The big lie defense

Karl Rove's loose-lipped attorney now claims that Time reporter Matt Cooper "burned" his client. And flaming winged monkeys lit the match.

Published July 13, 2005 1:40PM (EDT)

Karl Rove and Scott McClellan may not want to talk about the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, but Rove's attorney Robert Luskin seems unnecessarily chatty. A week after darting around the media landscape doing damage control on behalf of Rove -- and giving seemingly inconsistent explanations about Rove's involvement in the Plame affair -- Luskin is striking again. This time he's playing press critic, and he's not letting the facts get in his way.

Luskin, whose client nearly got Time magazine's Matthew Cooper thrown in jail because Cooper was determined for two years to protect Rove's identity as a confidential source, has now turned around to claim it was Cooper who "burned" Rove.

Luskin's beef: The language Cooper used in a July 17, 2003, story about Joseph Wilson was misleading. (The article appeared just days after Robert Novak outed Wilson's wife in his column, which sparked the federal grand jury whodunit.) Luskin, citing the narrow scope of the conversation Rove and Cooper had, denies the White House ever declared a "war on Wilson," as Cooper's article suggested.

"If you read what Karl said to him and read how Cooper characterizes it in the article, he really spins it in a pretty ugly fashion to make it seem like people in the White House were affirmatively reaching out to reporters to try to get them to report negative information about Plame," Luskin tells the National Review Online. The claim rings completely hollow.

Here's the relevant portion of the Cooper story:

"Some government officials have noted to Time in interviews (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched to Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore, sometimes referred to as yellow cake, which is used to build nuclear devices."

According to the internal, July 11, 2003, e-mail turned over to prosecutors by Time, Cooper informed his editors that he'd just spoken with Rove, who insisted it was Wilson's wife, "who apparently works at the [CIA] on wmd issues[,] who authorized the trip" to Niger. And that's exactly what Cooper wrote in his article: Government officials said Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and was involved with his being sent to Niger. So where's the sinister spin? How did Cooper "burn" Rove by accurately reporting his comments?

What's more, if Rove's conversation with Cooper was really only intended to "warn Time away from publishing things that were going to be established as false," as Luskin tells NRO, then Rove would have talked to Cooper off the record. Instead, Rove, clearly hoping Cooper would repeat the Plame information, talked to Cooper on background. Or "double super secret background," as Cooper called it in his e-mail, which essentially meant Time could use the information but just had to keep Rove's name out of the story.

In fact, in his e-mail to his editors, Cooper wrote, "Please don't source this to rove or even WH [White House]." In the article, he dutifully sourced the information to "some government officials," which means Cooper kept his word. It was Novak in his column who attributed the Plame leak more specifically to "two senior administration officials."

As for Luskin's statement to NRO that Rove's conversation did not signal any kind of White House war on Wilson, and that it "was not a calculated effort by the White House to get this [Plame] story out," Luskin is playing dumb, conveniently ignoring the fact, as reported by the Washington Post on Sept. 28, 2003, that "two top White House officials," in a deliberate attempt to undermine Wilson, peddled Plame's name "to at least six Washington journalists."

The Post quoted one of the press recipients: "The official I spoke with thought this was a part of Wilson's story that wasn't known and cast doubt on his whole mission. They thought Wilson was having a good ride and this was part of Wilson's story."

Rove reportedly told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that Wilson's wife was "fair game." In other words, Bush aides were shopping dirt around town in a calculated effort by the White House to get the story out.

But the war on Wilson wasn't limited to White House officials like Rove blowing a CIA cover via a whispering campaign. As Cooper noted in his article -- in fact, this matter took up the bulk of his story -- scores of administration officials, including former CIA director George Tenet and former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, were out front in the summer of 2003 criticizing Wilson's work as incomplete, naive and contradictory.

It wasn't just a war on Wilson, it was a scorched-earth policy. And guess who engineered it?

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

MORE FROM Eric Boehlert

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cia Karl Rove