July 12, 2005,
The lawyer for top White House adviser Karl Rove says that Time reporter Matthew Cooper "burned" Rove after a conversation between the two men concerning former ambassador Joseph Wilson's fact-finding mission to Niger and the role Wilson's wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, played in arranging that trip. Nevertheless, attorney Robert Luskin says Rove long ago gave his permission for all reporters, including Cooper, to tell prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald about their conversations with Rove.
In an interview with National Review Online, Luskin compared the contents of a July 11, 2003, internal Time e-mail written by Cooper with the wording of a story Cooper co-wrote a few days later. "By any definition, he burned Karl Rove," Luskin said of Cooper. "If you read what Karl said to him and read how Cooper characterizes it in the article, he really spins it in a pretty ugly fashion to make it seem like people in the White House were affirmatively reaching out to reporters to try to get them to them to report negative information about Plame."
First the e-mail. According to a report in Newsweek, Cooper's e-mail to Time Washington bureau chief Michael Duffy said, "Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation..." Cooper said that Rove had warned him away from getting "too far out on Wilson," and then passed on Rove's statement that neither Vice President Dick Cheney nor CIA Director George Tenet had picked Wilson for the trip; "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd issues who authorized the trip." Finally all of this is according to the Newsweek report Cooper's e-mail said that "not only the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. he [Rove] implied strongly that there's still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger..."
A few days after sending the e-mail, Cooper co-wrote an article headlined "A War on Wilson?" that appeared on Time's website. The story began, "Has the Bush administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium? Perhaps."
The story continued:
Some government officials have noted to Time in interviews (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that 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 to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore, sometimes referred to as yellow cake, which is used to build nuclear devices.
Plame's role in Wilson's assignment was later confirmed by a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation.
Luskin told NRO that the circumstances of Rove's conversation with Cooper undercut Time's suggestion of a White House "war on Wilson." According to Luskin, Cooper originally called Rove not the other way around and said he was working on a story on welfare reform. After some conversation about that issue, Luskin said, Cooper changed the subject to the weapons of mass destruction issue, and that was when the two had the brief talk that became the subject of so much legal wrangling. According to Luskin, the fact that Rove did not call Cooper; that the original purpose of the call, as Cooper told Rove, was welfare reform; that only after Cooper brought the WMD issue up did Rove discuss Wilson all are "indications that this was not a calculated effort by the White House to get this story out."
"Look at the Cooper e-mail," Luskin continues. "Karl speaks to him on double super secret background...I don't think that you can read that e-mail and conclude that what Karl was trying to do was to get Cooper to publish the name of Wilson's wife."
Nor, says Luskin, was Rove trying to "out" a covert CIA agent or "smear" her husband. "What Karl was trying to do, in a very short conversation initiated by Cooper on another subject, was to warn Time away from publishing things that were going to be established as false." Luskin points out that on the evening of July 11, 2003, just hours after the Rove-Cooper conversation, then-CIA Director George Tenet released a statement that undermined some of Wilson's public assertions about his report. "Karl knew that that [Tenet] statement was in gestation," says Luskin. "I think a fair reading of the e-mail was that he was trying to warn Cooper off from going out on a limb on [Wilson's] allegations."
Luskin also shed light on the waiver that Rove signed releasing Cooper from any confidentiality agreement about the conversation. Luskin says Rove originally signed a waiver in December 2003 or in January 2004 (Luskin did not remember the exact date). The waiver, Luskin continues, was written by the office of special prosecutor Fitzgerald, and Rove signed it without making any changes with the understanding that it applied to anyone with whom he had discussed the Wilson/Plame matter. "It was everyone's expectation that the waiver would be as broad as it could be," Luskin says.
Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller have expressed concerns that such waivers (top Cheney aide Lewis Libby also signed one) might have been coerced and thus might not have represented Rove's true feelings. Yet from the end of 2003 or beginning of 2004, until last Wednesday, Luskin says, Rove had no idea that there might be any problem with the waiver.
It was not until that Wednesday, the day Cooper was to appear in court, that that changed. "Cooper's lawyer called us and said, "Can you confirm that the waiver encompasses Cooper?" Luskin recalls. "I was amazed. He's a lawyer. It's not rocket science. [The waiver] says 'any person.' It's that broad. So I said, 'Look, I understand that you want reassurances. If Fitzgerald would like Karl to provide you with some other assurances, we will.'" Luskin says he got in touch with the prosecutor "Rule number one is cooperate with Fitzgerald, and there is no rule number two," Luskin says and asked what to do. According to Luskin, Fitzgerald said to go ahead, and Luskin called Cooper's lawyer back. "I said that I can reaffirm that the waiver that Karl signed applied to any conversations that Karl and Cooper had," Luskin says. After that which represented no change from the situation that had existed for 18 months Cooper made a dramatic public announcement and agreed to testify.
A few other notes: Luskin declined to say how Rove knew that Plame "apparently" (to use Cooper's word) worked at the CIA. But Luskin told NRO that Rove is not hiding behind the defense that he did not identify Wilson's wife because he did not specifically use her name. Asked if that argument was too legalistic, Luskin said, "I agree with you. I think it's a detail."
Luskin also addressed the question of whether Rove is a "subject" of the investigation. Luskin says Fitzgerald has told Rove he is not a "target" of the investigation, but, according to Luskin, Fitzgerald has also made it clear that virtually anyone whose conduct falls within the scope of the investigation, including Rove, is considered a "subject" of the probe. "'Target' is something we all understand, a very alarming term," Luskin says. On the other hand, Fitzgerald "has indicated to us that he takes a very broad view of what a subject is."
Finally, Luskin conceded that Rove is legally free to publicly discuss his actions, including his grand-jury testimony. Rove has not spoken publicly, Luskin says, because Fitzgerald specifically asked him not to.
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.