A report that Richard Armitage leaked Valerie Plame's identity to Bob Woodward and Robert Novak answers one of the big outstanding questions in Plamegate. But does it suggest, as at least one right-wing blogger argues today, that the entire investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame has been much ado about nothing?
As we said this morning, what we seem to have here is two separate, albeit related, paths by which Plame's identity was exposed. Richard Armitage appears to have leaked to Woodward and Novak either as a slip-up or as a gambit in intra-administration, protect-your-flank politics. Scooter Libby and Karl Rove leaked, collectively speaking, to Novak and Judy Miller and Tim Russert and Matt Cooper as part of what Patrick Fitzgerald has called a "concerted effort" to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of the president's war in Iraq.
If two people run the same red light at about the same time, one because he's distracted by his cellphone, the other because he's driving the getaway car after a bank robbery, the coincidence of their actions doesn't make them part of the same crime syndicate, nor does the relative innocence of the one have much at all to do with the guilt of the other. Which is to say, the fact that Armitage leaked Plame's name -- carelessly or for his own political purposes -- doesn't tell us much at all about the existence of any conspiracy among Dick Cheney, Libby and Rove.
So when will we know more about that? Fitzgerald isn't under any obligation to issue any final report on his investigation. So unless Libby actually goes to trial -- that is, if a pardon or a plea deal doesn't cut the proceeding short -- we may never learn much more from the office of the special counsel. The civil suit Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson have filed could lead to some compelled testimony by Cheney, Rove and Libby, but that's by no means a sure thing, and the judge assigned to the case is already showing some annoyance with the Wilsons and their legal team.
That pretty much leaves journalists and historians, and we don't have high hopes for either right now. Unless something spectacular happens down the road -- and we're talking here of something on the scale of the indictment of the vice president -- we're betting that the mainstream press treats Plamegate as old news from here on out. (So far as we can tell, for example, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post has said a word about the Michael Isikoff-David Corn Armitage story yet.) Iraq may be the dominant theme of this election cycle, but the way in which the Bush administration took the country to war there is only part of that story, and Plamegate is, in turn, only a substory within that part. We think it's a pretty important part, but reporters and editors could well decide that it isn't one that resonates all that strongly with readers. According to a Gallup poll out today, 40 percent of Americans either don't know who Karl Rove is or don't know enough to have an opinion about him. Yes, it's a chicken-and-egg problem, but is it any wonder that John Mark Karr will get a hell of a lot more airtime than Dick Armitage does this week?
As for history? We're not holding our breath. If unreleased White House documents shed any further light on the vice president's role in Plamegate, the Bush administration has already done everything it can to prevent the public from ever getting its hands on them. It's hard to imagine Libby or Rove ever coming clean, at least so long as their futures as free men or their careers in Republican politics are an issue. Cheney? Forget about it. As U.S. News and World Reports is reporting, the vice president is apparently cooperating with an author on an authorized biography. The author? Stephen Hayes, the Weekly Standard writer who, as Think Progress notes, has made a cottage industry out of spreading the administration's false claims about Iraq. The most surprising thing Hayes has learned about his subject so far? That Cheney is a strong advocate for the "'softer side of the Bush doctrine, advocacy of democracy.'"