Plame affair

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The Plame Affair began in July 2003 when journalist Robert Novak wrote a column revealing that Valerie Plame, the wife of former United States Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, was a covert operative of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who specialized in undercover operations involving weapons of mass destruction. The exposure of Plame was done in part as an act of political retribution against Wilson due to Wilson's New York Times editorial in which Wilson challenged a statement in Bush's 2003 State of the Union Address in which the president said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The materials to which Bush was referring have since become known as the Yellowcake forgery.

The Plame Affair also involves the subsequent investigation of the Bush White House leak. This investigation is being lead by Independent Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who was appointed by Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey ( after then Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the case) and the cover-up by White House staff and officials including Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Ari Fleischer, and perhaps others.

Contents

Background

In February of 2002, retired ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a career diplomat who had worked under Democratic and Republican administrations, was asked by the CIA to investigate claims of attempted uranium ore purchases by Iraq from the African nation of Niger, in response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney based on a foreign intelligence report relating to the sale of uranium yellowcake from Niger (see also Yellowcake Forgery).

Wilson had African diplomatic experience which led to his selection for the mission. He is the former ambassador to Gabon, another uranium-producing African nation, and was once posted in the 1970s to Niamey, Niger's capital.[1] Wilson, who was open about the CIA's sponsorship of his trip which he called "discreet but not secret".

His investigation revealed that it was highly unlikely any such sale occurred and he reported it to the CIA.

After repeated warnings by the CIA not use the claims about Niger uranium purchases throughout 2002, those claims again resurfaced in Bush's State of the Union Address. After several attempts to anonymously warn the media and the White House about the spurious nature of those claims, Wilson finally wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times, which were published on July 6 2003,[2]. In it, he suggested that the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence findings about the Iraq seeking uranium from Africa, which were being used to justify war against Iraq.

Wilson also noted that U.S. Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq — and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington.

Eight days after publication of Wilson's article, an article written by syndicated columnist Robert Novak was published, which said that the choice to use Wilson "was made routinely at a low level without CIA Director George Tenet's knowledge." More crucially, Novak went on to identify Valerie Plame as Wilson's wife: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him."[3] Although Wilson wrote that he was certain his findings were circulated within the CIA and conveyed (at least orally) to the office of the Vice President, Novak questioned the accuracy of Wilson's report and added that "it is doubtful Tenet ever saw it."

On August 29, 2003, Wilson]] IV, a career diplomat who had worked under Democratic and Republican administrations, alleged that Karl Rove leaked the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative. Although the leak is most likely a violation of federal law, no charges have yet been filed against Rove.

Time line of Plame affair

See main article at: Plame Leak timeline

Central figures and issues

Central figures (alphabetical order)

Central issues (alphabetical order)

CIA calls for Special Prosecutor

Background on special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald

In September 2003, the CIA requested that the Justice Department investigate the matter.[4] Karl Rove was identified by the New York Times in connection to the Plame leak on October 2, 2003, in an article that both highlighted Attorney General John Ashcroft's employment of Rove in three previous political campaigns and which pointed to Ashcroft's potential conflict of interest in investigating Rove. In recusing himself from the case, Ashcroft named Deputy Attorney General James Comey, to be "acting attorney general" for the case; Comey in turn named U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald on December 30, 2003 (Comey names Fitzgerald). Fitzgerald began investigations into the leak working from White House telephone records turned over to the FBI in October 2003. [5]

Though Plame's exposure was in part retaliation for Wilson's editorial on issues surrounding the yellowcake forgery, the White House and the GOP have sought discredit Wilson with a smear campaign that claims Wilson has a partisan political agenda. However, Wilson along with current and former CIA officials point out the leak not only damaged Plame's career, but endangered U.S. National Security and endangerd the missions of other CIA agents working abroad under nonofficial cover (as "NOCs"), passing as private citizens without diplomatic passports. Plame, who worked undercover for the CIA for nearly 20 years,[6] was identified as an NOC by New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller (among others) on October 5, 2003.[7] Articles in the The Washington Post,[8] The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications have pointed to Plame's association with Brewster Jennings & Associates, nominally an oil exploration firm, but in fact a CIA front company (now defunct) spying on Saudi and other interests across the Middle East.

Both Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush have been interviewed by Fitzgerald, although not under oath.

While it it not known exactlly who testified before the Grand Jury a number of individuals have acknowledged giving testimony including White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, Deputy Press Secretary Claire Buchan, former press secretary Ari Fleischer, former special advisor to the president Karen Hughes, former White House communications aide Adam Levine, former advisor to the Vice President Mary Matalin, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.[9]

It is also known that prosecutors have questioned former CIA director George Tenet and deputy director John E. McLaughlin, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, State Department officials, and even a stranger who approached columnist Robert D. Novak on the street. If these people were actualy testifying, or were interviewed under oath is not know.

Legal filings by Independent Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald contain many pages blanked out for security reasons, leading some observers to speculate that Fitzgerald has pursued the extent to which national security was compromised by the actions of Rove and others. On July 18, 2005, The Economist reported that Valerie Plame had been dissuaded by the CIA from publishing her own account of her exposure, suggesting that such an article would itself be a breach of national security. The Economist also reported that "affirmative measures" by the CIA were being taken to protect Plame's identity at the time Karl Rove revealed her CIA affiliation to journalists. [10]

List of known Grand Jury witnesses

Contempt of Court: Miller, Cooper

New York Times investigative reporter Judith Miller, who (according to a subpoena) met with an unnamed White House official on July 8, 2003, two days after Wilson's editorial was published has refused (with Cooper) to answer questions before a grand jury in 2004 pertaining to sources. Both reporters were held in contempt of court. On June 27, 2005, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to rule on the reporters' request for appeal, [11] Time magazine said it would surrender to Fitzgerald e-mail records and notes taken by Cooper.

Miller was jailed on July 7, 2005, and is expected to remain there until the term of the Grand Jury expires on October 28, 2005 unless she agrees to testify. She is being held in Alexandria, Virginia in the same facility as Zacarias Moussaoui.

Leakers named by Witnesses

Karl Rove: Cooper

On July 1, 2005 Lawrence O'Donnell, senior MSNBC political analyst, on the McLaughlin Group stated: "And I know I'm going to get pulled into the grand jury for saying this but the source of...for Matt Cooper was Karl Rove, and that will be revealed in this document dump that Time magazine's going to do with the grand jury." The document dump has since occurred.[12]

On July 2, 2005, Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said that his client spoke to Time reporter Matt Cooper "three or four days" before Plame's identity was first revealed in print by commentator Robert Novak. (Cooper's article in Time, citing unnamed and anonymous "government officials," confirmed Plame to be a "CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." Cooper's article appeared three days after Novak's column was published.) Rove's lawyer, however, asserted that Rove "never knowingly disclosed classified information" and that "he did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." This second statement has since been called into question by an e-mail, written three days before Novak's column, in which Cooper indicated that Rove had told him Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. If Rove were aware that this was classified information at the time then both disclaimers by his lawyer would be untrue. Furthermore, Luskin said that Rove himself had testified before the grand jury "two or three times" (three times, according to the Los Angeles Times of July 3, 2005 [13]) and signed a waiver authorizing reporters to testify about their conversations with him and that Rove "has answered every question that has been put to him about his conversations with Cooper and anybody else." Rove's lawyer declined to share with Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff the nature or contents of his client's conversations with Cooper. [14] [15] [16][17] [18]

On July 6, 2005, Cooper agreed to testify, thus avoiding being held in contempt of court and sent to jail. Cooper said "I went to bed ready to accept the sanctions for not testifying," but told the judge that not long before his early afternoon appearance at court he had received "in somewhat dramatic fashion" an indication from his source freeing him from his commitment to keep his source's identity secret. For some observers this called into question the allegations against Rove, who had signed a waiver months before permitting reporters to testify about their conversations with him (see above paragraph).[19]

Cooper, however, stated in court that he did not previously accept a general waiver to journalists signed by his source (whom he did not identify by name), because he had made a personal pledge of confidentiality to his source. The 'dramatic change' which allowed Cooper to testify was later revealed to be a phone conversation between lawyers for Cooper and his source confirming that the waiver signed two years earlier included conversations with Cooper. Citing a "person who has been officially briefed on the case," The New York Times identified Rove as the individual in question,[20] a fact later confirmed by Rove's own lawyer.[21] According to one of Cooper's lawyers, Cooper has previously testified before the grand jury regarding conversations with Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jr., chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, after having received Libby's specific permission to testify.[22]

Rove's email to Hadley

In an email sent by Karl Rove to top White House security official Stephen Hadley immediately after his discussion with Matt Cooper (obtained by the Associated Press and published on July 15, 2005), Rove claimed that he tried to steer journalist Cooper away from allegations Wilson was making about faulty Iraq intelligence. "Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he's got a welfare reform story coming," Rove wrote to Hadley. "When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn't this damaging? Hasn't the president been hurt? I didn't take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn't get Time far out in front on this." Rove made no mention to Hadley in the e-mail of having leaked Plame's CIA identity.[23] Although Rove wrote to Hadley (and perhaps testified) that the initial subject of his conversation with Cooper was "welfare reform" and that the conversation then turned to Wilson and the Niger mission, Cooper has disputed this suggestion in his grand jury testimony and subsequent statements: "I can't find any record of talking about [welfare reform] with him on July 11, [2003], and I don't recall doing so," Cooper said. [24][25]

Karl Rove revealed as Time leaker

On July 10, 2005, Newsweek posted a story from its forthcoming July 18 print edition which quoted one of the e-mails written by Time reporter Matt Cooper in the days following the publication of Wilson's Op-Ed piece.[26] Writing to Time bureau chief Michael Duffy on July 11, 2003, three days before Novak's column was published, Cooper recounted a two-minute conversation with Karl Rove "on double super secret background" in which Rove said that Wilson's wife was a CIA employee: "it was, KR [Karl Rove] said, Wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd issues who authorized the trip." In a Time article released July 17, 2005, Cooper says Rove ended his conversation by saying "I've already said too much."

The White House repeatedly denied the Rove had any involvement in the leaks. Whether Rove's statement to Cooper that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA in techincaly violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 has not been resolved but it is however clearly a violation of Karl Rove’s Nondisclosure Agreement.

Cooper testified before a grand jury on July 13, 2005, revealing that Rove was the source who told him Wilson's wife was an employee of the CIA.[27] In the July 17, 2005 Time magazine article detailing his grand jury testimony, Cooper wrote: "Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the C.I.A. and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the 'agency' on 'W.M.D.'? Yes. Is any of this a crime? Beats me."[28] Cooper also explained to the grand jury that the "double super secret background" under which Rove spoke to him was not an official White House or Time magazine source or security designation, but an allusion to the 1978 film Animal House, in which a college fraternity is placed under "double secret probation."[29]

Lewis "Scooter" Libby: Miller (New York Times)

Lewis Letter to Judy Miller

A bizarre, coded letter sent by Libby to Miller who was wanting to leave jail is described in Miller's own account of the ordeal : The letter, two pages long, encouraged me to testify. "Your reporting, and you, are missed," it begins.

Mr. Fitzgerald asked me to read the final three paragraphs aloud to the grand jury. "The public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me," Mr. Libby wrote.

The prosecutor asked my reaction to those words. I replied that this portion of the letter had surprised me because it might be perceived as an effort by Mr. Libby to suggest that I, too, would say we had not discussed Ms. Plame's identity. Yet my notes suggested that we had discussed her job.

Mr. Fitzgerald also focused on the letter's closing lines. "Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning," Mr. Libby wrote. "They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them."

Text of E-mail sent by NYT Executive Editor

On October 21, 2005, Bill Keller, NYT Executive Editor issued an apology to colleagues and readers

Judy Miller names Libby as her source

In the piece The Miller Case: A Notebook, a Cause, a Jail Cell and a Deal the NYT describes the events leading to Miller's revelation: Ms. Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify and reveal her confidential source, then relented. On Sept. 30, she told the grand jury that her source was I. Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff . Miller also penned her own account of the ordeal My Four Hours Testifying in the Federal Grand Jury Room

Other journalists with early knowledge

Both NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell and MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews have been mentioned in the press as having early knowledge of the Plame leak, although their conversations with (unnamed) White House officials may have taken place after Novak's article was published.[30] Two Newsday reporters who also confirmed and expanded upon Novak's account, Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce, were also mentioned in October 2003 in connection to an ongoing judicial inquiry.[31]

Walter Pincus, a Washington Post columnist, has written that he was told in confidence by an (unnamed) Bush administration official on July 12 2003, two days before Novak's column appeared, that "the White House had not paid attention to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s CIA-sponsored February 2002 trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction."[32] Because he did not believe it to be true, Pincus did not report the story.

White House reactions

In the beginning the White House called the allegation that Rove disclosed classified information "totally ridiculous" and "simply not true,"[33] and stated that it would fire anyone caught leaking. Once the source was disclosed, the White House refused to comment and stated that they would fire anyone convicted' of criminal activity.

President George Bush, who has repeatedly denied knowing the identity of the leaker, called the leak a "criminal action" for the first time on October 6 2003, stating "[i]f anybody has got any information inside our government or outside our government who leaked, you ought to take it to the Justice Department so we can find the leaker."[34][35] Speaking to a crowd of journalists the following day, Bush said "I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is -- partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers."[36] On October 8 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that "no one has more of an interest in getting to the bottom of this than the White House does, than the President does."[37]

On October 10 2003, after the Justice Department began its formal investigation into the leak, McClellan specifically said that neither Rove nor two other officials whom he had personally questioned – Elliot Abrams, a national security aide, and I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff – were involved and that anyone who was involved in leaking classified information would be fired. [38] On June 10 2004, eight months after the formal outside investigation was begun and five months after the appointment of an Independent Counsel, President Bush responded affirmatively when asked by a reporter if he stood by his pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak.[39][40]

On July 11 2005, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who had since become a grand jury witness himself, refused at a press conference to answer dozens of questions, repeatedly stating that the Bush Administration had made a decision not to comment on an "ongoing criminal investigation" involving White House staff.[41] McClellan declined to answer whether Rove had committed a crime. McClellan also declined to repeat prior categorical denials of Rove's involvement in the leak,[42] nor would he state whether Bush would honor his prior promise to fire individuals involved in the leak.[43][44][45]

Neither Rove nor the President offered immediate public comment on the unfolding scandal.[46][47][48][49][50] Although some elected Republicans remained silent on the issue of the Valerie Plame leak and a White House compromise of national security, as of July 18 2005, not a single elected Republican member of Congress had called for Rove to be disciplined or impeached. Rove was vociferously defended by Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman and by many conservative news outlets and commentators, some of whom followed cues laid out in a "talking points" memo, circulated among Republicans on Capitol Hill, which again tried to shift focus by attempting to smear Joseph Wilson's credibility.[51] Among others, David Brooks, conservative New York Times editorialist and NPR commentator, attacked Wilson on July 14 2005 by falsely alleging that he had claimed Cheney sent him on the Niger mission, and that in speaking to Cooper and others, Rove was merely correcting a reporter's misconception.[52] In an even more extreme example of partisanship, the Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal praised Rove on July 13 2005 for leaking Plame's identity, referring to him as a "whistleblower."[53]

On July 18 2005, after having brushed off similar questions about the Rove scandal for nearly a week, President Bush stated that "[i]f someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration."[54] This was widely interpreted as a retraction of multiple earlier promises to fire anyone involved in the leak itself. Many news outlets speculated that Rove's (future) legal defense might be built upon testimony that he was ignorant of Plame's protected status at the time he outed her as a CIA employee; if it could be proven that he had heard of her CIA covert status before speaking to journalists, however, Rove could face far more serious charges. A New York Times story of July 16 2005 suggested that the Independent Counsel grand jury has questioned whether a particular top secret State Department report naming Plame may have been the source of Rove's information.[55]. Colin Powell was photographed carrying the report in Africa in the company of the President in the days following the July 6 2003 publication of Wilson's Op-Ed piece. Powell is reported to have testified before the grand jury.

On July 25 2005, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was notified about the U.S. Justice Department investigation into the Plame memo leak on the evening of September 29 2003. He promptly informed White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. about the investigation, but waited 12 hours before informing the general White House Staff. The White House Staff is, according to the article, usually quickly notified of any investigations so as to safeguard the integrity of any documents, emails or memoranda that might be required for the investigation. [56]

Congressional reactions

On July 15, 2005, 91 members of Congress signed a letter calling for Karl Rove to explain his role in the Plame affair, or to resign; 13 Democratic Members of the House Judiciary Committee have called for hearings on the matter. [57]

A Resolution of Inquiry has been offered by Rush Holt (D-NJ) and John Conyers (D-MI), requesting that the Bush Administration release all documents concerning the exposure of Ms. Plame.

Barney Frank (D-MA) and John Conyers (D-MI) have authorized the Library of Congress to research legal precedent for the impeachment of White House staffers. [58]

A series of nationwide town hall meetings was scheduled for July 23, 2005 to review the Downing Street memo, the Plame affair, (sometimes called 'Rovegate'), and the sitaution in Iraq. [59].

As of July 22 2005, no Republican member of Congress had publically voiced concern about a breach in national security, nor the continuing role of Karl Rove in the Bush Administration. As of July 22 2005, not a single Republican member of the House of Representatives or Senate had called for Rove to be fired, impeached, disciplined, or even questioned about his reasons for leaking a CIA operative's identity.

Public opinion

In a scientific poll conducted July 13-17, 2005 by ABC News, 47% of people surveyed said the White House is not cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation; the remainder either had no opinion 28% or thought the White House was fully cooperating 25%.[60]. According to the poll, "75 percent say Rove should lose his job if the investigation finds he leaked classified information. That includes sizable majorities of Republicans, independents and Democrats alike — 71, 74 and 83 percent, respectively." ibid

It is also interesting to note the list of excuses neocon pundits present for the Plame Affair

Legal questions

Proving a specific violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act involves several elements which may be difficult to prove in this case, however in compromising Valerie Plame's position, Rove may have broken other federal laws, including the Espionage Act, and most assuredly the non-disclosure agreement people granted security clearance are required to sign.

There is precedent for prosecuting a leak under the Espionage Act. In United States v. Morison, Morison was convicted of espionage for leaking classified surveillance photos of a Soviet aircraft carrier to Jane's Defence Weekly. The court specifically found that there in no need under this law to show any "evil purpose." Morison unsuccessfully argued that he was trying to help the media avoid incorrect reporting on an alleged Soviet military buildup.[61]

In 2003, Sandy Berger, former Clinton administration National Security Advisor, removed classified documents from a National Archives reading room to prepare for his testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Even though no classified information leaked as a result, he plead guilty to violating the Espionage Act in mishandling the documents and his security clearance was suspended for 3 years.

According to John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist and former presidential counsel, Rove is likely to have violated Title 18, Section 641 of the United States Code, which prohibits the theft or conversion of government records for non-governmental use.[62]

In 2003, this law was successfully used to convict John Randel, a Drug Enforcement Agency analyst, for leaking the name of a DEA agent (Lord Ashcroft) to London media. In a statement to Randel, United States District Court Judge Richard Story wrote, "Anything that would affect the security of officers and of the operations of the agency would be of tremendous concern, I think, to any law-abiding citizen in this country." Due to pleading guilty, Randel's sentence was reduced from 500 years in a federal prison, to a year of imprisonment and three years of probation.

Karl Rove is likely to face greater consequences than Randel if indicted for violating Section 641. Whereas Randel leaked sensitive information about a DEA agent, unlikely to affect the national security of the United States, Rove leaked the identity of a CIA agent, an expert on weapons of mass destruction, during a time when the United States was considering war based on a potential threat to its security from such weapons.

Actual damage caused

Legal filings by Independent Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald contain many pages blanked out for security reasons, leading some observers to speculate that Fitzgerald has pursued the extent to which national security was compromised by the actions of Rove and others. On 18 July 2005, The Economist reported that Valerie Plame had been dissuaded by the CIA from publishing her own account of her exposure, suggesting that such an article would itself be a breach of national security. The Economist also reported that "affirmative measures" by the CIA were being taken to protect Plame's identity at the time Rove revealed her CIA affiliation to journalists.[63]


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