Thinking Through The Rove Leak On The Valerie Plame Case

I’ll grant you that Joe Wilson is a lying partisan, publicity hog.

I’ll also grant you that Valerie Plame’s “secret identity” wasn’t exactly secret (see here & here) before she was “outed” by Novak’s column.

Furthermore, despite all the “super secret squirrel” stuff we’ve heard about Valerie Plame, she isn’t exactly camera shy.

Also, for all the “covert agent” talk, former “covert agent” seems to be more of an accurate description of Valerie Plame given that it was apparently widely known that she was a CIA agent and that she hadn’t been out of the US for a few years before the Novak column.

Moreover, it’s highly doubtful that a crime was even committed.

On top of that, Karl Rove, who looks to have alerted at least Time’s Matthew Cooper that Wilson’s wife was in the CIA, didn’t reveal her name and apparently it wasn’t a “malicious leak”. It was designed to counter incorrect information that Cooper had.

…Which puts me in a bit of a pickle.

Originally, when the story broke, the leaker was being talked about as having committed a felony by maliciously outing a covert CIA operative in order to get political revenge on her husband.

Given that information, my original opinion was that the leaker should be fired.

However, knowing what we do today — that Plame was in essence an analyst, not a covert operative, I’m not even sure that revealing Plame’s identity was unethical.

Of course, that’s inconsistent with my original opinion and it looks particularly inconsistent given that Karl Rove is involved.

Plus, it’s important for conservatives to act like Democrats did during the Clinton years and mindlessly defend everything the administration does no matter how sleazy it is.

On the other hand, we Republicans have a tendency to be overly critical of our own in cases like this. Let’s face it, if Karl Rove were a Democrat, nobody would even be considering tossing him overboard right now. It would be stonewall, stonewall, stonewall, & Patrick Fitzgerald is a Republican shill who’s persecuting Karl because he’s part of the VRWC!

But then you have to consider all the publicity this Plame has gotten. It would look bad if Bush hung on to Rove after it happened.

Conversely, if Bush got rid of Rove, who people know is his right hand man, that would look bad, too. It would confirm to the public that something “really bad happened” which the Democrats would use to try to tar the whole administration.

However, as a general rule, it’s a good idea to even avoid the appearance of ethical impropriety — especially when it might concern the safety of a CIA agent.

Yet and still, I have this hunch that if no crime were committed and Bush sticks by Rove, he could probably weather this whole storm quite well.

What it basically comes down to is that it’s a no-win situation at this point. Should Karl Rove be fired for what now appears to be a very minor, non-criminal offense or should Bush risk sustaining political damage by keeping him around?

This could change; heck, I’ve actually changed my opinion 3 times writing this, but I think that Bush should…you know what? I’m going to do something people in the blogosphere should do more often. I’m going to hold back, I’m going to soak up a little more buzz, and I’m going to wait for the conclusion of the investigation before I make a call on this one. Sometimes it’s better to just keep your powder dry…

*** Update #1 ***: Here’s an interesting detail that seems to have been largely overlooked:

Let me grab a red pen and play editor for a moment. First, for Mike Isikoff of Newsweek, let’s get some corporate synergy going – your very own WaPo parent reported last November that Novak’s column went out on the wire on Friday, July 11, the same day that Cooper and Rove talked. Editor & Publisher also picked up on this (and both articles appeared in my still-useful timeline). Good job by Hunter at DKos for noting this:

Cooper talked to Rove at 11:07am, according to Newsweek. You can bet Fitzgerald has already determined precisely when Novak’s column hit the wires.

Someone alert Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, and David Corn to this point as well. But could Novak have tipped Rove, or someone else, as to the content of his column even before it hit the wire? (And lest you doubt the July 11 timing, a careful reading of Novak’s column makes it painfully obvious that he was unaware of Tenet’s climbdown on the “16 Words”, which occurred later on Friday, July 11.

That would seem to me to be an extremely important bit of info. If Rove talked to Cooper AFTER the Novak column hit the wire, he could have talked about Valerie Plame as much as he liked. Once her identity is out there, covert or not, there’s certainly nothing illegal or unethical about discussing it with a reporter.

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