The question of Karl Rove

Did Bush's political advisor out Valerie Plame? Maybe, but the case hasn't been made quite yet.

Published July 5, 2005 3:17PM (EDT)

The blogs are bursting with Christmas-in-July glee over the prospect that Karl Rove may have been the one who outed Valerie Plame.

Now, don't get us wrong. For purely professional reasons, we'd welcome the prospect of a perjury prosecution running alongside the Supreme Court confirmation hearings this summer. Solely as an exercise in better understanding our fellow man, we'd be interested in hearing how someone who accuses liberals of wanting to put U.S. troops in "greater danger" explains away a decision to reveal the identity of a CIA agent for political gain. And if getting that kind of insight requires us to see Turd Blossom in handcuffs and leg irons, well, it's a small price to pay for bringing us all together as human beings, isn't it?

But before we get too far down this road, maybe it's time to take stock of what we know and what we don't know yet. MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell has been selling his own story hard at the Huffington Post, and in the process he's gotten a little ahead of himself. Over the weekend, he said that Newsweek was working on an "It's Rove!" story and would "probably break it" Sunday. What Newsweek actually reported Sunday was a little less than all that: Newsweek said that email messages Time turned over to the federal prosecutor handling the Plame investigation reveal that Rove was one of Matthew Cooper's sources as he worked on a Plame story, but that it's unclear what Rove told Cooper.

Now O'Donnell says that Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, is shielding his client behind an "I didn't inhale" defense. "He told Newsweek that his client 'never knowingly disclosed classified information,'" O'Donnell writes. "'Knowingly.' That is the most important word Luskin said in what has now become his public version of the Rove defense. Not coincidentally, the word 'knowing' is the most important word in the controlling statute (U.S. Code: Title 50: Section 421). To violate the law, Rove had to tell Cooper about a covert agent 'knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States.' So, Rove's defense now hangs on one wordhe 'never knowingly disclosed classified information.' Does that mean Rove simply didn't know Valerie Plame was a covert agent? Or does it just mean that Rove did not know that the CIA was 'taking affirmative measures' to hide her identity?"

The problem is, Luskin went well beyond that narrow defense in an interview with the Los Angeles Times over the weekend. "What I can tell you is that Cooper called Rove during that week between the Wilson article and the Novak article, but that Karl absolutely did not identify Valerie Plame," Luskin said. "He did not disclose any confidential information about anybody to Cooper or to anybody else."

Is Luskin telling the truth? Has his client told him the truth? The answers to those questions go in the "what we don't know" category, at least for now. As highly trained and fiercely objective media professionals, we know what we'd like the answers to be. But we also know that wishing won't make them so.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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