Michael Isikoff is reporting on the Plame leak and fingering Karl Rove as the source, and it is an interesting read to say the least. Not only does there not seem to be any evidence of an organized effort to “out” Plame, there seems to be little evidence that is contrary to what Rove has said on CNN and before a grand jury.
In fact, the evidence reads like very typical Washington insider politics. Rove appears to be sending Time's Matt Cooper e-mails as a means of establishing facts that were not included in an op-ed piece by Plame's husband Joseph Wilson.
In a brief conversation with Rove, Cooper asked what to make of the flap over Wilson's criticisms. NEWSWEEK obtained a copy of the e-mail that Cooper sent his bureau chief after speaking to Rove. (The e-mail was authenticated by a source intimately familiar with Time's editorial handling of the Wilson story, but who has asked not to be identified because of the magazine's corporate decision not to disclose its contents.) Cooper wrote that Rove offered him a "big warning" not to "get too far out on Wilson." Rove told Cooper that Wilson's trip had not been authorized by "DCIA"—CIA Director George Tenet—or Vice President Dick Cheney. Rather, "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip."
Wilson's story did ultimately turn out to be either badly researched or willfully inaccurate, and ended up just another embarrassing moment for the MSM. Rove's e-mails to Cooper reflect a government official warning a journalist that he should not put much stock in a story, and supplying background to warrant that caution. That the trip was not authorized by the DCIA or the Vice President would qualify as important in that it casts suspicion on the claim by Wilson that he had been sent to Niger by the CIA.
Power Line has the matter of legality outlined based on the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, and concludes:
It is doubtful whether Rove or any other administration source knew of Plame's affiliation with the CIA through access to classified materials; it is further questionable whether Rove or any other source knew that she was a "covert" employee, or that the government was making an effort to keep her affiliation with the Agency a secret. (In fact, it is unclear whether the Agency did make such an effort.) As to the third situation covered by the statute, neither Rove nor any other administration source identified Plame as part of a "pattern of activities intended to identify or expose covert agents" for the purpose of impairing national security.
It is further noted by Scott Johnson that Plame's role as a CIA analyst was far from a secret in D.C., and that Andrea Mitchell said as much on MSNBC.
Isikoff makes note of the fact that Rove's actions do not fit the criteria for illegality right in his story, but proceeds with the always available “but.”
Nothing in the Cooper e-mail suggests that Rove used Plame's name or knew she was a covert operative. Nonetheless, it is significant that Rove was speaking to Cooper before Novak's column appeared; in other words, before Plame's identity had been published. Fitzgerald has been looking for evidence that Rove spoke to other reporters as well. "Karl Rove has shared with Fitzgerald all the information he has about any potentially relevant contacts he has had with any reporters, including Matt Cooper," Luskin told NEWSWEEK.
In other words, Rove may have been providing the same background details to many D.C. reporters. Again, I'm not sure what the problem is here. The information Rove provided was resource material, designed to show that the Wilson op-ed was suspect. If he touched base with Cooper it is reasonable to assume that he touched base with other journalists as well, to provide the same, accurate, background.
A source close to Rove summarizes the situation the information was provided and Rove's handling of it in the wake of this "scandal" in the Isikoff piece.
"A fair reading of the e-mail makes clear that the information conveyed was not part of an organized effort to disclose Plame's identity, but was an effort to discourage Time from publishing things that turned out to be false," the source said, referring to claims in circulation at the time that Cheney and high-level CIA officials arranged for Wilson's trip to Africa.
The Rove-leaked-Plame investigation appears to be heading into “fishing expedition” territory, in which Fitzgerald will attempt to determine if Rove actually used Plame's name in any of his information sharing, and whether he indicated any knowledge as to an intentional effort to “out” her, or was aware of any “covert” status attached to her position.
Right now there is little to suggest that.
UPDATE: Oxen points out a column from February noting the decided lack of illegality regarding the Plame matter, and even Wonkette is proclaiming "Rove is Innocent."
Also posting: Kerfuffles, Captain's Quarters