When we last left our heros of the Washington Press Corps, they were basking in the glow of finally doing their jobs by holding Scottie's pudgy little feet to the fire. So how have some of the big papers followed up yesterday's stirrings? The LAT went with a front page story that talks to the people who are willing to talk on the record: Democrats. In their op-ed section, Robert Scheer connects thedots and doesn't pull any punches:
If you can't shoot the messenger, take aim at his wife.
That clearly was the intent of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove in leaking to a reporter that former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent. <b> To try to conceal the fact that the president had lied to the American public about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program,</b> Rove attempted to destroy the credibility of two national security veterans and send an intimidating message to any other government officials preparing to publicly tell the truth.
That and the collection of Downing Street Memos should be nailed to the desk of every political reporter in the country today.
The NYT did a good job providing context and background in this feature that lists Plame Leak highlights from past WH press conferences and briefings. But it put Richard Stevenson on the front page with his report of the briefing, which brings their score way down. Apparently frightened by the tone of yesterday's briefing and worried that the WH wasn't able to get it's point across, Stevenson helpfully gave space to a few anonymous sources:
But in private, several prominent Republicans said they were concerned about the possible effects on Mr. Bush and his agenda, in part because Mr. Rove's stature makes him such a tempting target for Democrats.
"Knowing Rove, he's still having eight different policy meetings and sticking to his game plan," said one veteran Republican strategist in Washington who often works with the White House. "But this issue now is looming, and as they peel away another layer of the onion, there's a lot of consternation. Rove needs to be on his A game now, not huddled with lawyers and press people."
Grrrrr ..."game plan" "A game"! There's some of that comic book action-packed language that Stevenson loves. The brave Republicans refuse to back down. They just refuse to be identified. And there's more:
Mr. Rove made no public comment. A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House now says its official position is not to comment on the case while it is under investigation by a federal special prosecutor, said Mr. Rove had gone about his business as usual on Monday. The official said Mr. Rove had held his regular meetings with Mr. Bush and other top White House aides, and was deeply involved in preparations for the Supreme Court nomination and efforts to push several major pieces of legislation through Congress this month.
I'm guessing that source is Rove. He knows he doesn't have to worry about swearing the crew at the NYT to super double cross-my-heart secrecy when he wants to get a message out. And this is just the kind of message Stevenson loves: Big brave Rove's not worried about Scottie having to take some flak. That's what that little punk is paid for.
Stevenson ends his story by assuring us that Rove is 100% not guilty:
The e-mail message from Mr. Cooper to his bureau chief describing a brief conversation with Mr. Rove, first reported in Newsweek, does not by itself establish that Mr. Rove knew Ms. Wilson's covert status or that the government was taking measures to protect her.
Based on the e-mail message, Mr. Rove's disclosures are not criminal, said Bruce S. Sanford, a Washington lawyer who helped write the law and submitted a brief on behalf of several news organizations concerning it to the appeals court hearing the case of Mr. Cooper and Judith Miller, an investigative reporter for The New York Times.
"It is clear that Karl Rove's conversation with Matt Cooper does not fall into that category" of criminal conduct, Mr. Sanford said. "That's not 'knowing.' It doesn't even come close."
There has been some dispute, moreover, about just how secret a secret agent Ms. Wilson was.
Rove didn't "know." They guy who wrote the law told me so. Plame had a desk job! How secret is that? Ketchum Points all around!
In retrospect, it appears clear that many White House statements about the case were carefully constructed -- giving the impression of being general denials even as the words were narrowly focused on specific allegations. During briefings, McClellan repeatedly challenged reporters to provide him "specific information" when asking about Rove, and he frequently limited his answers about White House involvement in the case to mean the act of leaking classified information. On a few occasions, however, he offered broad denials about Rove and other top aides.
Dana Milbank: Good afternoon. There's war in Iraq, bombs in London, a Supreme Court vacancy -- and all Washington cares about is what Karl Rove said two years ago to Matt Cooper. So let's get on with Topic A.