Imagine Karl Rove, tied to a serious crime, working with his defense lawyer. Who do you think would give more advice? Ronald Luskin, the lawyer, counseling Rove on how to avoid jail time? Or Rove, the political strategist, advising his own and other lawyers on how to game public perception of a possible prosecution?
I think, in the case of Michael Isikoff's presumed smoking gun article, it's the latter. Indeed, while everyone seems thrilled that Isikoff and Lawrence O'Donnell have fingered Rove, I'm more skeptical after reading Isikoff's article.
There are numerous reasons to doubt that Rove's guilty of anything more than perjury (though don't get me wrong, I'd take a perjury conviction happily!) There's the obvious reason that Rove would never have had a need to know Plame's identity, and therefore couldn't be found guilty under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which only applies to those with authorized access to the agent's identity. There's not a really plausible reason why Rove would have had authorized access.
And David Corn points out the gaming that Rove's lawyer seems to be doing in the Isikoff article:
Rove's lawyer stated that Rove did not "knowingly" disclose classified information. Does this mean he "unknowingly" revealed such information? The distinction is important because the Intelligence Identities Protection Act essentially says that for a crime to have been committed the offender must have realized that he or she was disclosing top-secret information. (Otherwise someone could be prosecuted for making an honest mistake.) True, Rove's mouthpiece also said that Rove "did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." But his use of the word "knowingly" can be read by those wishing to see Rove frog-marching as the start of a criminal defense strategy.
It's quite possible that Rove leaked the Plame information without knowing the gravity of the leak. If he didn't lie to the Grand Jury about doing so, then he's in the clear.
But I'm skeptical that it's Rove because of the other gaming that seems to be going on in Isikoff's article.
This is a pretty big scoop, being the first to report the contents of Cooper's notes on the Plame prosecution. But Isikoff doesn't get any information from Time or Cooper.
Cooper and a Time spokeswoman declined to comment.
Rather, he depends on Rove's lawyer Luskin and two other lawyers representing "witnesses sympathetic to the White House."
The e-mails surrendered by Time Inc., which are largely between Cooper and his editors, show that one of Cooper's sources was White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to two lawyers who asked not to be identified because they are representing witnesses sympathetic to the White House. (emphasis mine)
Besides the delicious irony of a Plame article largely relying on two White House-related sources, speaking anonymously, this sourcing really raises questions about the emphasis of the article. After all, is there any conceivable reason why lawyers who presumably have the White House's best interests in mind would leak information that seemingly damns Karl Rove?
But one of the two lawyers representing a witness sympathetic to the White House told NEWSWEEK that there was growing "concern" in the White House that the prosecutor is interested in Rove.
I can think of two plausible scenarios to explain why a lawyer would leak this information. While this anonymous lawyer is representing someone "sympathetic to the White House" (and what a curious description--hell, maybe even Cooper is considered "sympathetic" to the White House by his lawyer Ted Olson! And there's no reason why one of the anonymous lawyers couldn't be Luskin, going off the record to seed a story), this person may not be sympathetic to Karl Rove. That's possible, certainly. But I doubt it. Rove is too integral to the White House.
Alternately, there's the possibility that Karl Rove is under no real threat of prosecution (probably for the reasons Corn describes), and they're using Rove as a red herring, at least in the court of public opinion. Perhaps the lawyers are leaking--with Rove's full knowledge--in an attempt to shift all focus away from some other target.
Finally, consider the reporter. Isikoff has only recently been put through the White House wringer. That doesn't necessarily reflect on this story--perhaps Newsweek just felt like Isikoff deserved this scoop. Or perhaps the White House sought Isikoff out, believing him to be well-chastened. But there's enough baggage there that I'm suspicious of the article in general.
In any case, Isikoff's story reads like the product of yet another well-designed media campaign. Perhaps the White House knew right where to go for a poorly-sourced story.