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Monday, July 11, 2005

Double Super-Secret Background

Posted by on July 11 at 15:46 PM

Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff was on CNN’s Inside Politics today. The full transcript of the show is here, with just Isikoff’s segment provided after the jump.

CROWLEY: In the latest ease additions of Newsweek, reporter Michael Isikoff quotes attorneys who say that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was a source for TIME magazine reporter Matt Cooper. Cooper, of course, is at the center of the grand jury investigation involving the leak of a CIA employee's identity. Michael Isikoff joins me here in Washington.

So a couple of things about this story. First, what we do know at this point about Rove's relationship to this leak?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, REPORTER, NEWSWEEK: I should say, we did more than quote attorneys. What we did is we obtained an internal TIME magazine e-mail that Matt Cooper wrote to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, immediately after talking to Karl Rove on July 11th, that's before the Novak column, in which he says: "Double super-secret background, not to be attributed to the White House or Rove, but Rove gave me a big warning about some of what Joe Wilson has been saying. He wasn't sent to Niger by George Tenet or Vice President Cheney, it was Wilson's wife who apparently works at the agency on WMD issues who authorized the trip." That's the quote from Matt Cooper to his editor right after talking to Karl Rove.

What that tells us is that Karl Rove did indeed discuss Joe Wilson, Joe Wilson's wife, Joe Wilson's wife's employment with a reporter, Matt Cooper, prior to the Robert Novak column. That would seem to conflict with many of the White House public statements at the time, and certainly some of what Karl Rove's lawyer had been saying publicly up until we got hold of this e-mail.

It doesn't answer underlying questions here. For one thing, as many people have pointed out, and we pointed out, Karl Rove doesn't identify Valerie Plame by name, so that's an important distinction. And there's nothing in the e-mail that indicates whether or not Rove knew that she was a covert operative. In fact, there's nothing in the e-mail that indicates he does.

So, therefore, while this is a crucial piece of evidence and clearly advances the ball about what we know about this incident, it doesn't resolve the underlying questions of whether somebody deliberately leaked the name of Valerie Plame, knowing that she was a covert operative, in order to retaliate against Wilson.

That's the crime that Fitzgerald has been investigating, and we still don't know whether he's got enough evidence to bring charges against Rove or anybody else.

CROWLEY: And there are -- and the setting in which this took place is that Joe Wilson had written this column, and it said, listen, these things that the administration say that were in Niger were not there, I went over there, I was sent by the CIA. And the White House was trying to push back. This was a damaging column because this was one of their key reasons for going to war in Iraq.

ISIKOFF: Right. This was some of the first early criticisms of the intelligence that brought us to Iraq from somebody who had something to do with the process, even if it was a bit marginal, but somebody from the inside who was saying the intelligence that the White House used to take us to war was seriously flawed.

CROWLEY: Right. So what we are seeing here it looks like is some pushback from the White House, going, well, wait a minute, first of all, it's not right that the CIA send him. His wife sent him over there. So it could be something...

ISIKOFF: But the problem that people in the White House, Rove among them, may have is how did they know that Valerie Plame, or Wilson's wife worked at the CIA? What we do know is there was a classified State Department report that said this, that was taken by Secretary of State Powell with him on the trip to Africa that President Bush was then on, and many senior White House aides were on.

That classified State Department report appears to have been -- or may well have been the source for the information that Rove and others were then dishing out to reporters. And if that's the case, there still may be -- we don't know yet, but there still may be an instance where classified information was provided to reporters.

CROWLEY: There's -- we have got less than a minute left, but I want to ask you about the political versus the legal. The legal we're going to have to let the special prosecutor work out. But politically, there already seems to be -- the dynamic is already in place that we see, that this is somewhat of a snowball. We mentioned that there was sort of a contentious White House briefing. Politically, how badly do you think this story...

ISIKOFF: Hard to say. I think the problem that the White House has is the public statements that they made at the time in which they completely dismissed the notion that Rove or anybody else in the White House had anything to do with the outing of Valerie Plame, totally ridiculous I think was Scott McClellan's line that he gave to reporters.

Now, since, McClellan is refusing to answer any questions, saying we can't talk about it, it's an ongoing criminal investigation. The problem is they already had talked about it, and the question that is being asked is, are those previous statements still operative?

CROWLEY: Michael Isikoff, reporter extraordinaire from Newsweek, thanks so much for joining us.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.