Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The criminal investigation in the Plame Affair 

The crime: Revealing the name of a CIA operative is a felony that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail and a $50,000 fine. In this case, the name of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, was revealed to two journalists (Robert Novak and Time magazine). Note that the law applies not on the journalists for printing the name, but on their source, who revealed it.

Means: The White House shopped the story involving Plame to at least six journalists and/or publications, two of whom (Robert Novak and Time) printed it.

Motive: The administration officials involved in the story suggest "vengeance" (back). Valerie Plame is the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, the whistleblower on the Niger yellowcake uranium story. Wilson suggests the additional motive of intimidating whistleblowers by attacking their families.

Suspects: The prime suspect is Karl Rove (Borger in the Guardian). The body language of the press suggests Karl Rove (scroll down); however, Cheney's office is also a possibility. (An otherwise mysterious comment by Bush at at a Chicago fundraiser suggests that Cheney is indeed the criminal: "Our country has had no finer vice president than Dick Cheney. Mother may have a different opinion."

Opportunity: Any White House official with sufficient clearance, whose job involves dealing with critics of the administration by neutralizing them. It's possible that the criminal was simply ignorant of the law; this would suggest a domestic Republican operative (i.e., Rove) rather than a national security apparatchik.

The investigation: Run by the DOJ, with the FBI doing the legwork. The investigation was immediately compromised by DOJ informing the White House on Monday evening that the probe was underway, while White House counsel Alberto Gonzales only issued a memo to staff to retain records the following morning. Whether the delay was inadvertant or not, it would give the criminal plenty of time to destroy any records of his (or her) crime.

White house tactics: The most recent memos from Gonzales, and Bush's recent talking points, try to take the focus off the actions of the criminal, and make the story one of leaking in general. This has the two-fold advantage of (a) taking the focus off the White House and putting it on the SCLM, and (b) intimidating the press and securing more favorable coverage. (Atrios; Josh Marshall.)

Interesting questions:

1. Why not simply subpoena the phone logs for the White House to find out who the criminal talked to on or around the date of Novak's column, which the White House has already done when it was to their advantage? (Josh Marshall) Assuming that the criminal didn't use a cell, of course.

2. Will the DOJ pull an Ollie North? That is, grant immunity to members of the press or White House officials as a way of damping down the scandal and making sure the criminal goes free? (Atrios.)

3. Who are the administration officials who gave details of the crime to WaPo and the press?

4. Who are the other 4 journalists that the criminal shopped the story to?

5. The original column from the now backtracking Novak was printed months ago, and journalists Paul Krugman and David Corn immediately wrote that it was evidence of the commission of a crime by an administration official. Why was a felony committed by a White House official not a story then?

6. Why did Tenet spark the scandal by referring the case to the DOJ?

7. Was Plame (merely) an analyst or an intelligence operative? The backtracking Novak suggests the former, but CIA officials (quoted by Drudge using an (uncited) transcript from Atrios) say otherwise.

And last but not least: 8. What is a good name for the scandal? One that will keep the focus on the White House criminal, and so defeat the tactics of the Bush gang?

UPDATE: Kos is going with "The Plame Affair" as well. I like it because "gate" is a cliche by now. "Affair" also pays homage to the Dreyfus Affair, which was a battle for the soul of France, much as resistance to the Bush regime is a battle for the soul of America.

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