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April 25, 2005

"Novak lied" theory apparently gathering strength

For some time, the big mystery in the Novak-Plame-gate scandal has been why douchebag of liberty Robert Novak has not been forced to reveal his source.  Novak, as you'll recall, is the heroic journalist who first publicly disclosed Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative in order to further a Bush administration vendetta against Plame's husband.  Yet it is not even clear whether Novak has actually spoken to investigators (although most observers think he has), while reporters Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller (who had the same info but who either wrote about it later (Cooper) or didn't write about it at all (Miller)) are now facing jail time for refusing to name the leaker unless the Supreme Court bails them out.

One possible explanation, which I floated here a few months back, goes roughly like this: Novak testified voluntarily about his source; he lied; the special prosecutor knows he lied; and therefore the special prosecutor needs Miller and Cooper's testimony to nail Novak for perjury as well as to accurately assess whether he can file criminal charges against the real leaker.  I still haven't seen any other theory that successfully explains why the prosecutor is so desperate for Miller's and Cooper's testimony while simultaneously not seeming to care much about Novak.  And let us remember that a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that the special prosecutor had made a sufficient showing to overcome any privilege that the reporters might have the right to invoke - clearly, the prosecutor convinced the court that he isn't just pursuing these reporters for the sake of being nasty.

Now, according to the excellent reporting of Murray Waas (for whom well-placed sources in the Plame affair seem to sing like little birdies), the "Novak lied" theory seems to be gaining traction.  Waas says that "federal investigators have for some time believed that columnist Novak has very likely lied to shield his sources from potential criminal culpability."  Waas also reports that there was, indeed, a campaign within the Bush administration to discredit Plame's husband, and that the Plame leak was part of it.  Fascinating.  Waas's new blog has quickly become a must-read for those interested in what's really going on in this story.

I really, really hope that Miller and Cooper choose to testify rather than go to jail to protect their sources (although they've stated publicly that they won't).  Simply put, this is a stupid case for them to martyr themselves on principle.  The source that they are protecting is not worthy of protection - whether or not the leak was technically illegal, it was a profoundly unpatriotic act.  The leaker did not disclose any information that furthers the public interest (in Judge Tatel's words (see p. 40 of his opinion), the leak "lacked significant news value"), but did manage to undermine America's ability to defend itself against terrorists.  Nice work, jerk.  Miller and Cooper may misguidedly believe that their going to jail protects America.  It doesn't.  It protects a leaker who did a really bad thing and should be punished for it (at least by losing his or her job), and it protects Bob Novak.  Why they want to rot in jail for folks like that is beyond me.

UPDATE: Susan Gardner, an excellent diarist at Kos, has this interesting interview with Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame's husband, which is in part a response to Waas's story.

Posted by David at 09:59 AM in Law and Lawyers, National | Permalink


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Not to spin, but I've seen several other theories that hold water equally as well as yours: how about 'Novak told the truth', the source(s) interviewed with the FBI and plead the fifth, and the DA needs corroboration to prosecute?

Another very plausible twist is that the Post's sources were different than Novak's, or that they aren't even Republican, since the Post's story cited 'Senior intelligence officials'. (http://slate.msn.com/id/2089196/), unlike Novak's column.

It seems very possible - even likely - that those sources weren't trying to _undermine_ Wilson's credibility, but in fact trying to support it, with the idea that if his wife is an expert on WMD, then what Wilson wrote had more clout. That it backfired doesn't necessarily correlate to the source's intent on putting the information out.

Posted by: jrp | Apr 25, 2005 3:46:51 PM

jrp: your "Novak told the truth" theory doesn't make sense - if Novak fingered the source, so what if the source pled the 5th? The prosecutor would have everything he needs with Novak's testimony, so he wouldn't need Miller and Cooper. Remember, Fitzgerald convinced the DC Circuit that he needed to hear from them. I suppose that's consistent with your second theory (two different leakers), although that theory seems more far-fetched to me than the simpler idea that Novak lied, and it also doesn't account for Novak's odd behavior. (If he testified truthfully, why be so cagey about it?) Finally, the idea that the sources were on a mission to bolster Wilson's credibility by telling journalists that his wife was a CIA operative strikes me as highly unlikely, unless they were the stupidest people on earth. Again, possible, but far-fetched.

Posted by: David | Apr 25, 2005 4:34:12 PM

The probable answer is simple. The person/s who leaked to Novak leaded to others, maybe Cooper and Miller. Those are separate and additional crimes which should be prosecuted too.

The crime is not about Novak but who leaked Plame's name. The focus on Novak recently is a change the subject tactics of the reporter's employers, wanting to protect their own.

Why Waas falls for this so easily is a mystery. Over a year ago he reported the leakers to Novak already spoke to the prosecutors, telling a different story than Novak did. Waas' narrative is driven by the confusion of self-interested explanations rather than coherent investigation. It's no mystery that Bush people went after Wilson, an operative for the Kerry campaign. That's politics. But did they leak Plame's name to that pursuit before the Novak article, that's a good question.

The Epluribus media interview is good. Wilson given another opportuinty to toot his own horn about the puny involvement he had in the Africa matter. His explanation that his wife didn't recommend him for the job because she didn't have the final approval to send him is spin getting very stale. She did recommend him. Why does he make it such a big deal to deny that?

Posted by: Jinan | Apr 26, 2005 1:39:17 PM

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