A few minutes ago, the Village Voice posted on its website my latest story on the special prosecutor's investigation of the Valerie Plame affair. Hopefully, the story offers the most detailed explanation to date as to why in late Dec. 2003, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from further involvement in the case, and also allowed for the appointment of Patrick J. Fitzgerald as the special prosecutor who would take over the matter.
For those looking as to what might lie ahead, readers might want to take special notice as to what Rep. John Conyers, of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary committee, and the former chairman of the committee, had to say in reaction to the story's new disclosures:
There has long been the appearance of impropriety in... Ashcroft's handling of this investigation. The former Attorney General had well documented conflicts of interest in this matter, particularly with regard to his personal relationship with Karl Rove. Among other things, Rove was employed by Ashcroft throughout his political career, and Rove reportedly had fiercely advocated for Ashcroft's appointment as Attorney General. Pursuant to standard rules of legal ethics, and explicit rules on conflict of interest, those facts alone should have dictated his immediate recusal...
The new information, that Ashcroft had not only refused to recuse himself over a period of months, but also was insisting on being personal briefed about a matter implicating his friend, Karl Rove, represents a stunning ethical breach that cries out for an immediate investigation by the Department's Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspector General.If Conyers and other House Democrats are indeed able to interest either the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility or the Inspector General to commence an official investigation of Ashcroft's conduct, that would be hugely significant. The Justice Department, Fitzgerald, and the Republican majority in the House, have successfully beaten back demands by House Democrats for a congressional investigation of the Plame affair. They have argued that any congressional probe might interfere with Fitzgerald's grand jury probe. But an investigation within the Department of Justice itself-- as to the circumstances of Ashcroft's refusal to recuse himself and as to why he continued to be briefed regularly on the Plame probe even after his friend, Karl Rove became more of a central focus of investigators-- obviously would in no way impinge on anything being done by Fitzgerald.
Both the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspector General, it should be noted, take pride in their independence from those they oversee. It is fully within the range of possibility that either one or both might look into the matter at the request of congressional Democrats.
If I find out more, I will report back.
The fact that Ashcroft continued to be briefed on the Plame probe even though Rove and other of his associates were under investigation was always an aspect of this entire story that I thought was under reported. I wrote about the issue at length in this particular story at the American Prospect. And the New York Times substantied much of what I had written earlier, and even had better and numerous sources than mine. But the Times buried their very own story way on the inside of the paper. Their editorial page was silent. The Washington Post was also no-where to be found. And even, alas, bloggers-- that last vanguard!-- were also silent.
Some final thoughts, based on some information not published in the Voice piece or elsewhere: Why were investigators so skeptical of Rove's claims at even such an early stage of the investigation? As I have previously reported, and others such as the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek have since confirmed, Rove never told investigators of his conversations with Time's Matthew Cooper during his initial FBI interview.
But perhaps even more importantly, Rove also claimed that he first learned about Plame's employment with the CIA-- not from a classified source-- but rather from a journalist.
What has not been previously reported until now (a blog breaks news!?), is that not only could Rove not remember the name of the journalist who purportedly might have told him of Plame's CIA employment, but he also claimed to remember virtually nothing about the circumstances of the purported conversation. He could not even recall whether the conversation took place on the phone or in person.