Sunday, July 31, 2005

Fitzgerald to stay on the job for a long while (and news on other subjects as well)

There has been much discussion in recent days-- including this post by Josh [Marshall] and later postings by friends of Josh's over at his Talking Points Cafe regarding concerns that there might have been, in recent days, an effort afoot to not reappoint Patrick J. Fitzgerald as U.S. Attorney in Chicago, because either prominent Republicans or the White House are upset with his tenacious pursuit of the Plame matter.

No worries.

As Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times:

It's his call.
Though his term is up this fall, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the aggressive prosecutor who is investigating Mayor Daley's City Hall, possible illegal White House leaks and who has a former Illinois governor awaiting a corruption trial, is in no danger of losing his job.

Fitzgerald's original four-year term expires in a few months, and former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), who engineered his appointment (they are not related), is raising a concern the Chicago-based prosecutor may be pressured out.
The former senator said in a WGN-TV interview Wednesday he feared for Patrick Fitzgerald's future because of his pursuit of official corruption...

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was asked about Peter Fitzgerald's concerns Thursday . "I know there [have] been innuendos about my getting pressures. I can tell you nobody has talked to me or called me about this. Anybody. Period,'' Hastert said.

For legal and political reasons, however, it seems it is Patrick Fitzgerald's decision to stay or go. Legally, if President Bush does nothing, he stays on the job even though his term is over. Politically, Bush would face a storm of protest if he fired a man who is investigating his own administration.

Patrick Fitzgerald's White House investigation of the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity is putting him at the doorstep of Bush advisor Karl Rove. His pursuit of criminality in City Hall contracts and hiring is taking him into Daley's inner circle.

Illinois Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama have been on record since January -- before the White House and City Hall probes heated up -- as wanting Patrick Fitzgerald to stay.

Hastert said Thursday, "My view on this thing, first of all, he was appointed. He serves at the pleasure of the president of the United States. As far as I know, the U.S. attorney general nor the president or anybody else has asked for his resignation. He serves for the duration as far as I'm concerned.''

Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said Thursday Durbin "thinks there is no finer attorney than Patrick Fitzgerald. He is honest and thorough.''

The Chicago Tribune also weighs in with this story.

And Larry Handlin, at Archpundit, provides even more detail and analysis with this post.

This profile of Fitzgerald that appeared in the Baltimore Sun is also useful.

Now this blogger weighs in:

I did speak to the people (at a high up enough level to know these things) at DOJ who say the likelihood of Fitzgerald not being appointed to a second term are between zero and slim.

If any prominent Republican, or Democrat, for that matter, were to lobby the White House that Fitzgerald not be reappointed, the move would appear to be (and might very well be in actuality) a blatantly political maneuver. But there is just no evidence that anything like that has been going on.

The Chicago Sun-Times' Sweet is deadpanning when she writes that "Bush would face a storm of protest if he fired a man who is investigating his own administration." That is akin to saying that Richard Nixon would face a storm of protest if he were to fire Archibald Cox... Oops. Not exactly a great example. Nixon did fire Cox! But we all know that story had a happy ending anyway.

And also very importantly-- Fitzgerald is adored by his bosses. This is what deputy Attorney General James B. Comey had to say when he appointed Fitzgerald as special counsel to investigate the Plame leak. For those who do not want to click on to the transcript of the press conference, Comey said he chose Fitzgerald, who he referred to as his "friend and former colleague", because of his "sterling reputation for integrity and impartiality."

Comey also noted, he had once said that Fitzgerald was "Eliot Ness with a Harvard law degree and a sense of humor."

With comments made like those by the Deputy Attorney General, it would be all but impossible for the White House not to reappoint Fitzgerald, unless the prosecutor himself had something better to do with his life.

In short, don't expect Fitzgerald out anytime soon as U.S. Attorney for Chicago. And also don't expect him to let up anytime soon in his moonlighting role as special counsel for the Plame matter.

In other news: Rich Leiby has this story this morning in the Washington Post regarding the late Edward Von Kloberg's final days. For those who do not recall, Von Kloberg, before his suicide, has been a public relations man for Saddam Hussein, Nicolea Caucescu, and Mobutu Sese Seko.

My favorite anecdote of Rich's story is this one:

Of von Kloberg advising him [his former assistant recalled], during a 1990 trip to Liberia, "My dear boy, you don't take a check from a government that's falling." So they found themselves sprinting for the last flight out of Monrovia with $100 bills stuffed in their shirts. , socks, and underwear, part of a $300,000 retainer from the soon-to-be executed president, Samuel Doe.

My comments: Von Kloberg knew what is important to not only lobbyists for despots, but also any small businessman... and especially a writer! And that is... always get the money up front. (Hope my editors and publishers are not reading this post.)

And as I once wrote about Von Kloberg in this column, while knowing to get his money up front, he also knew to take advantage of what he could get on the back end as well! (Hope my agent is reading this post.) Consider this anecdote from my column:

I was having breakfast with him one morning when one particular client, an African dictator, was deposed from power and met his his violent end. Without skipping a beat, he was on the phone with representatives of the new government to see if he could keep the account.

For the record, I have now written an obituary of Von Kloberg here on my blog, a column about him for Washington Examiner and other newspapers, and finally in a lengthier version of that column on (I pledge to write no more on this subject.) I may not exactly have the financial common sense of Von Kloberg, but I always know to get paid as many times as possible for the same piece of writing. Thank God my Examiner editor didn't read this blog! (Actually, he did read my first post on the blog on Von Kloberg, and told me to turn in into a column.) And on second thought, I have not yet got my check from the Examiner, or Alternet... and I get paid nuthin' for this blog. Aargh. A last rule for writers: I mentioned my own work here because if a writer doesn't plug their own work, no-one else will... unless if you are Hemingway or something.

And speaking once again of Rich Leiby, according to this report, the Washington Post is about to name his successor to write the Reliable Source column.

Finally, I recommend this posting on the by Eriposte about the forged Niger documents that led to the Plame affair.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Comments on Plame and Rove; and more Deep Throat hype

Barry Sussman, who was Bob Woodward's and Carl Bernstein's every day editor on the Watergate story slams them at this post at for allegedly misrepresenting the role of Mark Felt in the Post's Watergate reporting. I have been writing much in recent weeks on the same subject, including this post here at my blog, and in a long story at the Village Voice.

Sussman writes: "Deep Throat was nice to have around, but that's about it. His role as a key Watergate source for the Post is a myth created by a movie and sustained here for almost 30 years."

The Washington Post finally takes a shot at trying to break some news regarding Valerie Plame, but falls woefully short. This was the the assessment of the Post "scoop" by Tom Grieve, who writes Salon's exceptional War Room feature:

Sound familiar? That's because the Wall Street Journal ran a similar report earlier this week. The Post fills in a few more details but there's little that is actually news. The Post's piece moves the story forward so incrementally that the notion is almost imperceptible.
So why the A1 treatment? We're guessing that the editors at the Post have had it right to here with the manipulation from the White House, and the front-page play for a not exactly earth-shattering report is a little bit of payback.

My own comments: Len Downie, an editor who is famous for saying he does not vote-- lest anyone question his journalistic objectivity-- would never engage in such conduct! What is actually going on, say sources in the Post's newsroom, is that the Post took to fronting old news-- with an increment so inconsequential that their story hardly constituted "news" at all-- has been largely the result of their having their clock cleaned on this story in recent days by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Bloomberg, and dare I say-- my own stories in the American Prospect.

Downie, and Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward-- the one and same Bob Woodward who took on the White House during Watergate-- have been telling anyone willing to listen to their complaint (a complaint made by a powerful man is always heard more reverently than one made by the rest of us!) that the Plame affair has been much ado about nothing, that the Post has bravely not given into competitive pressures by joining the rest of the journalistic pack, and that if there is real news sometime, they will be the first to publish and crack the case!

Now that that assessment has turned out to have been not particularly accurate, Downie, in attempting to correct his own mistake, has stepped down on the accelerator too hard. The result is that the White House tonight has been using this example tonight of overkill to discredit the reporting of the rest of us covering the Plame affair and breaking new ground on the story.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Plame Game: Cooper tells his side of the story

Matthew Cooper, the Time reporter, who broke his vow to his source and testified to a federal grand jury, this morning also broke his long silence to the public. His magazine ran a cover story on Rove, and Cooper contributed a first person account for Time of his adventure before the federal grand jury. Then he appeared on Meet the Press. Even among those who might support his decision, there can no denying that he has exploited this moment of notoriety for all its worth. But whether one agrees with his decision to testify or not, it is extraordinary to see the Washington media elite give Cooper a pass as to the veracity as to how he came to his decision to identify his sources.

The evidence is clear that Cooper has dissembled and spun his story as to how he came to the point of testifying to the grand jury. On the very day that Cooper was to be held in contempt and sent to jail, he dramatically informed the federal judge about to sentence him, and later a throng of reporters awaiting him outside the courthouse, that only moments earlier he had received a dramatic phone call from his source providing him "an express personal release" to testify.

That source, as we know now, was Karl Rove. But as we also now know, and Cooper later admitted, Rove never actually personally called him that morning. Rather, Cooper's attorney, Richard A. Sauber, called Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, and asked permission from Rove for Cooper to testify. Luskin pointed out that Rove had a year earlier signed a blanket waiver in lieu of a request by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, both Luskin and Sauber now say. Luskin pointedly declined to provide a more specific waiver, only saying that the former one still stood.

Of course, by the time of that telephone conversation, Time magazine had already provided Cooper's emails and notes to prosecutors. And for good measure, someone conveniently leaked Cooper's emails regarding Rove to Newsweek reporter Mike Isikoff. Cooper's sources, by then, of whom Rove was the most important, had already been identified-- not only to the prosecutors, but to the entire world.

Cooper asserted on the courtroom steps on the day of his grand jury testimony, even after all that, he was still willing to go to jail: "[E]ven when Time Incorporated over my objections, handed my notes, my emails to the grand jury, when some of those materials began to leak into the public domain revealing the source, many people.. urged me to testify. They said there was absolutely no confidentiality left to protect."

"Once a journalist makes the commitment of confidentiality, to a source, only the source can end the commitment," Cooper bravely said. He was still willing to go to jail that very morning, saying goodbye to his wife and six year old son, when he learned of his source's dramatic reversal.

The only problem was that the story of the dramatic conversation with Rove and his new waiver was not true.

How convenient how everything has worked out in the end for Cooper: It was his employer, not him, who turned over notes-- and "over his objections". (Of course, Cooper did not resign his job in protest, or even publicly denounce his employer. With a nod and a wink, Cooper even went so far as to call Time's decision "honorable"-- proving once again that being a good corporate citizen is more important to a career in the media than the First amendment.) And after Time provided his notes and emails to the grand jury, what little else there was to discern from his confidential notes was the leaked to his former colleagues at Newsweek.

And then, of course, Cooper received in "dramatic fashion" the phone call from his source the morning of his contempt hearing providing him with the new and "express personal release from my source."

We now know that Cooper's account of the dramatic phone call has turned out not to be true at all.

The issue as to whether Time's and Cooper's capitulation to the prosecutor was right or wrong, there used to be a time when it was considered wrong for a journalist to lie to the public. Apparently no longer.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Plame: Front-page fronts

The Times and Post are publicizing Rove's version of events. But is his story true?

A little while ago, TAP Online posted a story of mine about what is going on with the Plame grand jury. It is an antidote, hopefully, to the accounts in the New York Times and Washington Post, which have done little more recently than tell Rove's side of the story.

Here is the lede to my story:
A federal criminal investigation of the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's name has in large part focused on the truthfulness of statements made to investigators by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, and whether he worked with others to devise a cover story to conceal his role, according to government officials familiar with the probe.
Columnist Robert D. Novak, who first disclosed Plame's identity in a July 14, 2001 newspaper column, has also been co-operating with investigators for some time, according to the same sources, as I first reported in my blog earlier in the week. But federal investigators have been highly skeptical of Novak's account-- as they have been of Rove's-- and were concerned that the key participants might have devised a cover story in the days shortly after it became known that a criminal investigation has been commenced of the leak.
Novak and Rove have claimed that they discussed Plame during a July 8, 2003 telephone conversation, only days before Novak's column appeared revealing Plame's status. According to Novak's account, it was he, rather than Rove, who first broached the issue of Plame, and that Rove at best simply said he too had heard the same information.
To read the story in its entirety, click here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Major Plame Exclusive: House Democrats to introduce Resolution of Inquiry on Rove tomorrow morning....

House Democrats tomorrow morning will introduce a formal resolution of inquiry demanding that the Bush administration turn over information and documents relating to Karl Rove and the Valerie Plame affair, according to congressional sources.

Among the members who will be calling for the inquiry are such prominent Democratic Represenatives as Henry Waxman, the ranking minority member of the House Government Reform Committee; Tom Lantos, of California; Leonard Boswell, of Iowa; Anna G. Eshoo, of California; Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland; and Silvestre Reyes, of Texas.

The resolution effort was spareheaded by Rep. Rush Holt, of New Jersey, who is a senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Most importantly, according to one key congressional source, the effort "has the blessing of the Democratic leadership." House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has signed on to support the effort, sources said.

The resolution of inquiry will seek documents related to the Plame matter from the State, Defense, and Justice Departments, as well as other executive branch agencies. A spokesman for the White House did not return a telephone call tonight seeking comment.

Here are excerpts from a background paper, explaining "resolutions of inquiries", circulating to congressional staff tonight:

A resolution of inquiry "is a simple resolution making a direct request or demand of the President or the head of an executive department to furnished House of Representatives with specific factual information in the possession of the executive branch.
Under House Rule XIII, clause 7, a Member may address a resolution of inquiry "to the head of an executive department."
Resolutions of inquiry have been traditionally directed to the President or to a particular cabinet officer. Under a rule change made by the Republicans at the beginning of this Congress, the Speaker of the House decides as to which committees it will be referred, at which time the Chairman of each Committee on his/her own (or in consultation with the Ranking member) must decide how each Committee will act within the required 14 legislative days.

A resolution of inquiry is usually referred to the committee that has jurisdiction over the subject matter, but on a number of occasions two or more committees have been involved in responding to a resolution of inquiry.

After the resolution of inquiry has been introduced and referred to a particular committee, the committee sends the resolution to the Administration for action, requesting a timely response to allow the committee to act within the deadline for a committee report.
The committee then has a variety of options once a resolution of inquiry is referred to it. The committee may hold an up-or-down vote on the resolution, or amend it. It can report favorably or adversely, but an "adverse report" is often times also accompanied by a substantial amount of information prepared by the executive branch.
The quality and quantity of this information can bring the Administration into compliance with the resolution, making further congressional action unnecessary. Usually, a committee issues a report on a resolution of inquiry. If it doesn't, the resolution can then be discharged.
Unlike a normal bill or resolution, the referred committee or committees must report to the House on the resolution, either favorably or adversely, within 14 legislative days of introduction, exclusive of the day of introduction and the day of discharge. If the referred committee does not report the resolution back to the House within 14 legislative days, a Member of the House may raise a motion to discharge the committee from further consideration of the resolution at which point the resolution goes to the House Floor for a vote.

Some additional analysis: One of the things to watch for as the vote proceeds is whether any Republicans break ranks with their party and vote in favor of the resolution. As Dan Froomkin observed earlier today regarding the tepid support for Rove amongst congerssional Republicans: "An awful lot of senior members of Bush's party are sitting this out for now."

One of the reasons that Republican National Committtee Ken Mehlman has been making the rounds of the cable circuit to defend Rove is because so few Republican members of Congress have volunteered to do so.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Exclusive: Novak co-operated with prosecutors (Murray Waas)

THE PUBLIC LIBRARY, Washington D.C.-- Columnist Robert Novak provided detailed accounts to federal prosecutors of his conversations with Bush administration officials who were sources for his controversial July 11, 2003 column identifying Valerie Plame as a clandestine CIA officer, according to attorneys familiar with the matter.

Novak's attorney, James Hamilton, declined to comment earlier this morning. An assistant for Novak told me: "Mr. Novak, per his lawyer's instruction, does not comment on any aspect of that case." Kim Nerheim, a spokesperson for Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating the leak of Plame's name said: "We do not confirm or deny any anything regarding an ongoing investigation."

Novak had claimed to the investigators that the Bush administration officials with whom he spoke did not identify Plame as a covert operative, and that use of the word "operative" was his formulation and not theirs, according to those familiar with Novak's accounts to the investigators.

White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and at least two other Bush administration officials have told federal investigators that they had spoken to reporters about Plame, but that they did not know at the time that she was a covert operative with the CIA, the same sources told me.

And, as has now been widely reported, an email turned over last week by Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper to investigators shows that Cooper spoke to Rove just prior to Novak's column. The notes indicate that Rove told him that Plame worked for the CIA, and that Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, obtained an assignment from the CIA, on her recommendation, to go to the African nation of Niger to investigate allegations that the then-Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was attempting to covertly purchase uranium to build a nuclear weapon.

When Wilson made known that the Niger allegations were untrue, but were still cited by President Bush to make the case to go to war with Iraq, Rove and other administration officials mounted a campaign to discredit Wilson by claiming that he obtained the assignment only because of his wife.

Robert D. Luskin, an attorney for Rove, has previously told me and others that Rove had never told Cooper, Novak, or others that Plame was a clandestine operative for the CIA. He also has said that the special prosecutor investigating the Plame matter, Patrick Fitzgerald, has repeatedly assured him that Rove is not a target of the federal criminal probe, although a spokesman for Fitzgerald declined to verify that claim.

Reached last night at home, Luskin said he would neither confirm or deny that his client, Rove, ever spoke to Novak about Plame: "That particular question is not something I want to address at this point," he said.

Federal investigators have been skeptical of Novak's assertions that he referred to Plame as a CIA "operative" due to his own error, instead of having been explicitly told that was the case by his sources, according to attorneys familiar with the criminal probe.

That skepticism has been one of several reasons that the special prosecutor has pressed so hard for the testimony of Time magazine's Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

In the email that Cooper turned over to federal investigators, Rove was quoted as saying that Plame worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction issues, but it was not dispositive as to whether she was a covert officer or an analyst. That is why the testimony of Cooper and the information already provided by Novak has been central to the criminal investigation. For a violation of law to be prosecutable, the information provided to Novak and other journalists must have been provided with the express intent of exposing a clandestine officer.

Cooper is scheduled to soon testify before the federal grand jury investigating the matter, perhaps even as early as tomorrow morning, sources said.

Also of interest to investigators have been a series of telephone contacts between Novak and Rove, and other White House officials, in the days just after press reports first disclosed the existence of a federal criminal investigation as to who leaked Plame's identity. Investigators have been concerned that Novak and his sources might have conceived or co-ordinated a cover story to disguise the nature of their conversations. That concern was a reason-- although only one of many-- that led prosecutors to press for the testimony of Cooper and Miller, sources said.

Lending credence to those suspicions was that a U.S. government official questioned by investigators said Novak specifically asked him whether Plame had some covert status with the CIA. The official told investigators that Novak appeared uncertain whether she was undercover or not. That account, on one hand, might lend credence to the claims by Rove and other Bush administration officials that they did not know Plame was a covert CIA officer. Conversely, however, the fact that Novak asked the question in the first place appeared to indicate that he might have indeed been told Plame was a covert operative, and was seeking confirmation of that fact.

Whatever the outcome of the criminal case, the political fallout to the Bush administration continues. On Sept. 16, 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, characterized as "totally ridiculous" allegations that Rove had discussed Plame with reporters. On Sept. 29 of the same year, McClellan said: "If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration."

In the last few days, many Democrats were calling on the President to make good on his word. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who only last year was his party's nominee for President, said that Rove "has to go." The White House has declined to comment for the second day in a row regarding Rove's conversations with reporters, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.

Note to my several readers: I recently moved to a new home, and the Comcast guy can only get out on Wednesday to give me Internet access again. So I have blogged this post from the public library! Also special thanks to Sonya Bernhardt, the publisher of the Georgetowner newspaper, for later lending me not only her laptop-- but office as well-- to complete this posting. Note to my several friends: I might be borrowing your laptops for a few minutes between now and then. Unlike major media corporations with their tremendous resources and budgets, I have no laptop of my own. Indeed, unlike most bloggers with their tremendous resources, I have no laptop of my own. Indeed, unlike, well-- most 18 and 19 year old college students today, I don't have a laptop! (All that I actually have are my old school reporting skills and the public library!... and maybe a few good sources here and there. Apparently, those count for something.)

Because I cannot report that much about this during the next couple of days, I recommend that my many readers turn to Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing blog at the Washington Post. His analysis yesterday on recent developments is the most thorough on the Internet.

First update: I do agree with many readers that it is quite lame that I have no laptop, and I pledge to get one very soon (when my readers start paying me, that is.) I will update this post in more substantive ways when I have Internet access again!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Preview for tomorrow: Plame prosecutor still to demand that Matthew Cooper testify to the grand jury or go to jail

magazine reporter Matthew Cooper should still be required to testify before a federal grand jury, or ordered to go to jail anyway, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has said in court papers filed today.

Here is what Fitzgerald had to say: "After reviewing the documents provided by Time Inc., Cooper's testimony remains necessary" for the completion of the prosecutor's work. Fitzgerald also asked the judge to turn down requests by Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller to serve out their time at home: "Forced vacation at a comfortable home is not a compelling form of coercion," the prosecutor said. (Miller had offered to forego her cell phone and Internet access in pleadings earlier filed by the NYT. Maybe she should have offered to give up her access to cable, too.)

Things do not look too good for both reporters, who are to appear tomorrow before Federal District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the District of Columbia. Hogan has already held both reporters in civil contempt, but suspended their sentences while they have unsuccessfully appealed their the contempt findings. The reporters now face up to 120 days in prison.

In seeking stiff sentences for the two reporters, Fitzgerald cited an editorial in the Los Angeles Times questioning the reporters' "absolutist" positions, as well as other journalists who have advocated that Cooper and Miller disclose their sources.

(A few editorial comments: First, one is taught and told that prosecutors and judges are supposed to act according to the law, instead of public opinion. That is what is known as the "rule of law". It is also more than a little disconcerting to learn that the Los Angeles Times is taking such a position. As with Time's capitulation in turning over Cooper's notes, and Cooper complying with that decision, the LA Times editorial illustrates once again that the most serious threat to freedom of the press is the contemporary press.)

In other Plame news: The blogosphere is extraordinarily civilized! In a lengthy post yesterday, I detailed exculpatory evidence to Karl Rove as to why breathless reports by MSNBC analyst Lawrence O'Donnell and Newsweek's Michael Isikoff were irresponsible reporting. I expected to wake up this morning to be excoriated by some bloggers on the left, who ordinarily like this blog, because I was telling them some news they wouldn't want to hear. Instead, those who disagreed, either did so respectfully, or had solid analysis of their own and added new information to what we already know.

This particular post on contains a very good analysis of the current situation. DailyKos also had some interesting stuff as well. Michael Miller, at Public Domain Progress, writes: "Whatever happened in the Plame outing is forever fixed, immutable history; it cannot be unhappened. That-- what happened-- is what we need to know. Who, what, when, how, and why."

Meanwhile, David Corn, at his blog at the Nation, has this analysis as well as to why Novak's source most likely was not Rove.

(This post has been updated since originally posted today, and will again as events continue to unfold tonight.)

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Plame: Was it Karl Rove? Newsweek Story Full of Holes

If one were to watch the McLaughlin Group, surf their favorite blogs, check the Drudge Report, or read Newsweek's Mike Isikoff this weekend, they might have reasonably come to believe that the notes turned over by Time magazine to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald all but sew up the case that Karl Rove was the person who leaked CIA officer Valerie Plame's name to the columnist Robert Novak. Not so fast.

For consumers of political news, there should be two cardinal rules: First, take with a grain of salt anything you might hear on the McLaughlin Group. Second, don't ever implicitly trust anything that Mike Isikoff writes.

Here are the facts that are known at this time: Karl Rove did indeed talk to Time reporter Matthew Cooper just three or four days prior to Cooper writing about CIA officer Valerie Plame. I spoke earlier this morning to Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, who confirmed that this was the case, as he has told other journalists as well. And the notes that Time turned over to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald do include details of the conversation that Rove and Cooper had.

But it is quite a stretch from those scant known facts to imply or infer, as Isikoff did in his Newsweek post, that Karl Rove is the person that leaked Plame's identity as a covert CIA officer to columnist Robert Novak, Time's Cooper, or others. For one thing, it is unclear what exactly is in Cooper's notes regarding his conversations with Rove and others. (And if Isikoff knew such specifics, he would have reported them, as would have I or any other journalist covering this story.) Secondly, Rove was hardly the only Bush administration official with whom Cooper spoke to before he wrote about Plame.

What then is Isikoff's other purported evidence that it was Rove who leaked Plame's name to Robert Novak, or that Rove is being targeted by federal prosecutors?

Isikoff writes: "[O]ne of... two lawyers representing a witness sympathetic to the White House told NEWSWEEK that there was growing `concern' in the White House that the prosecutor is interested in Rove." That is fairly flimsy evidence: Isikoff has none of the federal investigators talking to him, and not even someone in the White House talking to him. Rather, he has a single source-- an attorney for one of those who has provided information to prosecutors-- repeating speculation from some unknown person in the White House as to what the prosecutors might or might be doing. Even as speculation, it is third hand.

I carry no brief for Karl Rove. But I do not like shoddy journalism. And this was an example of exactly that.

Isikoff's story did not have several qualifications that responsible and fair journalism should require. His story also omitted information clearly exculpatory to Rove.

Rove's attorney, Luskin, for example, told me earlier this morning that he has been assured by special prosecutor Fitzgerald that Rove has not been a target of his grand jury investigation: "We have been assured consistently that Karl is not a target of the inquiry." Luskin said that the last such assurance from Fitzgerald's office was "within the last several days."

Luskin also told me that he informed Isikoff of much the same thing, but that Isikoff did not see fit to report his comments in his story. Absent evidence to the contrary, Newsweek had an obligation to give Luskin and Rove their say.

In his Newsweek posting, Isikoff also darkly insinuated that Rove must have done something wrong because Luskin has declined to provide more than scant details regarding his client's appearance before the federal grand jury. But, as other journalists who have regularly covered this story can tell you, Fitzgerald has asked witnesses to his inquiry-- and their attorneys-- not to publicly disclose what they have told the FBI, or what they testified to before the federal grand jury. That is because Fitzgerald, like many prosecutors, doesn't want one witness to know what another has said to his investigators so they can devise a cover story. That is how coverups succeed, and crimes go unpunished.

Luskin, himself a former federal prosecutor, told me: "They [the prosecutors] have wanted their witnesses in a pigeon-hole. They have asked us to say as little as possible so we would not impede them."

There has been a sharp contrast between the way Newsweek on the one hand, and this blog, the wires, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times have covered these latest revelations. Newsweek's story is an instance of sloppy reporting. Bill Kovach, the former Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, editor of the Atlanta Constitution Journal, and founding director of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, famously said after Isikoff's erroneous story that a Pentagon report concluded that a Koran had been flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo: "Here is a reporter who can shake stuff out of deaf and dumb people... As the course of events in [the Koran story] has shown, you can't play fast and loose." It is more than a little disconcerting that this irresponsible story follows so closely on the heels of his Koran flushing story.

Once again, for the record, I carry no brief for Karl Rove. To the contrary, I have pursued the Plame story, breaking significant new ground, including this report in the American Prospect. I have probably spent more time on the story than any other reporter in Washington, and think the press has not been aggressively pursuing the story the way it should. For those who think I have some soft spot for Rove, I personally angered him, I was told on good authority, when I wrote this story, in which I disclosed:

President Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, told the FBI in an interview last October that he circulated and discussed damaging information regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame with others in the White House, outside political consultants, and journalists, according to a government official and an attorney familiar with the ongoing special counsel's investigation of the matter.
But Rove also adamantly insisted to the FBI that he was not the administration official who leaked the information that Plame was a covert CIA operative to conservative Robert Novak last July. Rather, Novak insisted, he had only circulated information about Plame after it had appeared in Novak's column...
Rove and other White Hosue officials described to the FBI what sources characterized as an aggressive campaign to discredit Wilson through leaking and disseminating derogatory information regarding him and his wife to the press, utilizing proxies such as conservative interest groups....
I also carry no brief against Mike Isikoff. In terms of full disclosure (or perhaps too much disclosure): During our reporting on Whitewater and the impeachment crisis, he did privately comment to some mutual acquaintances that I was carrying water for the Clinton White House because my reporting was too critical of Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr. Isikoff later apologized, and we have socialized on rare occasions.

Still, in the case of Isikoff's coverage of Whitewater, as well as his reporting of this story, I believe fair play took a back seat to causing a sensation. Perhaps Isikoff will tell folks I am an apologist for Karl Rove and the Bush White House!

My brief here is for quality journalism. The reason: One day, the nation may very well face a constitutional crisis of the magnitude of Watergate. In that case, the "system worked" because so many ordinary folks rose way above their institutional and political biases for the greater national imperative. In instance after instance, FBI agents, Hill investigators, the Watergate Special Prosecutor, and the press simply did their jobs responsibly, ethically, and sometimes bravely.

But who today, like W. Mark Felt, would tell what they knew to Time magazine or others in the press, knowing that Time's editors would not keep secret the identity of their sources? Would MSNBC and Fox and the other cable so-called "news" networks be devoting all of their resources and air time to finding Natalee Holloway, the missing teen in Aruba, that they wouldn't even notice there was a consitutional crisis going on? And who would believe reporters who in the past produced so much reckless reporting, whether it be about Korans be flushed down the toilet, or Whitewater?

It is brave new world of the media today, and if Richard Nixon were alive today and president of the United States, the little horrors of Watergate and his lawless presidency might very well go uncovered, undetected, and even if found out by the press, undetered. Today, the press stands weakened as an institutional challenge to lawless governmental authority or lies. Sadly, it has been so weakened not so much by assualts from without but within.