Rove and Plame: The dog, unwagged

There's new information out about how the White House may have learned what it eventually leaked.

Published July 20, 2005 12:41PM (EDT)

George W. Bush's decision to announce his Supreme Court pick Tuesday night knocked news of the Valerie Plame investigation off the airwaves and into the back pages -- if that -- of Wednesday morning's news. That's not to say that there aren't some developments in the case: The Associated Press has a story out shedding more light on the State Department memo that revealed the identity of Valerie Plame, and Eric Boehlert is up with a theory of how Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, might have learned of Plame's identity himself.

The AP says that the State Department memo -- the one Ari Fleischer was seen perusing on Air Force One in July 2003 -- was originally prepared in June 2003 at the direction of Carl W. Ford Jr., who was then the head of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. A retired State Department official told the AP that Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of state who was in charge of the department while Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, were traveling, had asked for the memo because he was not familiar with the claims about an Iraq-Niger link or the State Department's disagreement with the White House over the merits of those claims.

However, after Joseph Wilson's July 6, 2003, Op-Ed appeared in the New York Times, Armitage called Ford and asked him to provide Powell, who was by then en route to Africa, with an account of Wilson's Niger trip, the former official told the AP. The memo was reworked a bit and faxed to Powell on Air Force One on July 7, 2003. The AP, relying on the account of the retired official, said that the memo said that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and had suggested that he be sent to Niger. It did not, the official said, say whether Plame worked undercover at the CIA, nor did it identify her as Valerie Plame.

Although the memo was apparently marked with a notation that alerted readers not to reveal its contents, Karl Rove was on the phone with Robert Novak the next day, confirming that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Was the memo the basis for Rove's leak? We don't know yet -- but we do know that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has been interested in seeing phone records from Air Force One.

Over at the Huffington Post, former Salon writer Boehlert says there may be "an easier explanation" for how Scooter Libby came to know Plame's identity as a CIA agent: "He simply visited her workplace." As Boehlert notes, Cheney made a series of trips to Langley to meet with CIA analysts in the run-up to the war. Plame worked at the CIA's Nonproliferation Center, and -- as USA Today reported back in 2003 -- Libby accompanied Cheney to a meeting with NPC officials on at least one occasion before the war began. A source told the paper that Plame wasn't at that meeting but that she had been involved in preparing materials for it.

Time's Matthew Cooper has said that Libby confirmed for him, off the record, that Plame worked for the CIA.

By Tim Grieve

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

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