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So What's the Story on Bob Novak?

His decision to play it cagey in the Plame case is helping no one.
Los Angeles Times
By Jonathan Turley
Jonathan Turley is a professor at George Washington University Law School and has represented individuals asserting the journalistic privilege.
July 1, 2005

Columnist Robert Novak has made a career for himself as a human flamethrower for conservative causes. Yet, even Novak appears surprised at the mounting cost of his disclosure in 2003 of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

It was classic Novak: a hatchet job directed not at Plame, but at her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. The firestorm that erupted has consumed millions of dollars in investigation and litigation costs and has wreaked havoc with the career not just of Plame (who had to leave the CIA) but of two reporters who were hauled into court and threatened with prison.

Novak's original intention, it seems, was to publicly damage Wilson, who had embarrassed President Bush by showing that he relied on false information to justify the Iraq war. Although Novak admits that he was asked not to publish Plame's name by a CIA official, he insists that he did not realize that he might be putting her in danger. Nevertheless, he showed little concern for safety or propriety until after the controversy erupted.

It is a far cry from the first recorded fight over anonymous sources: In 1848, New York Herald reporter John Nugent refused to give up his source for a copy of the secret Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War.

It goes without saying that Novak is no Nugent. After all, Nugent's source was a government official who revealed the controversial elements of a secret treaty. (Many still believe that the leaker was James Buchanan, the secretary of State and future president.) Conversely, Novak's piece was based on dirt received from anonymous government officials seeking to discredit a whistle-blower.

Novak insists that he was merely publishing a newsworthy tip from "two senior administration officials;" he suggests that it was important to point out that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent in order to explain why Wilson had been sent on a mission to Niger by the Bush administration. But whatever the value of this information, Novak could have ended it there. Instead, he chose to name Wilson's wife.

The disclosure of the name — in addition to violating the law against revealing the names of covert personnel — served no apparent purpose beyond that of retaliation.

Here's another difference between Novak and Nugent: Nugent allowed himself to be held in contempt rather than reveal his source. What Novak has done or failed to do as a journalist remains shielded in mystery because Novak refuses to talk. Traditionally, journalists have publicly explained their status and their position in such controversies — as have various other reporters in the Plame affair. Knowing where Novak stands in this case would be important because the other journalists involved — especially Judith Miller of the New York Times — need to know his position so they can form a unified front against government threats.

Over the course of the investigation into the matter, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has gone after journalists such as Miller with a fury — winning findings of contempt against them for refusing to give up their sources.

Yet, there has been a conspicuous absence of any similar effort against Novak. This has led to speculation that either Novak has been given special treatment by a Republican prosecutor, or he has revealed his sources, or his sources have revealed themselves to the prosecutors.

On Wednesday, Novak appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics" to deflect growing criticism of his silence. "If anyone thinks they're going to jail because of me, it's madness." This is, of course, is technically true. Miller may go to jail for her principled refusal to sacrifice her sources.

In the interview, Novak refused to answer even the most basic question, such as whether "in general … you cooperated with investigators in the case." Novak insisted his lawyer had told him not to answer "until this case is finished." His reliance on his lawyer's advice is a rather feeble and perplexing defense.

Yes, lawyers often prefer that their clients remain quiet under the theory that what you don't say can't be used against you. But Novak is not some button-man for the Gotti family. He is a self-described journalist who started a firestorm with a politically engineered attack piece on a civil servant for which another reporter is in danger of going to jail. Novak himself would never accept the "my lawyer did it" defense from a public figure. At the end of the day, it is Novak's decision whether to take such advice or ignore it.

Now facing incarceration, Miller personifies the need for a federal shield law protecting journalists from such coercion — similar to those laws passed in 49 states and the District of Columbia. As for Novak, he promises another blockbuster: Once he is no longer at risk, he will "reveal all in a column." At least it should make interesting reading for Miller in her cellblock.



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He probably feels safe because he has been granted immunity from prosecution. He's one of prince stupids good ole boys and figures he can lie his way out of this one too. This whole administration is a pack of liars that has no match.

I continue to be perplexed as to why these journalists are not required to divulge the perpetrators of a crime, i.e. the outing of a covert agent. This crime, as established by George H.W. Bush, is reprehensible in its many facets including endangering the lives of Plame's assets. Since these were people involved in discovering the WMD intentions of hostile governments (isn't that terrorism?) you would think that this would be right up there as crime Numero Uno. But no, not in the Bush Alternative Dispensation.

What is troubling is the lack of media coverage on these subjects! How can the American public have any debate on these issues if the media fails to report!

The death penality is called for in the case of treason!

If Novak's actions bother you, try this site.

Novak is literally and figuratively a small man. What amazes me is that at one time he held a security clearance. He knows better. It was all for politics which demonstrates little character.

Even if he does "tell all" when this is over that will not change a thing regarding his initial choice to print Plame's name. He still did something very wrong against this country.

Wonder if he would have done it if it were reversed...a man was the CIA agent.

CNN cancelled "Capitol Gang" quietly a week ago. I wonder if Novak is off the CNN payroll now. I wonder if the other yawning heads on the program will begin to speak up against Novak.

Mon Jul 4, 7:00 PM ET

NEW YORK--In war collaborators are more dangerous than enemy forces, for they betray with intimate knowledge in painful detail and demoralize by their cynical example. This explains why, at the end of occupations, the newly liberated exact vengeance upon their treasonous countrymen even they allow foreign troops to conduct an orderly withdrawal.

If, as state-controlled media insists, there is such a creature as a Global War on Terrorism, our enemies are underground Islamist organizations allied with or ideologically similar to those that attacked us on 9/11. But who are the collaborators?

The right points to critics like Michael Moore, yours truly, and Ward Churchill, the Colorado professor who points out the gaping chasm between America's high-falooting rhetoric and its historical record. But these bête noires are guilty only of the all-American actions of criticism and dissent, not to mention speaking uncomfortable truths to liars and deniers. As far as we know, no one on what passes for the "left" (which would be the center-right anywhere else) has betrayed the United States in the GWOT. No anti-Bush progressive has made common cause with Al Qaeda, Hamas, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or any other officially designated "terrorist" group. No American liberal has handed over classified information or worked to undermine the CIA.

But it now appears that Karl Rove, GOP golden boy, has done exactly that.

Last week Time magazine turned over its reporter's notes to a special prosecutor assigned to learn who told Republican columnist Bob Novak that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. The revelation, which effectively ended Plame's CIA career and may have endangered her life, followed her husband Joe Wilson's publication of a New York Times op-ed piece that embarrassed the Bush Administration by debunking its claims that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium from Niger. Time's cowardly decision to break its promise to a confidential source has had one beneficial side effect: according to Newsweek, it indicates that Karl Rove himself made the call to Novak.

One might have expected Rove, the master White House political strategist who engineered Bush's 2000 coup d'état and post-9/11 permanent war public relations campaign, to have ordered a flunky underling to carry out this act of high treason. But as the Arab saying goes, arrogance diminishes wisdom.

Rove, whose gaping maw recently vomited forth that Democrats didn't care about 9/11, is atypically silent. He did talk to the Time reporter but "never knowingly disclosed classified information," claims his attorney. But there's circumstantial evidence to go along with Time's leaked notes. Ari Fleischer abruptly resigned as Bush's press secretary on May 16, 2003, about the same time the White House became aware of Ambassador Wilson's plans to go public. (Wilson's article appeared July 6.) Did Fleischer quit because he didn't want to act as spokesman for Rove's plan to betray CIA agent Plame? Another interesting coincidence: Novak published his Plame column on July 14, Fleischer's last day on the job.

If Newsweek's report is accurate, Karl Rove is more morally repugnant and more anti-American than Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden, after all, has no affiliation with, and therefore no presumed loyalty to, the United States. Rove, on the other hand, is a U.S. citizen and, as deputy White House chief of staff, a high-ranking official of the U.S. government sworn to uphold and defend our nation, its laws and its interests. Yet he sold out America just to get even with Joe Wilson.

Osama bin Laden, conversely, is loyal to his cause. He has never exposed an Al Qaeda agent's identity to the media.

"[Knowingly revealing Plame's name and undercover status to the media] a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and is punishable by as much as ten years in prison," notes the Washington Post. Unmasking an intelligent agent during a time of war, however, surely rises to giving aid and comfort to America's enemies--treason. Treason is punishable by execution under the United States Code.

How far up the White House food chain does the rot of treason go? "Bush has always known how to keep Rove in his place," wrote Time in 2002 about a "symbiotic relationship" that dates to 1973. This isn't some rogue "plumbers" operation. Rove would never go it alone on a high-stakes action like Valerie Plame. It's a safe bet that other, higher-ranking figures in the Bush cabal--almost certainly Dick Cheney and possibly Bush himself--signed off before Rove called Novak. For the sake of national security, those involved should be removed from office at once.

Rove and his collaborators should quickly resign and face prosecution for betraying their country, but given their sense of personal entitlement impeachment is probably the best we can hope for. Congress, and all Americans, should place patriotism ahead of party loyalty.

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