John Solomon of the Associated Press reported this weekend that Karl Rove sent an e-mail about his phone conversation with Time’s Matt Cooper—the conversation in which Rove informed Cooper that the wife of administration critic Joe Wilson worked for the Central Intelligence Agency—to Stephen Hadley, who was then deputy national security adviser (and is now national security adviser). “I didn’t take the bait,” Rove wrote Hadley, apparently meaning that, in speaking to Cooper, he didn’t try to refute the substance of Wilson’s assertion that the president spoke falsely in his 2003 State of the Union address when he said that Iraq had sought to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger before the war. Instead, Rove told Cooper that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA employee, had authorized the trip. What kind of sissy-boy accepts a job assignment from his wife?
As I’ve explained before, Rove’s insinuation, in addition to being unenlightened on the matter of equality between the sexes, was untrue; Plame merely suggested her husband for the job. But the more important point is that Rove and Hadley were in communication about Joe Wilson. This is significant because it raises the likelihood that Rove had earlier turned to Hadley for confirmation of these crazy CIA rumors that reporters kept telling him. If that’s true, then any subsequent conversation Rove would have had with a reporter in which he stated that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA—including Rove’s conversation with Matt Cooper—would constitute a genuine security breach. Did Rove have such a conversation with Hadley? Given what Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times report today—namely, that Rove was much more active than he’d have you believe in seeking to discredit Wilson with reporters—I don’t see how Hadley could have avoided telling Rove that yes, Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA. (I’m assuming here that any knowledge Hadley had about Valerie Wilson’s occupation would have been obtained from the government. Or does the entire Bush White House get all its information from Robert Novak?)
I’m doubtful that this scenario would rise to President Bush’s standard of illegality (“if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration,” he said today), but it sure as hell would look like a firing offense to me. I think everybody should stop obsessing about what Bush thinks is a firing offense and start pondering what a rational person would regard as a firing offense. Bush’s illegality standard is being hyped by the press, gotcha style, as a new development, but it isn’t new at all; Bush has stated it before. Here he is in September 2003:
Let me just say something about leaks in Washington. There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington. There’s leaks at the executive branch; there’s leaks in the legislative branch. There’s just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law [italics mine], the person will be taken care of.
Bush has also sometimes suggested that merely performing the leak would be a firing offense. He’s been inconsistent on this point for a long time. But really, what Bush defines as a firing offense isn’t the issue. The issue is whether providing a reporter with government-obtained information about a covert CIA employee for the sole purpose of smearing the CIA employee’s husband is a firing offense. I continue to believe that it is.