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August 07, 2005

Judith Miller, Valerie Plame, and Treasongate

[Ed: I've heard a lot of liberals ruminating about how they'd rather see Judith Miller punished for the Plame leak than Karl Rove. There's a part of me that would like to believe the rumor that Miller is responsible for outing Valerie Plame to save her own reputation as the midwife of mass destruction. I'm as bitter about Miller's role in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq as anyone else. However, Dan Balis has convinced me that Miller isn't the Plame/Wilson leaker. So, it gives me great pleasure to present his essay debunking this undeservedly popular meme.--LB]

Posted by Dan Balis

A theory about the source of the Valerie Plame leak is becoming entrenched in the "right" and "left" wings of the blogosphere: New York Times reporter Judith Miller did it. This theory is slowly percolating beyond the blogosphere. The National Review’s Kate O’Beirne seemed to allude to the theory on a recent episode of Meet the Press.

Arianna Huffington started the ball rolling with this “TA-DA” entry:

"Here it is: It's July 6, 2003, and Joe Wilson's now famous op-ed piece appears in the Times, raising the idea that the Bush administration has "manipulate[d]" and "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." Miller, who has been pushing this manipulated, twisted, and exaggerated intel in the Times for months, goes ballistic. Someone is using the pages of her own paper to call into question the justification for the war -- and, indirectly, much of her reporting. The idea that intelligence was being fixed goes to the heart of Miller's credibility. So she calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, Who is this guy? She finds out he's married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby (Newsday has identified a meeting Miller had on July 8 in Washington with an "unnamed government official"). Maybe Miller tells Rove too -- or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and Cooper. The story gets out."

Huffington's speculations have been cited approvingly from everyone from Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo to Clifford May of the National Review. Even the indispensable Columbia Journalism Review's CJR Daily characterizes the account as "surprisingly convincing."

But at least one of the speculations in the article seems inconsistent with some elements of her narrative:

"She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby (Newsday) has identified a meeting Miller had on July 8 in Washington with an "unnamed government official")."

Huffington suggests that this is the meeting at which she conveyed Plame's identity to Libby (or some other Administration official). The information then circulates around the White House, however circuitously or rapidly, finding its way to the sources for Novak's notorious July 14 column. (Although she does allow for the possibility that the July 7 State Department memo may have played a role in the information¹s release.)

Here's the problem with the sequence of events and therefore the theory itself.

1) In a recent piece in the Washington Post by Walter Pincus and Jim Vanderhei (not the first account of the meeting), the authors describe a somewhat bizarre encounter between dyspeptic pundit Novak and a "stranger" on Pennsylvania Avenue:

"...the grand jury. . .has questioned a person who approached Novak on Pennsylvania Avenue on July 8, 2003. . .The person, whom Wilson declined to identify to The Post, asked Novak about the "yellow cake" uranium matter and then about Wilson, Wilson said... Novak told the person that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA as a specialist in weapons of mass destruction and had arranged her husband's trip to Niger, Wilson said. Unknown to Novak, the person was a friend of Wilson and reported the conversation to him, Wilson said."

(The Post account neglects to mention that Novak also volunteered his view that Wilson was an "asshole.")

2) Also on July 8, Novak is known to have confirmed his story with Karl Rove. On both Novak and Rove’s version of events, Rove merely confirms that Wilson’s wife was responsible for Wilson’s appointment to Niger.

3) On July 7, a memo requested by Richard Armitage, and prepared by State Department head of intelligence Carl Ford makes its way around Air Force One during a trip by President Bush to Africa. The memo includes the tidbit that Valerie Plame suggested her husband’s appointment to Niger, information that was already first discussed in a June 10 State Department memo. Both Colin Powell and Ari Fleischer were seen reading the Armitage memo on that day.

Therefore, for the Miller-as-leaker theory to obtain, we must assume a number of things are true, which when taken together, strain credulity:

1) Neither the June 10 or July 7 state department memos played any role in disseminating that information to the administration’s leakers.
2) Relatedly, neither Ari Fleischer or Colin Powell, both of whom were seen reading the memo on July 7, were either directly or indirectly responsible for the leak.
3) Judith Miller’s meeting with an unnamed administration official must occur sufficiently early in the morning that the information circulates to both of Novak’s sources. (Although it is possible that Novak’s initial source was tipped off via the State Department memo, and Rove’s confirmation was on the basis of information received either directly or indirectly from Judith Miller. Perhaps we can characterize this as the Miller-as-leak-launderer scenario. Or, and this is less difficult to swallow, Miller had a thus far undisclosed telephone conversation with the White House prior to this, sometime between the 6th and the morning of the 8th.)

Why has such a patently dubious theory gained such credence? I suspect the right has seized on this theory because they believe it absolves the White House and once again lays responsibility at the feet of a favored bogey-man: the "mainstream media." Even better, The New York Times. The left buys it because they despise Miller for her role in making the administration’s case for war. The Miller-as-leaker theory does offer some cover for the White House (ultimately illusory, as I¹ll explain in a moment) because if the primary source of the information the State Department memo, which marked the paragraphs concerning Plame’s identity and role in Wilson’s appointment "Secret", the White House leakers would be deprived of the ability to plausibily deny that they knowingly disclosed the identity of an undercover agent. (Other versions of the Press-as-leaker theory have been circulating for some time among those who support the administration.)

But it's not at all clear how even this absolves the White House. After all, the leak still ultimately made its way to the press (that is, Cooper and Novak) via the White House. This much is uncontroversial. And the notion that some of the nation's most experienced and powerful political operatives, supported by teams of lawyers and a press office, and practically unfettered in their access to information, somehow neglected to check Valerie Wilson's undercover status, is, at least on it's face, hard to swallow.

So, why should we care? Isn't this just fodder for cable TV "shout-fests" and the rancor of the comment pages of the political blogosphere? Because, as Frank Rich of the New York Times and others have noted, this is not an "obscure case". It goes to the heart of the White House's justification of a war on false premises, and it's treatment and manipulation of those who did not support their efforts. And because it would be a shame, if Fitzgerald's investigation comes to end without bringing indictments or serious consequences, that the administration is once again allowed to deflect criticism from behavior that is, irrespective of one's political inclinations, unconscionable.

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Comments

The Plame drama has so many moving parts that I'm overwhelmed and confused. But does anyone else think it strange that Colin Powell's name comes up so infrequently in the discussion? He was right there in the belly of the beast as we ramped up to invade Iraq, but he seems to be getting a free pass.

Lindsay Beyerstein:

It goes to the heart of the White House's justification of a war on false premises

It is important to get the details right, I trust Fitzpatrick will do so, but it is more important to see the big picture.

Paul O'Neill says the administration was obssessed with Iraq before 9/11.
Richard Clarke confirms that after 9/11 Bush was focused on Iraq.
Andy Card called the Iraq war a "product" to be sold.
The Downing Street memos confirm the intelligence was fixed by Bush.
The Plame affair shows intelligence being used to attack, not the enemies of the US, but the enemies of Bush.

After 9/11 Bush chased bin Laden into Pakistan. Unable to explain to the American people the difficulties in storming Pakistan, he changed the subject to Iraq.

The purpose of the Iraq war was not security, revenge, or oil. The Iraq war was about getting Bush re-elected. Mission accomplished.

Turning leaked gossip into a logic problem does not prove anything about what Judith Miller did or did not do. GIGO.

Epistomology--

I don't get how "Bush was obsessed with invading Iraq before 9/11" translates into "Bush invaded Iraq to cover his failure to catch bin Laden."

Before we invaded Iraq, U.S. oil companies were effectively barred from investing in Iraq's oil fields. The investments that they're in the process of making right now will be worth billions over the next 20 years, if the country can be stabilized under a pro-western government.

Other interests, like Quaalcomm, would also have reaped handsome rewards if everything had gone according to plan, but Bush's oil cronies were set to reap by far the greatest reward. The oil industry appears to control our energy and environmental policy, and the administration's preoccupation with Venezuela and appeasement of Saudi Arabia indicate that the industry exerts a lot of influence on our foreign policy as well. Given the noises Bush was making about Iraq before 9/11, I don't think bin Laden's attack was necessary to prompt an invasion of Iraq. Any crisis in the region would have served just as well.

I agree. The purpose of the leak was to insulate Cheney and discredit Wilson. Now Novak is lying to protect Rove and Miller is in jail partly to protect Libby and partly to grandstand. Ultimately, the source of the leak is probably Cheney.

About Bush's reason for invading Iraq. Pro-Israel fanatics in the administration wanted it all along. Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to teach the world a lesson. Rove thought it would play well domestically. Bush has no idea what his reason was.

I am definitely NOT a Miller the Martyr fan. However, whatever she said makes no difference. She didn't/doesn't have a federal security clearance.
Rove/Libby/Bush all have security clearances and it is ILLEGAL for them to disclose classified information to anyone without a proper clearance AND a need to know. It doesn't matter how many people already know, they are not permitted to violate their oath to protect this information. The acts they performed were inimical to the best interests of the U.S., and are prosecutable.

No tears for Judy, she is not in jail because she's suddenly developed journalistic integrity quite the opposite, she is protecting those in the administration who continue to put political protection and cronyism above national security. As such Judy Miller is complicit in the unethical and potentially criminal behavior of those she is protecting.

Mind you, there are those with differing views such as the sincerely assinine belief that it's all Hillary Clinton's doing via Sideshow & seeing the forest

As the first to person to propose Miller as a source in any detail -- before Arianna (but in a post that she linked to ... is there an intellectual-property law regarding speculative gossip?) -- I think Balis is setting up something of a straw man here.

The question isn't whether Miller was "the leaker" so much as whether she was an accessory (either intentionally or accidentally) in laundering a leak that originated in the State Department memo or some other classified source.


. . . does anyone else think it strange that Colin Powell's name comes up so infrequently in the discussion?

I guarantee you he wasn't one of the people who outed Plame. In fact, he may have been the "senior administration official" who blew the whistle to the Washington Post about two White House officials calling reporters (apparently from Air Force One). And either he or one of his top aides is probably behind the leaks about the State Department memo.

Trade a rove for a miller? Straight up?

NFW.

For a rove I'd want a miller, a keller, a sulzberger, a limbaugh, a kristol (not the twerp kid either), a murdoch (pappy), and a couple of congressmen from the gop.

While miller is deeply offensive and guilty of all sorts of journalistic, ethical, and moral violations, she's still a nobody, a mouthpiece for the ugly forces of the bfee. As such, she ain't worth shit.

rover, otoh, is a strategist, bush's brain etc, and his loss would be quite detrimental to the bfee, and well worth the effort.

Paula Ticks

Dad says Katrina is a repelican hurricane…

Ahh skittle fizzle Rocko

Watch this demoscratch

Hurricane wave jump

Holy flying sugar bombs,Ringo

Is that candy in your slobber?

My Daddy said Forrest Gump won an oxcart

So what My Mommy said Daddy won a Puke-alitzer prize

Judith Miller is a scapegoat manipulated by the powers that be (Bush) so that the powers that be could punish an Ambassador Joe Wilson for writing an excellent book full of experiences that Bush will never understand or have

I apologize and change my opinion of Judith Miller...she truly was knowingly playing a role in the Bush War campaign...Gary Alan Brumley

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