Summary: In this post, I argue that Murray Waas' latest argument is not, as some suspect, a rehashed Rove leak. Rather, it comes very close to asserting that Libby had leaked a different smear story to Bob Novak at about the time of the Wilson leak. This suggests, I argue, that it is very likely that Novak's first leak came from OVP, if not from Libby himself.
Well, Typepad's long downtime today has prevented me from commenting on the new Waas piece in a timely manner. But it means I get to comment on it with the benefit of reading others' opinions on the piece. I've got to say though, I disagree with the opinion of many that this is a story floated by the Rove camp to try to exonerate him. Rather than pointing toward a Rove excuse, I think Waas almost--but not quite--has a story sewn up that points very clearly at OVP. The degree to which this exonerates Rove is just secondary. Indeed, I think Waas' aricle clearly suggests that the remaining mysteries all point to Cheney's office.
Waas spends a good deal of time explaining that Novak called Rove on July 9 to talk about Frances Fragos Townsend, not to talk about Plame.
Instead, the voluminous material on Rove's desk -- including talking points, related briefing materials, and information culled from confidential government personnel files -- involved a different woman: Frances Fragos Townsend, a former senior attorney in the Clinton administration's Justice Department whom President Bush had recently named to be his deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism.
Bush had personally assigned Rove to help counter what the president believed to be a "rearguard" effort within his own administration, by persons unknown, to discredit Townsend and derail her appointment, according to White House documents and accounts given by former and current officials.
The background story is what points to OVP. Rove (at Bush's bidding) was at odds with OVP on the Townsend nomination. OVP had launched a campaign to oppose her nomination, going to the same effort to dig up dirt on her as they had with Wilson.
The senior staff in the Office of the Vice President adamantly opposed Townsend's appointment. The staff included two of Cheney's closest aides: Libby, then the chief of staff and national security adviser to the vice president; and David Addington, who at the time was Cheney's counsel but who has since succeeded Libby as chief of staff.
Libby's opposition to Townsend was so intense that he asked at least two other people in the White House to obtain her personnel records. These records showed that she had been turned down for two lesser positions in the Bush administration because of her political leanings, according to accounts provided by current and former administration officials. Libby also spoke about leaking the material to journalists or key staffers or members on Capitol Hill, to possibly undercut Townsend, according to the same accounts.
Now here's the bit that Waas does not quite assert--but he hints at it pretty darn strongly. Something set Novak off on the Townsend nomination. He was obviously not just digging that out on his own. What Waas shows is that Libby was doing that background work--getting Townsend's personnel files. And Waas shows that Libby was also talking about leaking this material to journalists. What Waas doesn't say (I suspect he doesn't have it confirmed) but I will say (because I'm a blogger and can speculate at will) is that Novak was onto this story because Libby leaked the information about Townsend. Libby, Waas hints, is the "person unknown" engaged in the rearguard action to discredt Townsend.
Now consider what that means for the Plame Affair. If Libby is the one who leaked the Townsend material to Novak, it means he had a conversation with Novak in the days preceding the Wilson op-ed. A conversation we've never heard about, one that doesn't show up in Libby's indictment. But one, I have suggested, that Libby seems to have wanted to make sure Judy didn't mention in her testimony.
And not only does this suggest Libby and Novak may have had a chat around the time of the Wilson op-ed. But it suggests that Libby was very persuasive. It suggests that Novak was either genuinely convinced or concerned about Townsend (which I'd happily believe). Or that he was more interested in buying Libby's spin than buying Rove's. The degree to which Novak bought OVP's leak on the Townsend story really gives lie to the notion that Novak, the paleocon, wouldn't be a natural leak target for Libby, the neocon. It also suggests that claims that someone like Armitage was in bed with Novak--or that Rove would be a natural source for Novak but not Cheney's office--might need to be reconsidered. If Waas' implication is correct, we know that Novak was a leak target for OVP, if not Libby. And that he accepted their leak, if for no other reason than out of concern for partisan purity. The same kind of concern for partisan purity that--Novak has said--motivated him to write the Wilson story.
Now, just after Libby's indictment, Novak was asked if he would come forward with his story (I'm looking for a link). He said something to the effect that, "Fitzgerald wanted him to wait for one more thing." I've always assumed that meant he wanted him to wait for the Rove indictment. But Waas' story suggests that Novak might still have the goods on his first leaker, before he spoke to Rove, and that Fitzgerald is still working on that side of the story. And that that leaker is someone from OVP.
There are a few more details that bear consideration. First, consider the implications of this direct quote from Novak:
"I think that you are going to be unhappy with something that I write," he said to Rove, "and I think you are very much going to like something that I am about to write."
It's not clear whether Waas is getting this from a Novak interview or Novak's FBI testimony. But presumably Novak was willing to say as much to Fitzgerald. The quote shows that Novak clearly knew Rove wanted a smear on Wilson--and suggests (although not strongly enough for a court of law, as Jeralyn explained to me patiently) that Rove wanted Plame outed. This goes part of the way to establishing intent, which is one of the important aspects of the IIPA or espionage statutes. Novak is openly saying that his article was precisely what Rove wanted it to be, a malicious smear.
Another detail I found interesting is the mention of Matt Schlapp as the person who put together the pro-Townsend talking points. Schlapp is one of those people (like Bolton) rewarded for staging the fake riots during the 2000 recount. But curiously, he has since been rewarded again, taking over Ken Mehlman's former position as Director of Political Affairs. It doesn't necessarily mean anything. Except when you consider the large number of people either known or alleged to be involved in this--Rove, Abu Gonzales, Bolton, Hannah, Addington, Hadley (I'll stop there, but there are more) who have since gotten promotions ... then it becomes worth noting.
And consider the implications of this story for one other detail floated during the summer. Novak called Ari on July 7. The suggestion has always been that Novak called about Plame. But this story tells us it was at least as likely that Novak was calling about Townsend:
Just before his July 9 conversation with Rove, Novak had been relentlessly calling around the White House asking questions about Townsend.
Which would further support my contention that the Ari rumors were just one giant red herring.
Finally, one last detail. Waas says of Novak's and Rove's conversation,
Some of the conversation was on background, meaning that Novak could quote Rove as a "senior administration official," while other things were off-the-record and could not be written at all.
Huh? Does Rove insist that his off-the-record conversations cannot be captured in writing at all? Is Waas saying that Novak attests to there being some details left out of Novak's notes? Is this the Plame stuff, or the Townsend stuff? More questions than answers on this matter, I'm afraid.
Update: Check out this July Mike Allen article (and remember, Mike Allen was told by the 1 X 2 X6 source who the leakers were). It tells the same story about Townsend, so this story is not new spin from Luskin.