Matthew Cooper’s first-hand account more bad news for Rove-haters

Posted: Jul 20, 2005 12:00 AM

“Top Cheney Aide Among Sources in C.I.A. Story” is the headline the Associated Press chose for its article on now-famous journalist Matthew Cooper’s first-hand account of his testimony before the grand jury investing the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity.

But the real story is that Karl Rove has been further vindicated.

Though the ultimate arbiter of any legal issues will be special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and the aforementioned grand jury, the political case against Bush’s right-hand man is quickly crumbling.  Cooper’s story—on Time’s new cover—confirms that Rove was not “shopping” for an outlet to “out” Plame, but that he was merely warning Cooper not to “get too far out on Wilson.”

Much of what was in the account was covered in Mike Isikoff’s Newsweek scoop on the contents of the e-mail Cooper wrote to his editor almost immediately after his 2-minute phone conversation with Rove.  From the Newsweek article, it was established that Cooper called Rove—not the other way around—and that it was the Time reporter, not the supposed evil genius, who brought up the topic of Joe Wilson.

Perhaps the most significant “news” item in Cooper’s piece is that he also counted Vice-President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, as a “source” on Plame—which explains the AP’s headline selection. 

But rather than implicating Libby, Cooper’s article is yet more evidence that there was no “story shopping” by the White House.  Here’s what Cooper wrote:

In August 2004, I gave limited testimony about my conversations with Scooter Libby. Libby had also given me a specific waiver, and I gave a deposition in the office of my attorney. I have never discussed that conversation until now. In that testimony, I recounted an on-the-record conversation with Libby that moved to background. On the record, he denied that Cheney knew about or played any role in the Wilson trip to Niger. On background, I asked Libby if he had heard anything about Wilson's wife sending her husband to Niger. Libby replied, "Yeah, I've heard that too," or words to that effect. Like Rove, Libby never used Valerie Plame's name or indicated that her status was covert, and he never told me that he had heard about Plame from other reporters, as some press accounts have indicated.

No matter what the AP headline—or others—may suggest, Libby appears to have been a “source” only in the loosest possible sense.  Not only was it Cooper who initiated the call, but Libby merely told the reporter that he had “heard that too.”  It would seem nothing more than an off-handed response to Cooper’s question, and the Cheney aide too, did not appear to know Plame’s name or covert status.

The other significant “news” item in the Time cover story was what Cooper wrote regarding what Rove told him at the end of the very brief conversation:

Although it’s not reflected in my notes or subsequent e-mails, I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, “I’ve already said too much.” This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don't know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.

Could it mean something?  Possibly.  Cooper seems to have spent two years pondering just that.  Leftist bloggers have already started doing so—albeit in a much more conspiratorial fashion.  But in and of itself, Rove’s comment is cryptic, and, as Cooper noted, it could have meant any one of a number of things.  In other words, there is no smoke, let alone a gun.

Though the Left has largely been dismissive of the distinction that Rove was not telling Cooper to write a story but rather to be careful so as not to publish an incorrect one, at least one key Clintonite disagrees.  Former Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry recently wrote in the Huffington Post, “A two-minute call such as the one now reported is basically to get the signals straight -- green, yellow, red. Rove seems to have been telling Cooper that the yellowcake story was a flashing yellow and he needed to be cautious.”

As it turns out, Cooper did have reason to be cautious.  Wilson’s credibity was later eviscerated by the bipartisan Senate Select Intelligence Committee.  Not only did Wilson lie when claiming that his wife had nothing to do with him going to Niger, but his report back to the CIA was interpreted by analysts as being somewhat supportive of the Saddam-yellowcake intelligence.

None of this changes the legal questions.  No one outside of Fitzgerald’s team and the grand jury know exactly what evidence the prosecutor has gathered.  Not that that will stop the Left and their calls for “frog-marching” Rove to the penitentary.  Yet as things stand, what is out in the public domain—which is to say quite a bit—indicates that no law was broken. 

The latest “news” from Cooper only strengthens that likelihood.