of the peculiarly Southern version of smash-and-trash politics honed by his mentor Lee Atwater and other such worthies? I'm not sure if Tom Watson or Orestes Brownson is the best precursor for the arc. But let me focus in on one of his points in his piece today in Slate carrying water as noted above.

Here he claims among other things that Iraq really was interested in getting its hands on Nigerien uranium.

That's based on? Well, the British Butler Report of course, notwithstanding the fact that the Butler Report doesn't exactly say that or the fact that the Butler Report itself can be shown without great difficulty to be intentionally misleading about the British reliance on those same forgeries to come up with their claim about an Iraq-Niger connection.

He even throws in the spoon-fed bit of disinformation that appeared in the Financial Times back in June 2004. This was the story about the shadowy gang of central African uranium smugglers who'd conspired to sell uranium to more or less every rogue state in the world.

But why mess with preliminaries? The Iraq Survey Group more or less owned Iraq for more than a year, had access to all the evidence leading up the war, all the evidence in Iraq, all the scientists arrested by the US military, everything we've learned since the war. And, as Ivo Daalder pointed out a few days back, the ISG concluded that Saddam's regime had not sought uranium either at home or abroad since 1991, period.

What else is there to say?

This point is admittedly very deep in the weeds. But if you're playing the Rove/Plame/Niger sleuth game like many of the rest of us, it's a significant point.

Much now turns, you'll remember, on this classified State Department memo, which seems likely to have been the source of the information about Joe Wilson and his wife that was circulating between reporters and White House staffers in early July 2003.

A couple days ago the Times reported that "the memorandum was dated June 10, 2003." That squares with what we know about the administration's concerns (or 'interest' if you're the gullible type) dating more than a month before his Times oped.

Today, however, Bloomberg reports that it was "prepared by the State Department on July 7, 2003."

Big difference.

Now, I guess you could say that a document needn't be prepared at the time it was dated. But had the memo been backdated a month I assume we'd have heard about this already, since that would be pretty big news in itself.

Bloomberg follows up with these grafs ...

On the same day the memo was prepared, White House phone logs show Novak placed a call to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, according to lawyers familiar with the case and a witness who has testified before the grand jury. Those people say it is not clear whether Fleischer returned the call, and Fleischer has refused to comment.

The Novak call may loom large in the investigation because Fleischer was among a group of administration officials who left Washington later that day on a presidential trip to Africa. On the flight to Africa, Fleischer was seen perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife, according to a former administration official who was also on the trip.

At first I assumed that the discrepancy was simply the result of an editorial error from the Times or Bloomberg. But as you can see, both articles hang a significant theory of the case on the date. So it seems unlikely that June has simply been transposed for July, or vice versa.

The answer comes down deep in the Bloomberg article ...

The July 7 memo was largely a reproduction of an earlier State Department report prepared around June 12. Another key question that Fitzgerald is interested in, according to the grand jury witness and the lawyers familiar with the case, is whether Rove or Libby learned of this earlier report and, if so, shared its content with reporters.

Now, presumably, this second version of the memo is what is referenced in this portion of the article in the Times ...

When Mr. Wilson's Op-Ed article appeared on July 6, 2003, a Sunday, Richard L. Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, called Carl W. Ford Jr., the assistant secretary for intelligence and research, at home, a former State Department official said. Mr. Armitage asked Mr. Ford to send a copy of the memorandum to Mr. Powell, who was preparing to leave for Africa with Mr. Bush, the former official said. Mr. Ford sent it to the White House for transmission to Mr. Powell.

I suppose this is where I venture some theory as to what it all means. But I'm not sure what it does mean. Let me add a few more details though and ask a couple questions.

The Bloomberg article says that Novak put in a call to Ari Fleischer on the same day (July 7th) the second memo was prepared at the State Department, and that Fleischer did see the second memo.

My question is about the point in the Times graf above about Carl Ford. And it's not a rhetorical question. Does an assistant secretary of State send a document to the White House if he's trying to send it to the Secretary? Even if the Secretary is about to leave on a foreign trip with the president? Perhaps that's how it would be done. I don't know.

Secondly, where at State did the first memo originate? Bloomberg seems clear that the second memo was prepared at INR, State's in-house intel bureau. But they're less clear on whether the first one came from there.

It's certainly possible that the difference between these two memos is little more than the difference between xeroxing it or slapping another date at the top. But as long as we're all blind men feeling one part of the elephant, let's try to cover as much of the animal as possible.

Gaggle follow-up to-do list.

A few points that might do with clarifying. Under the president's new policy, is an indictment sufficient for dismissal, or conviction necessary? Assuming conviction is necessary, can staff continue to serve while the case is taken up on appeal?

Late Update: We're discussing possible interpretations of the president's new rule here.

A friend raises the interesting point about whether there's a grandfather clause on the president's new no-felons-employed here rule. If you committed a crime during Iran-Contra, can you work in this administration? Or does the rule -- presumably -- only apply to felonies commited in the course of employment.

I really want to recommend Kevin Drum's post today on what was behind the White House's war on Joe Wilson.

A TPM Reader's lament ...

On NPR this morning, Juan Williams engaged in his usual brand of incompetent journalism and spouted two Republican Party talking points. (1) He stated twice that violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 requires the disclosure of the actual name of the covert agent, and that Rove did not reveal Plame's name. (2) He stated that Rove was not a "target" of the investigation without disclosing that Rove is likely a "subject" of the investigation and without explaining the technical meaning of the term "target," so that someone without much knowledge of the situation might assume that prosecutors have no interest in Rove. Standard Juan Williams.

Creeping Foxification ...

There's a headline the White House must just love. Right now on MSNBC front page: "Subtle Shift: Bush appears to narrow criteria for firing in CIA leak case."

'Bush Breaks Pledge' would have been pithier. But I guess it's progress.

Late Update: Fox News tries to help out, calls it a 'reiteration'.

Bush sets high new standard: no felons on White House staff.

Is Robert 'GB' Luskin, Karl Rove's attorney, possibly the worst lawyer in Washington?

I had to leave for the day today just as the key morning shows were getting started. But I caught a bit of the Russert/Cooper interview, in which Russert pressed Cooper on whether he'd really gotten a clear release from Rove or whether he'd somehow let himself off easy in agreeing to testify.

In making that point Russert referred to this passage in an article in yesterday's Post ...

Luskin has said that he merely reaffirmed the blanket waiver by Rove, who is the president's deputy chief of staff, and that the assurance would have been available at any time. He said that Cooper's description of last-minute theatrics "does not look so good" and that "it just looks to me like there was less a desire to protect a source."

For all I know, Luskin may <$Ad$> be right in his appraisal of Cooper's actions and motives. (I said a couple days ago that Luskin's inept public lawyering may have given Cooper the out he was looking for.) But how precisely does this help his client?

Luskin's point here is that Cooper burned his source to avoid jail.

But accusing him now of burning his source simply telegraphs what we suggested a few days ago -- that he and his client wanted Cooper to keep his mouth shut notwithstanding Luskin's voluble public claims that they were happy to have him talk.

Before Cooper sang, holding him to his commitment may have made sense. But since he has, Luskin might at least reap whatever benefit there might be of claiming he had nothing to hide or asked Cooper to come forward. But Luskin, having goofed into giving Cooper an out, now seems intent on letting everybody know that Rove did so unwillingly.

Perfect.

Just when everyone seemed about to get bogged down in the rain forest of minutiae, batting down lies like flies, here come two articles with an aerial view of the case, putting all into perspective.

First is Frank Rich's Sunday New York Times OpEd. As Rich says, this isn't about Valerie Plame or Joe Wilson or even Karl Rove. It's not about exposing a CIA agent. That's merely the tear in the fabric, the third-rate burglary, if you will. This is about a president who knowingly took his country to war on the basis of lies and the war on the homefront against anyone and everyone who's tried to peel back the lies and expose the truth.

Second is an oddly parallel story in the Washington Post by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen. Here's the macro view of the Wilson story, both before his name became a household word and long into the criminal investigation itself. As we've long suspected, Dick Cheney's office became concerned about Joe Wilson a couple months before he went public on July 6th, 2003. From there forward you can see the coordinated campaign to destroy him as a critic, with the release of information about his wife's identity just one part of the effort. Read the Post piece and it puts the whole matter into some clarifying perspective. (Also see this Oct. 12, 2003 article, which covers some of the same ground in greater detail.)

Later of course this must come to folks like Sen. Roberts (R) and others who covered up and bamboozled on the president's behalf, those the president and his inner circle suborned.

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