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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Shooting a fish in a barrel

It doesn't need doing and has been done many times already (see here and here) but I can't resist

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman:

"It's disappointing that once again, so many Democrat leaders are taking their political cues from the far-left, Moveon wing of the party. The bottom line is Karl Rove was discouraging a reporter from writing a false story based on a false premise and the Democrats are engaging in blatant partisan political attacks."

Mehlman's claim evidently is that Rove had to tell Cooper that Wilson's wife (Valery Plame) worked for the CIA in order to convince Cooper not to write that Cheney and/or Tenet had not personally chosen Wilson to go to Niger and that Cooper had not reported directly to Cheney. This argument is so absurd on so many levels that no elected Republican is willing to make it in public. Mehlman is the only Republican in such a vulnerable position that he will defend outing a CIA agent.

It is hard to focus when responding to such a false argument (and I have no intention of keeping focused). However, a very simple refutation is possible. Any arguably legal and legitimate purpose of the conversation between Rove and Cooper would have been equally well served if Rove had said that Wilson's name was put forward by "a mid level career CIA employee." The true and allegedly relevant point that the Vice President didn't tell the CIA exactly who to send did not require adding the identifying detail that the CIA employee in question was married to Wilson. It is stating that fact, which was totally irrelevant to Rove's alleged legitimate purpose, which would be a crime if Rove learned she was a covert operative using his official security clearance.

Many have noted that Luskin (Rove's lawyer) declined to assert that Rove did not know that Plame was covert. This explains the utter feebleness of the defence. It also means that Rove might really be indicted.

OK enough focus. the Mehlman Luskin line is absurd for many reasons other than the fact that it provides no defence at all for the apparently criminal act of saying Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. They also must argue that stopping an innaccurate news story justifies outing a CIA agent. There is no such clause in the law. A false story can be corrected, a blown cover can not be replaced. There is no evidence that Cooper or any other reporter believed, or thought of writing, that Wilson was chosen directly by the Vice President or the DCI. They have pointed to no one who wrote or said that (and Rove didn't tell every reporter in DC that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA). It would be very strange for the VP to tell the CIA who to send (although this VP did strange things at Langley). No one ever suggested that Wilson reported directly to Cheney. Again this would have been very strange stove piping even by the very strange standards of the Bush administration.

In contrast Rove's claim that Plame proposed Wilson is contested by the CIA. Mehlman and Luskin have presented no evidence of speculation about who proposed Wilson except for speculation by Rove and Novak's un-named sources. The question was first publicly raised by Novak. The claim that Plame proposed Wilson is controversial being denied by everyone who was present at the event. The question of who proposed Wilson was raised only by Republican operatives and hacks.

Who proposed Wilson is and was irrelevant. Two other investigations (by the US embassy in Gabaroné and by a Marine Corps general) reached the same conclusion. Panorama magazine considered the story too implausible to print (Italians who have read Panorama tend to explode in laughter when I mention that point). By July 11 2003 the invasion and preliminary coalition search for any sign of an active nuclear weapons program had made it clear that Wilson et al were right. The White House had conceded that the 16 words in the State of the Union Address were a mistake. The evidence in support of the Nigerien Uranium hypothesis was a very obvious forgery and had been identified as such by the CIA and the IAEA. There is not need to trust Wilson at all to know that the Bush administration distorted the evidence on Uranium from Niger. That was clear by July 11 2003. The only thing special about Wilson is that he was the first US government actor (not an employee a volunteer) to go public. The only advantages that a rational actor could see in the the slime and defend campaign were retaliation and intimidation. For those purposes it was useful to Rove to blow Plame's cover. Otherwise there would be no rational reason to mention the critical fact that the person who, Rove claims, proposed Wilson is also married to Wilson.

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