Plamegate: The winners and the losers

An interim report card.

Published October 17, 2005 5:19PM (EDT)

We're a long way from being able to make final judgments in the Valerie Plame case, but recent developments -- especially, but not only, the New York Times' account of Judy Miller's role in the case -- make it possible to issue an interim report card on the winners and losers so far. Here's how we see it just now:

Judy Miller -- loser. We don't need to stamp an "L" on Miller's forehead; her critics have been doing it for months, and now the New York Times has, too. The Times describes Miller as "divisive," says other reporters "refused to work with her," calls her reporting on nonexistent WMDs in Iraq "credulous," notes that she still won't "discuss her interactions with editors, elaborate on the written account of her grand jury testimony or allow reporters to review her notes," and suggests that she lied to her bureau chief when she was asked in 2003 about whether she'd received news of Plame's identity from a White House official and then lied again to Times reporters this week when she said that she had urged the paper to pursue a story on the Plame leak. Exactly nobody believes that Miller just "found" a notebook containing a reference to "Valerie Flame," and just as many of us believe her when she says she can't remember how that name came to be there.

Patrick Fitzgerald -- winner. The New York Times insisted that putting Judy Miller in jail wouldn't make her talk. The New York Times was wrong.

Patrick Fitzgerald -- loser. The Times has left Miller so thoroughly discredited that she may not be worth much as a witness for Fitzgerald in any prosecution he might bring.

Bill Keller, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and the New York Times -- losers. To read the Times' account, the paper and its top managers knew that Miller was a reporter of questionable judgment but were somehow powerless to do anything about it. Keller says that he told Miller that she couldn't write about Iraq and weapons issues but that "she kept kind of drifting on her own back into the national security realm." Sulzberger says that he left Miller's hand on the "wheel" of the car in the Plame case because she was the one at risk. We're all for editors and publishers who trust reporters once they've earned the right to be trusted, but why didn't Keller and Sulzberger demand to know more from Miller before letting her take the Times down with her? Why is she still on the Times' payroll today?

Jill Abramson and Phil Taubman -- winners. Both Times editors should get points from colleagues inside and outside the paper -- Abramson for saying that she regrets "the entire thing," in reference to the Times' handling of the Miller case, and both of them for setting the record straight on some of the discussions that went on inside the Times.

Scooter Libby -- loser. Maybe he won't be indicted, and ultimately, that's the only win-loss column that matters. But for now, Scooter of the Turning Aspens comes off as the guy to whom the words "obstruction of justice" seem most likely to be linked. As Miller sat in jail, Libby's lawyer could insist that Libby had long since freed her from her confidentiality pledge even as Libby himself seemed to hint that Miller should either refrain from testifying or lie about their conversations when she did.

Robert Novak -- winner. As Miller is vilified, Novak -- who unlike Miller actually wrote something about Plame -- is ignored and marginalized as a right-wing has-been. He had two sources on Plame, and Rove was the second. Who was the first, and why isn't anyone asking anymore?

Floyd Abrams and Joseph Tate -- losers. It's hard to tell who's right in the "he said, he said" pissing match between the two lawyers. Maybe Abrams fumbled. Maybe Tate lied. Neither looks good in the process.

Scott McClellan -- loser. Credibility, zero. Either Scooter Libby and Karl Rove felt free to lie to him, or he felt compelled to lie for them.

Judy Miller's other source -- winner. Miller says she can't remember who gave her the name "Valerie Flame." "I don't remember who told me the name," she said Sunday in what the Wall Street Journal described as an "agitated" tone of voice. Asked if Karl Rove was her source, she replied, "I'm not going to discuss anyone else that I talked to."

Karl Rove -- well, who knows? He sure looked like a loser last week, when he schlepped himself back for yet another visit with the grand jury. We know that he leaked Plame's identity to Matthew Cooper, and we know that he somehow forgot to mention that fact to investigators early on in the case. But Rove has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat more than once in his life before, and he and his supporters know this better than anyone: If you set expectations low enough, even the smallest success looks like a triumph. As soon as the conventional wisdom decides that Rove will be indicted, he'll be on his way to a comeback.

By Tim Grieve

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

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