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Explaining Plame, part 2: Judith Miller does Scooter Libby's laundry

Explaining Plame, part 2: Judith Miller does Scooter Libby's laundry
By Swopa
Oct 15 2005 - 7:42pm

Okay, in Part I, I promised that Karl Rove would be next, but the new pair of Judith Miller articles in the New York Times dictates that I talk about her and Scooter first. (In a chronological sense, it's more appropriate anyway.)

Let's begin with a previously unheralded passage from the Washington Post two years ago, looking back at the weeks just before Joseph Wilson went public in criticizing the White House:

In early June, Wilson told his story to The Washington Post on the condition that his name be withheld. On June 12, The Post published a more complete account than [Nicholas] Kristof's [in the New York Times] of Wilson's trip. . . .

By that time, officials in the White House, Cheney's office, the CIA and the State Department were familiar with Wilson and his mission to Niger.

Starting that week, the officials repeatedly played down the importance of Wilson's trip and its findings, saying it had been authorized within the CIA's nonproliferation section at a low level without requiring the approval of senior agency officials. No one brought up Wilson's wife, and her employment at the agency was not known at the time the article was published.
Got that? As of June 2003, folks like Scooter Libby and Karl Rove were sitting around with the true story of how Wilson's trip to Niger happened -- which included none of the three leaks that would turn up later -- and not getting very far with it from a PR standpoint. And nobody who was talking to the Washington Post was saying anything about Wilson's wife.

But come the second week in July, as I alluded to just over a week ago, word that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA (Leak 1) was seemingly everywhere, with the other pieces of what Robert Novak would soon write lurking in the shadows.

What happened in between? Oh, look -- hello, it's Judy Miller. In her firsthand account of her grand jury testimony, St. Judith writes of her conversation with Lewis "Scooter" Libby, VP Dick Cheney's chief of staff, in his office on June 23, 2003:

My notes indicate that Mr. Libby took issue with the suggestion that his boss had had anything to do with Mr. Wilson's trip. "Veep didn't know of Joe Wilson," I wrote, referring to the vice president. "Veep never knew what he did or what was said. Agency did not report to us."

Soon afterward Mr. Libby raised the subject of Mr. Wilson's wife for the first time. I wrote in my notes, inside parentheses, "Wife works in bureau?" I told Mr. Fitzgerald that I believed this was the first time I had been told that Mr. Wilson's wife might work for the C.I.A. . . . As to the question mark, I said I wasn't sure what it meant. Maybe it meant I found the statement interesting. Maybe Mr. Libby was not certain whether Mr. Wilson's wife actually worked there.
Now let's recall something that Libby lied about supposedly said during his grand jury testimony about his first meeting with Miller (which he postdated to July 8th): "Libby told Miller he heard that Wilson's wife had something to do with sending him but he did not know who she was or where she worked, the source said."

If this is what he said to Miller on June 23rd, given that Wilson had been sent to Niger by the CIA, Judy's margin note ("Wife works in bureau?") seems like a reasonable reaction, doesn't? Sure, it seems like a leading question -- Libby asking about something he almost certainly knew or could have found out on his own -- but, hmm, maybe there was a certain logic behind that. But back to the gospel according to St. Judith, relating her rendezvous with Scooter at the St. Regis Hotel on July 8th:

At that breakfast meeting, our conversation also turned to Mr. Wilson's wife. My notes contain a phrase inside parentheses: "Wife works at Winpac." Mr. Fitzgerald asked what that meant. Winpac stood for Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control, the name of a unit within the C.I.A. that, among other things, analyzes the spread of unconventional weapons.

I said I couldn't be certain whether I had known Ms. Plame's identity before this meeting, and I had no clear memory of the context of our conversation that resulted in this notation. But I told the grand jury that I believed that this was the first time I had heard that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for Winpac.
Notice how we always seem to be getting just one side of these conversations? This time, let's try to figure out the "context" that Judy has such a hard time telling the truth about remembering. Perhaps she told Scooter she had found out that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA -- answering that leading question I hypothesized Scooter asking before -- and what area, and Libby replied by giving the official title ("Oh, you mean WINPAC")?

What I'm driving at here is whether Miller's purported testimony fits with a scenario I described two months ago (and reiterated a week ago):

. . I think Rove, Libby et al. had the information from a classified source (for example, via the State Department memo that's been discussed, or separately through John Bolton or one of his flunkies at State) but tried to "launder" the leak through reporters in order to pretend that's how they learned it.

Whether Miller learned about Plame independently or was fed the information from the same source, the point is that once she volunteered it to Libby -- who already knew, but was reluctant to use it for risk of prosecution -- he probably pumped his fist ("It's not classified anymore! We're good to go!") and told Rove, Ari Fleischer, and whoever else that they were legally clear for spreading the word.
"But Swopa," you ask, "that only covers what you've called Leak 1 -- all Libby and Miller admit talking about was whether Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. What about the other two parts of the leak that Novak printed?"

Sheesh. I don't know why you're so dense in asking these questions that I put into your mouth. Let's go back to St. Judith's narrative, where she discusses the third element of the leak:

Mr. Fitzgerald asked me whether Mr. Libby had mentioned nepotism. I said no. And as I told the grand jury, I did not recall - and my interview notes do not show - that Mr. Libby suggested that Ms. Plame had helped arrange her husband's trip to Niger.
That's no problem -- in Novak's column, that's the one part of the leak that he specifically attributes to administration officials, so there's no need for a Libby-Miller link to have been involved. Not only that, because once more we're just being told half of the conversation, it's conceivable that Miller told Libby Plame set up the trip, based on the (bogus) information she'd been fed separately

But how would that accusation get to Bob Novak -- and what about the now-famous name of Plame, which I've made a big deal about in the past? Here's the most attention-getting part of Judith's newly revealed narrative:

Mr. Fitzgerald asked me about another entry in my notebook, where I had written the words "Valerie Flame," clearly a reference to Ms. Plame. Mr. Fitzgerald wanted to know whether the entry was based on my conversations with Mr. Libby. I said I didn't think so. I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall.

Mr. Fitzgerald asked if I could recall discussing the Wilson-Plame connection with other sources. I said I had, though I could not recall any by name or when those conversations occurred.
You know, this is something of a tangent, but here's definitive proof that Valerie Plame was a covert agent -- just mentioning her name has the mystifying property of making both parties forget everything about the conversation.

That aside, however, the point of my "laundered leak" theory has always been that the damaging use of the name under which Valerie Wilson worked covertly before her marriage was intentionally channeled outside the ranks of senior Bushite officials to give them implausible deniability.

So those "other sources" could involve not only John Bolton some unknown official who gave the dirt about Plame to Judith Miller, but also who she gave the name to afterwards. Remember the rumor in mid-July that Miller told Robert Novak directly about Plame?

I sure didn't, which is why I theorized at the end of July that Libby, Miller, and Novak were all perhaps literal "partners in crime" when it came to outing Valerie Plame Wilson. So far, based on what I've read in the New York Times tonight, that's still the story I'm sticking with.

Update: Part 3 (hello, Karl) coming soon, along with other posts. I'm also thinking of creating a separate Plame summary page detailing the roles I think were played by each person involved.



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Why are Bush's Chief of Staff and Cheney's Chief of Staff even talking to Miller- the media- about confidential issues? It seems that they were very cozy with her.

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