Evidence made public suggests Rove was particularly involved in rebutting Wilson after the former ambassador wrote a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed piece charging that Bush had "twisted" intelligence. Two days later, columnist Robert D. Novak called Rove and told him that he had heard that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and helped arrange his Niger mission.
Rove testified that he told Novak, "I heard that, too," according to a source close to Rove.
A few days later, Rove told Libby about Novak's plan to write a column about Wilson and his wife, according to court filings by Fitzgerald. This is the only evidence to emerge publicly so far of Rove and Libby discussing Wilson's efforts. [my emphasis]
Doing the math, two days later than July 6 would suggest Rove and Novak spoke on July 8, not July 9 as is commonly claimed. Then, a few days later, Rove and Libby spoke about the Novak call. The indictment--and this article--leaves open the possibility that this conversation took place on July 11, which would make it likely that Rove also mentioned his leak to Cooper.
In other words, this article doesn't answer the questions about timing--it raises more questions than it answers. Which says that Luskin and Rove are still desperately trying to obscure the real timing of that week.
Which is why we ought to refer back to Murray Waas' discussion on timing.
On July 9, 2003, senior presidential adviser Karl Rove was well prepared as he returned a telephone call from columnist Robert Novak. On his desk were talking points and other briefing materials that then-White House Political Director Matt Schlapp and other staffers had compiled for Rove in anticipation of the conversation.
Just before his July 9 conversation with Rove, Novak had been relentlessly calling around the White House asking questions about Townsend. Adam Levine, then an assistant White House press secretary and a Rove protege, told Rove that Novak had called, and that Novak was upset that Rove had not called him back. Levine would say later that he was uncertain whether Novak had stated the purpose of the call.
On July 8, Rove's secretary wrote Townsend's name on a telephone message slip, indicating that Townsend was the subject of Novak's inquiry. It was then that Rove instructed his staff to prepare briefing materials for him to have on hand to answer Novak's questions on Townsend. [my emphasis]
This would provide a very specific timeline for the Rove-Novak conversation (though wouldn't say which day Rove spoke to Libby about the leak). Novak called Rove on July 8. And Rove returned the call on July 9. Though, if you believe Rove's unnamed secretary more than Adam Levine, who wasn't sure, Novak called primarily about Frances Fragos Townsend, not about Plame.
But that raises another timing problem. We have long been told (by Steno Sue, so it is a suspect claim) that Novak's July 14 column outing Plame was released to its newspaper syndicates on July 11, three days before publication. Assuming his July 10 Townsend column had the same lead time, three days, than it is impossible that Rove was a source for Novak on July 9 (or even July 8). Even assuming the July 14 column went out on a Thursday to account for the weekend, it would still have been released a full weekday before it was published. So either Novak's July 14 column didn't go out on July 11 (which is likely), or his claim that the July 9 conversation focused primarily on Townsend is a lie. Furthermore, if his lead time is consistent (that is, we know it took him 5 days to publish the Plame column), it also makes it unlikely he served as a source for Novak's Townsend column on July 9, the day before the column appeared.
Update: Jeff helps me understand the days of the week below, and convinces me that I'm wrong about the 3 day timing question. July 11 was a Friday, and therefore a logical day to distribute a July 14 column.
I'm guessing, in other words, that if Rove testified that the purpose of his conversation with Novak was to counter the Frances Fragos Townsend smear, he lied. (Note that only Waas even suggests that Townsend was Rove's alibi, but he has had good sources on this, particularly as to the Fall 2003 testimony.)
Now, I've been pretty lonely in my theory that Rove altered or produced his Hadley email after the fact. I've argued it's likely because (at least according to Cooper), they didn't discuss welfare reform at all, which Rove referenced in his email. And they did discuss Plame, which Rove didn't mention at all. If Rove really tried to communicate with Hadley about the content of the Cooper call, then the email would have been reversed (no mention of welfare reform, which didn't affect Deputy National Security Adviser Hadley in any case, and some mention of Plame). As it is, the email makes a lot more sense if it were invented after the fact, because it provided both a non-Plame excuse for the phone call (welfare reform) and some evidence that Rove didn't mention Plame, even though we know he did.
While there are still a lot of questions, I think VandeHei's article, read in conjunction with Waas' earlier article and the timing problems introduced, suggests Rove may have tried to do the same--invent excuses after the fact--with his conversation with Novak. I have no idea who the secretary referenced in Waas' article is. Though, if it were Susan Ralston, it would put Ralston's hands on the phone log (with no record of Cooper's call) and the phone message supporting the Townsend explanation for the Novak Rove conversation. Though it would put Adam Levine testifying inconclusively as to whether the conversation related to Townsend or Plame. It's worth noting, of course, that both Ralston and Levine testified again last fall.
And if Rove was willing to alter records to obscure the facts about these phone calls, he may have tried to hide something else--the date of his conversation with Novak. This I'm shakier on; I presume White House phone records show clearly when Rove spoke to Novak (but what if Rove met with Novak at the St. Regis or something? we know it was getting some hoity toity business on July 8). But what if Novak and Rove first spoke about Plame on July 8? That would put it early enough to occur before Novak blabbed to Wilson's friend on July 8.
In any case, I think it possible (who knows how likely) that Rove's real chronology for the week of July 7 looks like:
July 8 Rove talks to Novak
July 8 Novak blabs to Wilson's friend
July 9 Rove talks to Novak again (perhaps with more detail about Plame?)
July 11 Rove talks to Cooper
July 11 Rove talks to Libby about his conversations with Rove and Cooper
Like I said, this is just a possibility. But if Rove talked to Libby about Cooper, it blows both of their forgetfulness about Cooper out of the water. And if Rove's Townsend excuse is chronologically impossible (as I suspect it may be), then it suggests all matter of possibilities about his earlier involvement.