As the end draws near, Plame theories diverge

The coverup? The crime? Cheney? Rove? Libby? Nobody knows but Patrick Fitzgerald, and he's not talking -- yet.

Published October 21, 2005 1:14PM (EDT)

Inside the White House, members of the Bush administration are contemplating life after Karl Rove. On the liberal blogs, posters are contemplating the best way to celebrate the day -- they're calling it "Fitzmas" -- when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald does whatever he's going to do.

The reality is this: Nobody really knows what's coming. Well, that's not entirely true. This late in the game, Fitzgerald and his team probably know what they're planning. And his targets -- if there are targets -- and their lawyers probably have a pretty good idea about their odds of indictment. The rest of us? It's "spec-u-la-tion," as the president said yesterday, and the theories, even among the mainstream press, seem to be diverging rather than converging as the witching hour draws near.

Here's the latest:

It's not the crime, it's the coverup. After a brief absence, the New York Times checks back in with a report suggesting that Fitzgerald isn't concerned so much with Valerie Plame's outing as he is with what may have been attempts by Rove and Scooter Libby to cover their tracks. The Times says that Fitzgerald is weighing charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements. Rove and Libby "have been advised that they may be in serious legal jeopardy," the paper says, but it adds that other White House officials could still be indicted, too. The paper notes that the public still doesn't know the identity of the official who first leaked Plame's identity to Robert Novak -- but that Fitzgerald does.

No, it's the crime. The Wall Street Journal says the questions Fitzgerald has been asking suggest that he's looking at charging someone with leaking classified information. When Fitzgerald first started his investigation two years ago, he was considering whether anyone violated a 1982 act that prohibits the outing of an undercover intelligence agent. Lawyers and other sources tell the Journal that Fitzgerald may be "piecing together a case that White House officials conspired to leak various types of classified material in conversations with reporters -- including Ms. Plame's identity but also other secrets related to national security."

It's about Dick Cheney's feud with the CIA. In a Los Angeles Times report, Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger say that Cheney has fought with the CIA since he served as secretary of defense for George H.W. Bush, and that his long-standing "tussle" for the agency is at the center -- at least in part -- of Fitzgerald's probe. "Understanding Cheney's long relationship with Libby, and their shared doubts about the CIA, helps explain why the vice president and his staff would draw the interest of the prosecutor," they say.

It's about Scooter Libby's obsession with Joe Wilson. In another L.A. Times report, Wallsten and Hamburger tell an Ahab-and-the-whale story of Libby and Wilson. Relying on "former aides," they say Libby was so angry about Wilson's criticisms on Iraq that he "monitored all of Wilson's television appearances and urged the White House to mount an aggressive public campaign against him." The Times says Libby's effort to monitor and discredit Wilson began before Plame's name was leaked and extended into 2003, when Libby "ordered up a compendium of information that could be used to rebut Wilson's claims that the administration had 'twisted' intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq before the U.S. invasion." The Associated Press chimes in with a reminder that Libby appears to have sought out reporters -- Judy Miller, Tim Russert -- in the days and weeks before Plame was outed. Murray Waas says that Miller failed to tell the grand jury about a June 23, 2003, meeting with Libby until after prosecutors showed her Secret Service logs suggesting that the meeting had occurred.

It's about Rove. The Wall Street Journal, relying on a "former administration official," says that Rove discussed Wilson and the role of his wife during conversations with White House staffers about how to discredit Wilson. Robert Luskin, Rove's lawyer, calls the charge "maliciously false."

It's really about Niger. Taking several big steps away from the mainstream press, we find Justin Raimondo arguing that Fitzgerald is interested in who forged those documents about Niger and yellowcake in the first place.

By Tim Grieve

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

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