Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Judith Miller/Valerie Plame theory of immaculate conception: The cover story on today is a piece on Judith Miller by Joe Strupp, a careful and meticulous senior editor with Editor & Publisher. Linking to my recent story which first disclosed a July 8, 2003 meeting between Miller and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Strupp writes:

More prominently, a recent report that Miller met with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, less than a week before Robert Novak outed former CIA agent Valerie Plame in a 2003 column, has added to the speculation over what role Miller may have played in the leak of Plame's identity. The theory being peddled on the Huffington Post and elsewhere in the lefty blogosphere has Miller not on the receiving end of information from an administration leaker about Plame's identity, but as the one disseminating information about Plame to administration officials. This is just a theory, of course, with no known evidence supporting it. But it's fair to say that many Times staffers want Miller's role in the Plame affair clarified, and some of her Times colleagues are downright angry about what is known, and unknown, about her involvement.

Some long overdue comments on my part: Whatever one thinks of Judith Miller's reporting on Iraq and WMD, it is patently unfair for so many bloggers, Times colleagues (who while condeming her, BTW, who never speak for the record), and others to conclude without any evidence whatsoever that she was "not on the receiving end of information from an administration leaker", but rather "the one disseminating information about Plame to administration officials."

And if "some of her Times colleagues are downright angry about what is known, and unknown, about her involvement," as Strupp reports, it is hardly her fault. She has an obligation to protect a confidential source– one that she is keeping– and which quite likely is the only reason that we do not know as much as we would like to otherwise. But simply the fact that there are "unanswered questions" should not be cause to condemn a woman who is now spending her 44th night in jail.

It is obviously quite possible that as journalists and Bush administration officials spoke to one another in the days just prior to Robert Novak's now infamous column outing Valerie Plame that there was a "circular" flow of information, whereby information and rumors about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson flowed both ways.

But it is has also been virtually a universal talking point of both those under investigation and the RNC that nobody in the White House could have been guilty of leaking any classified information regarding Valerie Plame because the leakers, quite possibly-- if not likely– originally learned about Plame's work for the CIA from journalists in the first place.

Those on the left who despise Miller because of her WMD reporting, and want to think the very worst of her are playing right into the hands of those who actually leaked the identity of Valerie Plame, and are now covering up how that occurred.

But whatever we ultimately find happened here (and it is unclear that we ever will, despite the dogged efforts of Patrick Fitzgerald) somebody, somewhere in the U.S. government or the Bush administration had to have been the original source of information that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.

The information had to originally have come from somewhere!

The baby Jesus may have been born of immaculate conception. The information leaked to Robert Novak and Matthew Cooper and others that Valerie Plame was employed by the CIA had a more earthly origin.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Exclusive: House Democrats ask Justice Inspector General to investigate Ashcroft role in Plame probe

The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman John Conyers, of Michigan, and Congressman Maurice Hinchey, Democrat of New York, will tomorrow formally request that the Inspector General of the Justice Department, Glenn A. Fine, investigate whether then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft "violated explicit rules on conflicts of interest when he failed to recuse himself from, and in fact was briefed on, the CIA name leak investigation despite his personal connection to Karl Rove, a person of interest to investigators."

The letter to the Justice Department's Inspector General quotes new information from this story which I wrote, and that was posted yesterday on the Village Voice, disclosing new information regarding Ashcroft's role in overseeing the Plame probe, before it was taken over by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald. The article disclosed that Ashcroft continued to oversee a probe into the Plame matter even after learning that Karl Rove, who had been a consultant to various Ashcroft political campaigns, was a focus of investigators.

Below is a long excerpt from the letter, which will be made public tomorrow:

[W]e write to request that your Office immediately investigate whether then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft violated explicit rules on conflicts of interest when he failed to recuse himself from, and in fact was briefed on, the CIA name leak investigation despite his personal connection to Karl Rove, a person of interest to investigators. This investigation would not conflict with the investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald into the actual leak; instead, it would focus on Mr. Ashcroft's failure to recuse himself at the appropriate time in the case. Furthermore, the investigation into the recusal delay would be a logical extension of the request that you also investigate the Department's failure to comply with proper procedures by not ensuring the preservation of document and other evidence connected with the leak.
Early in the Department's investigation of who had leaked a covert CIA operative's identity to the media, it became clear that Karl Rove, a senior advisor to the President, was receiving public attention as someone who may have been involved in the crime. We have now learned that, according to law enforcement officials close to the investigation, Mr. Rove failed to disclose to the FBI that he had ever spoken with Time's Matthew Cooper, a reporter involved in the case. These officials also have indicated that then-Attorney General Ashcroft was personally and privately briefed on the Rove interview.
These new disclosures are troubling because, at the time of these events, Mr. Ashcroft had known personal and political connections to Mr. Rove. Mr. Rove was an adviser to Mr. Ashcroft during the latter's political campaigns, earning almost $750,000 for his services. Mr. Rove also had urged the President to nominate Mr. Ashcroft to be Attorney General after Mr. Ashcroft lost his Senate re-election campaign to the deceased Mel Carnahan. The fact that Mr. Ashcroft eventually recused himself demonstrates that there in fact were conflicts of interest with his continued involvement in the investigation. The fact that he did not recuse himself early on and was briefed on the matter may well have violated ethical rules and guidelines.
Existing law and rules of professional conduct govern when Department attorneys must recuse themselves from particular investigations. Federal law requires the Attorney General to promulgate rules mandating the disqualification of any officer or employee of the Justice Department "from participation in a particular investigation or prosecution if such participation may result in a personal, financial, or political conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof." Pursuant to this requirement, the Department has promulgated regulations stating that:
no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with: (1) any person . . . substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution; or (2) any person . . . which he knows or has a specific and substantial interest that would be affected by the outcome of the investigation or prosecution.
In this case, Mr. Ashcroft would have been prohibited from involvement in the leak investigation under both provisions. His relationships with the President and Mr. Rove consists of both personal and political connections with individuals who might have been the investigation's subjects. At a minimum, his friend, Mr. Rove, had a "specific and substantial interest that would be affected by the outcome" in that his entire political legacy would be tarnished if he were implicated in the leak.
To reiterate the importance of preventing conflicts of interest, the Justice Department has further explicated the guidelines in its U.S. Attorneys' Manual. The Attorneys' Manual provides that:
When United States Attorneys, or their offices, become aware of an issue that could require a recusal in a criminal or civil matter or case as a result of a personal interest or professional relationship with parties involved in the matter, they must contact General Counsel's Office... The requirement of recusal does not arise in every instance, but only where a conflict of interest exists or there is an appearance of a conflict of interest or loss of impartiality.
In the leak investigation, Mr. Ashcroft clearly had a professional relationship with a party involved the matter. His failure to have recused himself earlier may have been an instance of "too little, too late," as the conflict may have impeded the investigation.
Furthermore, rules of professional conduct bar lawyers such as Mr. Ashcroft from matters in which they have conflicts of interest. Because Department attorneys must follow the ethical rules of the bar in which they practice, as an official at Main Justice he would have been obligated to comply with the District of Columbia Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct. These Rules state that, without consent, a lawyer shall not represent a client if "the lawyer's professional judgment on behalf of the client will be or reasonably may be adversely affected by the lawyer's responsibilities to or interests in a third party or the lawyer's own financial, business, property, or personal interests." In the instant situation, Mr. Ashcroft clearly had a personal connection to Mr. Rove that would have interfered with proper oversight of the case.
We look forward to hearing whether you will open such an investigation and, if not, the reason for your decision.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

More Fitzgerald, Rove, and Plame news...

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.