I've long believed Jim VandeHei's reporting is very useful because he is such a faithful stenographer for Robert Luskin, and his reporting is usually undiluted by other things, as Michael Isikoff's reporting gets diluted by Mark Hosenball's or Evan Thomas' real reporting. Sure, you know that what VandeHei is giving you is pure spin. But it shows you how Luskin is planning his next move.
Today's entry offers a few interesting pieces of information. First, it appears that Rove may have been more chatty about this than we know. First, there's this bit:
when Rove talked to two reporters about Plame and her CIA role, then reported the conversations back to high-level White House aides,
I assume this is probably not new--it's just recording that after Rove spoke with Novak, he told Libby about it, and after Rove spoke with Cooper, he told Hadley about it. But the passage doesn't describe a number, then later the article includes this bit:
But, according to evidence compiled by Fitzgerald, Rove was discussing Wilson and/or his wife with two reporters and at least two aides in the week before her identity was revealed.
At least two aides. And what a curious label for people of the seniority of Libby and Hadley, "aides." Is this passage suggesting that Rove spoke to other people about Wilson, perhaps Susan Ralston or Adam Levine (who both reportedly testified again last Fall)? Maybe, maybe not. Given the quotes from one or two "aides" about Rove's involvement, it appears these oblique passages may refer to conversations that included someone else.
The aide said Rove's message was that "if there are no WMDs and some blame us, it will not be a pleasant election year." The aide said Rove talked a lot about Wilson that week, but mostly about the fact he was a Democrat and needed to be rebutted.
Andy Card, is that you? Bored already spending time with your kids? It seems there are two possibilities. Either this is Libby (both times this person is mentioned, he is mentioned as a former WH employee). Or someone else testified to participating in a conversation with Rove about Wilson and Plame--which may have included conversations about the Novak and Cooper calls. For the record, I'm guessing this isn't Libby.
But now look at what
Andy Card this aide said.
Rove talked a lot about Wilson that week, but mostly about the fact he was a Democrat and needed to be rebutted.
Almost the same thing Novak said, to explain his interest in this case:
I was curious why a high-ranking official in President Bill Clinton's National Security Council (NSC) was given this assignment.
Not that it means anything, that Novak's cover story matches Rove's apparent concerns perfectly. It's just worth noting.
But that's not what Luskin says Rove was doing. Luskin says Rove wasn't so much concerned that Wilson is a Democrat. He says Rove was primarily concerned about getting a Tenet statement.
Luskin said Rove was chiefly concerned that week with "assuring that there was a statement from the director of central intelligence that directly addressed the substance of the criticism of Wilson and others."
Now, I find this damned revealing. As I've pointed before several times, there is a dispute about how involved Rove (and Libby) were in Tenet's mea culpa, including Luskin-like leaks last summer. The Rove and Libby side say both were involved in drafting the mea culpa all week long. The CIA says the White House was only involved after July 10, and only through Hadley. July 10 would put Rove's involvement after, it should be said, Rove spoke with Novak. I thought in July and I think now that the original leak was an attempt to cover other correspondence discussing Wilson under the guise of involvement in Tenet's statement.
And here's the other illogical part of Luskin's comment. We know what Tenet's mea culpa said. It focused on the CIA report on Wilson--which has never been declassified; on the NIE--portions of which were subsequently declassified but had only been Scooter-ized thus far; and on the SOTU. (It doesn't incidentally, describe Wilson's qualifications, which would answer Novak's purported question, why Democrat Wilson was sent.) But if Rove was concerned with Tenet's mea culpa, that is, if he was involved in drafting it, then the content of Tenet's statement suggests Rove was involved and interested in much more than Wilson's political donations. It suggests he was involved in communicating information that was at that point effectively classified. It suggests he was involved in the main smear, not just partisan name-calling. Which is it Luskin?
Now, there is one more comment that Luskin offers VandeHei that I find curious.
Moreover, he has testified, if he really wanted to damage Wilson in the summer of 2003, he would have sought out the many other reporters he knew better and trusted more than Cooper. He argued that he hardly knew Cooper, who had recently started on the White House beat -- one reason the conversation slipped his mind, the source close to Rove said.
Shorter Luskin/Rove: "If I had wanted to leak intentionally, I would have leaked to journalists I trusted." You mean like Robert Novak, Karl? Because someone sought out Novak, and we're still unclear on how that happened. Or how about Tweety, one of your BFF journalists, whom you called to say Plame was fair game? Is that what you mean by seeking out trusted journalists? Because it appears you did that, Karl...
One of my favorite parts of this installment of Luskin stenography, though, is this passage, where Luskin and the mystery leaker try to blame Libby for the mess:
In the Libby case, Fitzgerald presented previously undisclosed information alleging that Libby had hounded CIA, State Department and other officials for information about Wilson and Plame, then leaked it.
Some White House aides said Cheney and Libby often took the lead rebutting or proving specific charges about Iraq's weapons programs. The White House aide who detailed Rove's involvement in the WMD fight said Rove did not appear as involved as Libby on the Wilson matter.
This passage makes it sound like the anonymous leaker(s) in the article is a close ally of Karl. This means it's less likely the leaker is Andy Card, actually (damn, and I was hoping for some post-firing dirt). But it also makes the prospect of a public, and very nasty, post-Karl-indictment meltdown more likely. Karl looks to be going down. And it appears that one of his planned defenses will be to blame Libby. Libby and Cheney.
Hmm. This could get fun.