Karl Rove exonerated? Not exactly

Did Rove tell investigators that he first heard about Plame's job at the CIA from another reporter -- or merely that he "believes" that he "may" have?

Published July 15, 2005 5:29PM (EDT)

Karl Rove has been exonerated!

That might not be the message you took away after learning that Rove not only told Time's Matthew Cooper that Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the CIA but also confirmed the story for Robert Novak as well. Reading the revelation about the Rove-Novak call in today's New York Times, you might have concluded that the evidence of Rove's involvement in leaking Valerie Plame's identity is growing -- that it's more clear than ever before that Rove was lying when he said, "I didn't know her name, I didn't leak her name."

But if that's the way you think, well, then, you're not Ken Mehlman. See, here's what you've got to understand. The latest news establishes that "Karl Rove wasn't the leaker. He was actually the recipient of the information." That's what Mehlman told Fox News this morning.

Let's break this down. Was Rove "the recipient of the information" when he talked with Matthew Cooper on July 11, 2003? No, he was "the leaker" then: When Cooper asked Rove about the charges Joe Wilson was making, Rove told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Was Rove "the recipient of the information" when he talked with Bob Novak on July 8, 2003? Yes, but he was also "the leaker" then. When Novak told Rove during their telephone call that he'd heard that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA, Rove confirmed the fact for him.

Now, unless Rove was somehow born knowing that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA, he was at some point "the recipient of the information." The Associated Press has a source who says that Rove told the grand jury that he believes he first heard that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA from some other reporter before he talked with Novak. The Washington Post has a source -- maybe the same one -- who tells a similar story.

But this is where things get a little interesting. In the version of the Post's story that went up on its Web site early Friday morning, the Post's source was quoted as saying of Rove, "I don't think that he has a clear recollection" about where he first heard that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. The source said that Rove told investigators "that he believes he may have heard it from a journalist." (The Indianapolis Star picked up the early version of the Post's story, and you can read it here.) But in the version of the story up on the Post's site now, the quote from the source has disappeared -- and with it, any sense that Rove is uncertain about whether he first heard the news from a journalist. In the new version of the story, the Post paraphrases its source as saying that Rove "told investigators that he first learned about the operative from a journalist" but that he does not recall who the journalist was or when he might have talked with him or her. So is Rove sure he actually heard it from a reporter first, or does he just "believe" he "may" have? That seems to us an important distinction, especially since Rove seems to have such a clear memory of his conversation with Novak.

So was Rove "the recipient" or "the leaker"? In the end, it's a false choice. Rove was plainly "the recipient" of information about Plame at some point, even if it's not so clear from whom. But he was just as plainly "the leaker" -- or, at least, "a leaker" -- too.

By Tim Grieve

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

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