The sell off on Wall Street yesterday afternoon, coming on the heels of Time magazine's Matt Cooper statement that he now has a clearance from his source in the Valerie Plame case that first surfaced two years ago, has led me to see that there is much more to the story than I'd believed all along. The national press is still sitting on its hands, following the lead of the NYTimes and decrying the jailing of Judith Miller, its reporter who has refused to reveal her source on the Plame story, even though she never wrote one. I've always wondered why the federal courts would make such a big deal out of Ms. Plame's name being mentioned in Bob Novak`s column of July 6, 2003. Yes, it`s a crime to reveal the name of a CIA "covert agent," but Novak had been told she was an "operative," and he innocently threw her name into a column that was about her husband, not her. Having stretched on for two years, it has seemed a relative tempest in a teapot.
Now it is clearly more than that, enough to have an internet buzz discussing the possibility of a federal indictment of Karl Rove that could follow Cooper`s coming testimony before a grand jury. Lawrence O'Donnell, who broke the story on last weekend`s NBC`s "McLaughlin Group" that Rove was Cooper's source, writes today on Ariana Huffington's blogsite, huffingtonpost.com, The One Very Good Reason Karl Rove Might Be Indicted." The headline is shocking in itself, coming from O`Donnell, a respected journalist who is MSNBC's chief political correspondent and a man I`ve known since he served as chief of staff to the late Sen. Pat Moynihan in the 1980s.
In his commentary today, the "one good reason" he cites involves eight blank pages in a February decision by Circuit Court Judge David Tetel who joined his colleagues in ordering Cooper and Miller to reveal their sources. Tetel 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," uranium oxide, from Niger, clear proof that he was still attempting to reconstitute a nuclear arsenal. The documents were subsequently shown to have been forged and Joseph Wilson, ambassador to Niger in the Clinton years, publicly complained that he had been sent to Niger by the CIA to check out the story and had reported back that there was nothing to it, well before President Bush spoke of it as authentic evidence we had received from British intelligence.
It was against this background, when it appeared the Iraq war was a great success with "Mission Accomplished," that Bob Novak, one of my best friends in political Washington, wrote his July 6, 2003, column revealing the CIA`s Plame as the person who suggested her husband, Joseph Wilson, as the right man to look into allegations. The protests began immediately from Wilson, with Novak refusing to name the "two sources" he`d had, but insisting only that Rove was not one of them. Rove did complicate matters by calling Chris Matthews, host of "Hardball," telling him that Plame was "fair game." But until now the possibility of loopholes in the story have seemed of little importance.
This is only a small cloud on official Washington, but even the small possibility that an unraveling of the story could threaten the President is enough to knock 100 points off the DJIA. 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 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.
All we can do now is await Cooper's testimony to see where it leads and hope, for the country`s sake, that it fizzles out well before it gets to the White House.