Published on Thursday, July 14, 2005 by the Los Angeles Times
The Outing of a Coward
Karl Rove could have come clean long ago. It's time for the West Wing to take the heat
by Margaret Carlson
On TV recently, I called Matt Cooper's then-unknown source a thug, someone watching from a privileged perch in the White House as Cooper went through hell in the Valerie Plame case.
Now that I know the source was Karl Rove, I would like to revise and extend my remarks. Rove is not a thug, he is a coward. He could have come clean long ago, saved millions in taxpayers' dollars and spared everyone a lot of agony. Instead, we've had a two-year investigation to find out what President Bush could have learned by walking across the hall.
At one time, the president called the outing of CIA agent Plame "a very serious matter" and said that the person who did it should be fired. In certain circumstances, exposing an undercover agent is a crime. In any circumstance, it's wrong. At least six reporters were leaked information to suggest that Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, was a girlie man who needed his wife to get him a job checking out rumors of Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions. The idea was to discredit Wilson's finding that the rumors were untrue. At the time, Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan, told us it was ridiculous to suspect Rove. And: "If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration."
Questions about statements like that turned Monday's White House news briefing into a rare smackdown of McClellan, who went suddenly mum because of "an ongoing criminal investigation." When the 35th question came at him in as many minutes, his made-up face looked as gray as his suit. I thought he might cry.
It's high time the heat over all this shifted to the West Wing, where it belongs, but that doesn't mean the reporters in the case are out of the spotlight.
Oddly, the reporter in jail, Judith Miller, is the one who didn't even write a story based on the leaked information — perhaps because she was burned earlier for relying on anonymous sources who used her to push the WMD rationale for war against Hussein. In his column in the New York Times, her colleague Frank Rich noted that one Miller piece in particular, "a notoriously credulous front-page story about aluminum tubes," provided fuel for the hawks around Bush. But all that's forgotten now as Miller pays the high price of going off to jail.
For my friend and colleague Cooper, who didn't go to jail, there isn't a made-for-TV, storybook ending. The ground shifted beneath him first when his bosses at Time magazine turned over his notes to the special prosecutor, citing the gravity of a Supreme Court ruling and their responsibility to Time's shareholders. (Time, unlike the New York Times, was expecting to be fined large sums every day until the source was revealed.)
Once the notes were turned over, Cooper apparently had no secret source left to protect, but the prosecutor insisted he testify anyway. He refused, and last Thursday, sure that he'd be booked and fingerprinted later that day, he said a long goodbye to his wife and 6-year-old son. But that morning Cooper's lawyer, after reading in the Wall Street Journal that Rove was happy to waive any confidentiality agreements, accepted the offer with Cooper's permission. Although he surely had little new to say, Cooper testified Wednesday.
Cooper's nightmare may be over, but Bush's is not. Rove, with his reputation as a brass-knuckled political strategist, is the guy Bush turns to deep-six the smoking gun. What will he do now that Rove is the smoking gun?
Without Rove to construct them, the talking points are atrocious. All day Tuesday, for example, Republicans defended his leak: After all, he didn't reveal the name of that woman, Plame. Isn't that the kind of parsing Republicans jumped on Bill Clinton for?
Rove may end up leaving the White House, but he'll do the same things when he's a private political consultant, only in a different location for a lot more money. The New York Times and Miller will cleanse themselves of their WMD sins with jail time.
The one good thing to come out of all this is that journalists have been reminded to say "no" to those cowards trying to get revenge or dish dirt without putting their names on it. Our promise of confidentiality should be given for information that corrects an injustice, not perpetrates one.
© 2005 Los Angeles Times