Politics & Policy

A Third (or Fourth, or Fifth) Source?

Why is the Plamegate spotlight so narrowly focused on Rove?

In recent weeks, media attention on who leaked the identity of CIA analyst Valerie Plame has focused almost exclusively on top White House political adviser Karl Rove. Since news of Rove’s brief discussions with Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper and syndicated columnist Robert Novak became public, Democrats have called for Rove to be fired, left-wing activists have accused him of treason, and others have expressed the hope that he will soon find himself in prison.

Yet is seems likely, from what is publicly known, that Rove was not the person who originally leaked Plame’s identity to Novak. (The same can be said for another, less-mentioned figure in the investigation, vice-presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby.) That means that, despite the overwhelming focus on Rove, the main source for the information about Plame contained in Novak’s July 14, 2003, column remains hidden from public view.

There are a number of indicators pointing to the existence of other sources in the case. One such indicator came in an exchange on NBC’s Meet the Press on July 17 in which host Tim Russert interviewed Cooper about his role in Plamegate. Russert noted that Cooper had written “some government officials have noted to Time in interviews (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that [ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched to Niger…”

“‘Some government officials,’” Russert asked. “That is Rove and Libby?”

“Yes, those were among the sources for that, yeah,” Cooper answered.

“Are there more?” Russert followed up.

“I don’t want to get into it, but it’s possible,” Cooper said.

“Have you told the grand jury about that?”

“The grand jury knows what I know, yes.”

“That there may have been more sources?”

“Yes.”

Russert moved on to another issue, but the line of questioning left open the matter of who the additional source or sources might have been. Contacted by National Review Online, Cooper’s lawyer, Richard Sauber, played down the issue.

“It really is not something that I would spend a lot of time on,” Sauber said, adding that Cooper has told everything he knows to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. But Sauber declined to say why Cooper has not publicly discussed the possible additional sources. Even though Cooper is legally free to discuss his grand-jury testimony publicly–indeed, he wrote an entire article entitled, “What I Told the Grand Jury,” in which described his conversations with Rove and Libby–Cooper has remained publicly silent about other possible sources.

“There are good reasons for it that have nothing to do with protecting sources,” Sauber said. “Fitzgerald knows the story.” Asked again why Cooper has chosen not to speak publicly about the other sources, when he has spoken publicly about Rove and Libby, Sauber said, “Let’s just leave it at that. I would not spend any time on it, because I think it’s sort of pointless.”

At the moment, it is simply not possible to know whether the additional source or sources mentioned by Cooper are bit players, or tangentially involved, as Sauber’s words might suggest, or whether they are important figures in the investigation.

Another bit of evidence pointing to other sources in the Plamegate story is the account of Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. Writing in the “Nieman Watchdog,” a publication of Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, Pincus described a conversation on July 12, 2003, in which “an administration official, who was talking to me confidentially about a matter involving alleged Iraqi nuclear activities, veered off the precise matter we were discussing and told me that the White House had not paid attention to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s CIA-sponsored February 2002 trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction.”

Pincus did not identify his source publicly but has discussed the conversation with prosecutor Fitzgerald. Pincus did so, he wrote, only after he learned that “my source, whom I still cannot identify publicly, had in fact disclosed to the prosecutor that he was my source, and he talked to the prosecutor about our conversation.”

There has been some speculation that Pincus’s source was not Rove or Libby; at the very least, Pincus’s description of his conversation with the source does not closely match what is known about Rove’s and Libby’s conversations with other reporters. If the source was indeed not Rove or Libby, then Pincus’s account suggests there was at least one administration source who had a fairly detailed knowledge of Plame and her role in her husband’s trip to Niger but who has so far remained out of the public eye.

At the time, Pincus did not publish what he had been told about Plame. But in an article about the Niger matter published in the Post on July 13, 2003, the day after his discussion with the administration official, Pincus attributed information to two “senior administration officials,” one of whom he described as a “senior official with knowledge of the intelligence.” Neither was identified as being a White House official, but the phrase “administration official” does not preclude that and is indeed commonly used as a way to conceal precisely where the source works.

Pincus’s article was co-authored by Mike Allen, then the Post’s White House reporter. Given the confidentiality agreements involved, it is impossible to say which reporter spoke to which source. (There have been no reports of Allen being questioned in the Plame matter.) But it is reasonable to suggest that some of the “senior administration” officials,” might well have come from outside the White House, and thus that the information about Plame might have come from outside the White House, too.

It’s just not clear. But it is clear that sources other than those so far publicly known discussed the Plame matter with reporters. Despite that, the media, and the political, focus remains on Rove. At least until the next revelation.

Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of the book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President–and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.

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