Two years after Ambassador Joe Wilson first named Karl Rove in the outting of his wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame, all eyes turn again to the man some say is the most powerful unelected official in the country–Karl Rove. We speak with Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff. [includes rush transcript]
Two reporters might be ordered to jail today for refusing to reveal their confidential sources. Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine were held in contempt of court last year for refusing to cooperate in the investigation of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Since December of 2003, Fitzgerald has been investigating how the name of undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame, ended up in a column written by conservative columnist Robert Novak. Disclosing an undercover agent is a federal crime and Fitzgerald had been investigating whether someone from the White House leaked the story to the press. In court filings, Fitzgerald said, "Journalists are not entitled to promise confidentiality — no one in America is."
Valerie Plame is the wife of former U.S Ambassador Joseph Wilson, the last US official to meet Saddam Hussein before the start of the 1991 Gulf War. After President Bush’s controversial State of the Union address before the invasion of Iraq in which Bush made his case for the war, Wilson wrote an Op-ed piece in the New York Times disputing one of President Bush’s key claims–that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium from Niger. This was the administration’s main evidence that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear program and it’s chief justification for the invasion. The White House later recanted the claim. Eight days after Wilson’s op-ed appeared in the Times, Novak’s column in which he revealed Valerie Plame’s identity, was published. At the time Wilson charged that it was an attempt by the Bush administration to intimidate other whistleblowers from going public.
Miller who conducted interviews related to the leak and Cooper who published Plame’s name after Novak did, have consistently refused to testify about conversations with their sources. Novak is apparently not facing prison time and has refused answer whether or not he is cooperating with the investigation.
Chief Judge Hogan of the federal district court in D.C had ordered Miller and Cooper to be held up to eighteen months in jail for refusing to disclose their sources. Last week the Supreme Court upheld Hogan’s ruling. On Friday, Cooper and Miller filed papers arguing for home confinement if incarceration is required. Yesterday, Fitzgerald vehemently opposed those requests and insisted on jail time. He also insisted that Cooper still testify even though Cooper’s employer — Time Magazine — last week agreed to hand over a copy of Cooper’s notes.
Now, many eyes in Washington turn their focus back on the man some say is the most powerful unelected official in the country—President Bush’s chief advisor, Karl Rove. From the start of this scandal, Rove has been suspect number one for many critics of the administration, not the least of whom is Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson. In fact, about a month after Novak’s column was initially published, Wilson named Rove, saying he wanted to see him "frogmarched" out of the White House in handcuffs. Wilson made these comments when he spoke at the Ensley Forum in Washington state in August of 2003. Democracy Now! was the first to broadcast these remarks in September of 2003.
- Joseph Wilson, speaking in Seattle, August, 2003.
Up until now the Bush administration has claimed Karl Rove had no role in the case. Here is White House spokesman Scott McClellan at a press conference in September of 2003 denying that Rove was in any way implicated in the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.
- White House Press Briefing, September 29, 2003.
In May of last year, Joseph Wilson appeared on Democracy Now! to talk about his new book, "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity." During the interview, Wilson said again that he had information that Karl Rove was involved in the outing of his wife as an undercover CIA agent.
- Joseph Wilson, interviewed on Democracy Now!, May 14, 2004.
On Friday, Political commentator Lawrence O’Donnell announced that Mathew Cooper’s notes and e-mails, released last week by Time, would show Karl Rove was the source behind the public outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Also, this weekend, Newsweek investigative reporter, Michael Isikoff wrote that the documents showed that Rove was one of Cooper’s sources. He also writes that Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin confirms that Rove talked to Cooper but insists that Rove "never knowingly disclosed classified information" and "did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA."A Identity." During the interview, Wilson said again that he had information that Karl Rove was involved in the outing of his wife as an undercover CIA agent.
- Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for Newsweek.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Joseph Wilson speaking at the Ensley Forum.
JOSEPH WILSON: I don’t think we’re going to let this drop. At the end of the day it is of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frogmarched out of the White House in handcuffs, and trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.
AMY GOODMAN: That was former U.S. ambassador, Joe Wilson speaking at the Ensley Forum in August of 2003. Up until now, the Bush administration has claimed Karl Rove had no role in the case. Scott McClellan also said this at a news conference in September of 2003, denying that Rove was in any way implicated in the outing of covert C.I.A. operative, Valerie Plame. We turn right now to Michael Isikoff, who is a spokesperson — who writes for Newsweek magazine. Welcome to Democracy Now!
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, good to be with you, but I’m not a spokesperson for anybody.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, I know. Can you talk about what you have learned in the last piece you have done in the Newsweek magazine?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yeah, well, what we reported is that the computer notes and emails that Time magazine turned over to Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald last week do identify Rove as one of Matt Cooper’s sources for the article in question that he wrote on July 17, online with two other reporters that, among other things, said that some government officials have noted that Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife, worked for the C.I.A. on weapons of mass destruction.
We also quoted Robert Luskin, Rove’s attorney, acknowledging that Rove did speak to Cooper late on the week prior to the article coming out, which would have been July 10 or 11. He wasn’t sure exactly which day, but what’s noteworthy about that is that is also before Valerie Plame is first identified in the Robert Novak piece that ran on Monday, July 14. Mr. Luskin also says that Rove did not knowingly disclose classified information and did not tell any reporters that Valerie Plame worked for the C.I.A.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back for a moment now to Scott McClellan, to the spokesperson for the White House and what he was saying in September of 2003. The White House being very clear that Karl Rove had nothing to do with it. Let’s go to Scott McClellan.
REPORTER: …morning, quote: "The President knows that Karl Rove wasn’t involved." How does he know that?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Well, he made it very clear that it was a ridiculous suggestion in the first place. I saw some comments this morning from the person who made that suggestion backing away from that, and I said, "It is simply not true." So, I mean, it is public knowledge, I’ve said that it’s not true, and I have spoken with Karl Rove. I’m not going to get into conversations that the President has with advisors or staff or anything of that nature. That’s not my practice.
REPORTER: The President has a factual basis for knowing that —
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Well, I said —- I said it publicly. I said that. So -—
REPORTER: I’m not asking what you said, I’m asking, the President has a factual basis for saying, per your statement, that he knows —
SCOTT McCLELLAN: He’s aware of what I’ve said, that there is simply no truth to that suggestion. And I have — I have spoken with Karl about it.
AMY GOODMAN: That was White House spokesperson Scott McClellan speaking at a news conference in September 2003. In May of that year, Joseph Wilson appeared on Democracy Now! to talk about his new book. This was May of 2004. The Politics Of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s C.I.A. Identity, the title of the book. During the interview, Wilson said again he had information that Karl Rove was involved with the outing of his wife as an undercover C.I.A. operative. Here he is, May 14, 2004:
JOSEPH WILSON: I was not going to respond to Novak’s article publicly. I was not going to comment and did not comment on my wife’s employment other than to say, hypothetically, if she was what Novak asserts, then he might be in violation of the law, and refer all questions to the C.I.A., which was appropriate. So I was laying low, but the communications office was calling around to all of these journalists, and over the course of the weekend, I was getting calls every day from people saying, the first call was, "The White House is telling us so many off the wall things, we can’t even go with them, but we’d like you to come on so we can ask you some questions." I didn’t rise to that bait. Andrea Mitchell called me and said, "The White House is saying that the real story here is Wilson and his wife," and then finally Chris Matthews called me and said, "I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, ’Wilson’s wife is fair game.’"
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Joe Wilson on Democracy Now!, May of last year. Michael Isikoff, of Newsweek, your response to what Wilson said?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, look, I don’t know that I have a response to what Wilson said. We did report — Newsweek was the first to report, actually, late in October of 2003 that Karl Rove did call Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s "Hardball" show after the Novak piece and tell him that Wilson’s wife was fair game. So that, you know, directly implicated Rove in the spreading of the accusation, if that’s what you want to call it, about Valerie Plame after the Novak column, but that’s not a crime. At that point he can be plausibly described as acting on, you know, what’s already been published in the newspaper. The crucial question is what happened before the Novak column. And that’s why the new disclosures are so significant.
AMY GOODMAN: What about —
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Potentially significant, by the way, because we don’t know exactly what’s in Matt Cooper’s notes, and we don’t know — and we don’t still know the answer to the crucial question of whether it was Rove or somebody else that revealed Valerie Plame’s name to him.
AMY GOODMAN: And we don’t know what Robert Novak did, whether he cooperated with the Grand Jury. Of course, it looks like he did, because he is not being targeted by Fitzgerald. What is your knowledge of this?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, I think the operating assumption of everybody is that Novak has provided information to Fitzgerald in one form or another. There is simply no plausible construction of the known evidence that leaves out Novak either providing a proffer through his lawyer of what he would say if he testified or having testified directly.
AMY GOODMAN: And Michael Isikoff, what are your thoughts on Cooper and Miller going to jail?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, I think it’s horrible. I mean, you know, look, I’m a journalist. I assure confidentiality to sources all the time. It is, you know, a tragic chain of events that things have gotten this far. I think Judge Hogan used the analogy, "a perfect storm," and, you know, if it turns out that the source in question that Cooper is protecting is Karl Rove, you know, that sets off a whole other line of questions that one would want to ask oneself about the circumstances here. It’s a very tough choice, and I do not envy either Matt Cooper or Judy Miller being in this position one bit.
AMY GOODMAN: The website RawStory is reporting Congress member John Conyers is circulating a letter to other House Democrats that calls on Karl Rove to explain his role in the outing of Valerie Plame or resign his office. Conyers is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. How significant do you think that is?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, it’s John Conyers, and, you know, he’s not exactly in power at the moment. You know, this is — one can imagine how life would be different if one body of Congress was controlled by the other party, there would be subpoena power and there would be all — mechanisms to get to the bottom of all sorts of issues of controversy. But there isn’t and so it’s not going to go very far.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see any possibility of Karl Rove going to jail?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: I mean, you know, unless he’s indicted and convicted, no, and we’re a long way from that. But I do think that as more information gets out there and the thought crystallizes that one of the people Matt Cooper may be protecting, or is protecting by not talking, is Karl Rove, I think that may put a little more pressure on the White House to provide more details about what it is exactly Rove has testified to. He has testified before the Grand Jury three times. We know that from his lawyer. He has not made public his testimony. If — you know, it seems to me that if we see Matt Cooper being carted off to jail today, a lot of people may find that, you know, a very upsetting thing. I would hope everybody does, and, you know, it might increase public pressure. There’s nothing to prevent Karl Rove from calling a press conference right now and saying, "Here’s exactly what I’ve testified to. Here’s exactly what I said to Matt Cooper."
By the way, Matt Cooper has testified about his conversations or talked to Fitzgerald about his interview with Scooter Libby. He did so because Scooter Libby personally assured him that he had no problem with him doing so. It is true that Rove, as all White House officials have done, has signed this White House written waiver, waiving confidentiality of his conversation with reporters on this matter, but Time has taken and Cooper has taken the position that those waivers are irrelevant, they are implicitly coercive, and a reporter cannot rely on such a waiver in testifying to break confidentiality. What he got from Scooter Libby was a personal assurance that Scooter Libby didn’t mind him talking about what the two of them talked about. There is nothing to prevent Karl Rove from calling up Matt Cooper today and saying, "Matt Cooper, I have absolutely no problem with you telling — talking to Fitzgerald about what the two of us talked about."
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Michael Isikoff. We have to break, then we will come back to him to conclude our conversation.