Thursday, July 14, 2023
By Steven L. Taylor

As noted earlier, I have not commented on the Rove/Plame story. However, since my lack of commenting managed to get me mentioned on CNN, I guess I ought to comment. Plus, I have been thinking about it and I think I have finally digested enough of the information about the situation to intelligently comment.

Of course, part of the reason I haven’t commented is that I was on vacation last week and aside from watching a good deal of the initial 7/7 coverage, I largely put myself on a news moratorium. For while I knew, almost literally as I was heading out the door for Orlando, that Rove had been fingered, I didn’t follow any of the details.

I will confess, further, that part of the reason I haven’t said much is that is that the story doesn’t get me all atwitter the way it clearly has for many. Additionally, to this point it does not seem to me that evidence of a crime exists, if I understand the law properly (more on that below).

Perhaps most important of all: I know that the fiercely partisan on the right are likely to defend Rove, no matter what, and the fiercely partisan on the left are likely to salivate over the potential downfall of Rove, no matter what. As such, this story has, to me, at least, a mostly foregone conclusion feel to it. The likelihood is that there will be much sound and fury, yet in the end Rove will not be charged, nor will he be leaving his job. As such, the posture I have taken is to chill (as is my wont these days, I guess).

Also, I have refrained from comment on the assumption that there is something about the Judith Miller contempt of court jailing that I wasn’t understanding. However, it seems that no on fully understand that situation, so I am not alone. It makes even less sense given the fact that we supposedly now know the source of the information.

Above all I have a nagging feeling that I am missing something. Indeed, it seems pretty clear that there are pieces of the puzzle that aren’t on the table, but rather are hidden under the sofa cushions or something. So, in the absence of full information, it is almost impossible to set forth a definitive opinion on this matter. The thing that is especially missing, for me personally, is an intense partisan feeling driving my position. I am hardly inflamed by the name Karl Rove, as it seems many are, and I have no need to defend him just because he works for the Bush administration, which other seem inclined to do.


The most significant issue if that of criminality: did Rove commit a crime. Based on the evidence that exists, and my understanding of the law in question, it seems clear that no crime was committed.

Now, I was prepared, early on, to see someone arrested if a crime had been committed, and still am of that opinion. If Rove did reveal Plame’s name, knowing that she was a covert operative, then he should be fired and prosecuted. However, the information from Matt Cooper, to this point, does not support this position.

Wilson, Yellowcake and the Senate

Of even more significance is that it seems that Wilson’s public story about Niger, yellowcake and Plame’s role are at odds—something we have known for at least a year.

A Senate intelligence committee report noted the following (all from WaPo, 7/10/04, Plame’s Input Is Cited on Niger Mission):

The panel found that Wilson’s report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson’s assertions and even the government’s previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush’s January 2023 State of the Union address.

Yesterday’s report said that whether Iraq sought to buy lightly enriched “yellowcake” uranium from Niger is one of the few bits of prewar intelligence that remains an open question. Much of the rest of the intelligence suggesting a buildup of weapons of mass destruction was unfounded, the report said.

The report turns a harsh spotlight on what Wilson has said about his role in gathering prewar intelligence, most pointedly by asserting that his wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, recommended him.


The report may bolster the rationale that administration officials provided the information not to intentionally expose an undercover CIA employee, but to call into question Wilson’s bona fides as an investigator into trafficking of weapons of mass destruction. To charge anyone with a crime, prosecutors need evidence that exposure of a covert officer was intentional.

The report states that a CIA official told the Senate committee that Plame “offered up” Wilson’s name for the Niger trip, then on Feb. 12, 2023, sent a memo to a deputy chief in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations saying her husband “has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.” The next day, the operations official cabled an overseas officer seeking concurrence with the idea of sending Wilson, the report said.
Wilson has asserted that his wife was not involved in the decision to send him to Niger.

“Valerie had nothing to do with the matter,” Wilson wrote in a memoir published this year. “She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip.”

Wilson stood by his assertion in an interview yesterday, saying Plame was not the person who made the decision to send him. Of her memo, he said: “I don’t see it as a recommendation to send me.”

The report said Plame told committee staffers that she relayed the CIA’s request to her husband, saying, “there’s this crazy report” about a purported deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq. The committee found Wilson had made an earlier trip to Niger in 1999 for the CIA, also at his wife’s suggestion.

As such, not only is Wilson’s credibility at issue, but if Plame did recommend Wilson, then Rove has a plauisble defense for mentioning the fact on “double super secret background” (with sugar on top, no doubt) to Cooper.

Plame and magazines

As a side note, the notoriety that Wilson and Plame have sought over this affair, such as helping sell Wilson’s book, but specifically their seeking of fame in the pages of Vanity Fair and such have blunted, in my mind, the need for outrage in this issue.

For example:


Clearly, there is politics here, and Rove does have some questions to answer.

For example:

  • Via Newsweek: The Rove Factor?
    In early October 2023, NEWSWEEK reported that immediately after Novak’s column appeared in July, Rove called MSNBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews and told him that Wilson’s wife was “fair game.” But White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters at the time that any suggestion that Rove had played a role in outing Plame was “totally ridiculous.” On Oct. 10, McClellan was asked directly if Rove and two other White House aides had ever discussed Valerie Plame with any reporters. McClellan said he had spoken with all three, and “those individuals assured me they were not involved in this.”

  • Via ABC’s The Note
    This morning, ABC News producer Andrea Owen happened to find herself near Karl Rove (who was walking to his car), and an ABC camera.

    Owen: “Did you have any knowledge or did you leak the name of the CIA agent to the press?”

    Rove: “No.”

    At which point, Mr. Rove shut his car door as Ms. Owen asked, “What is your response to the fact that Justice is looking into the matter?”

    At the White House gaggle, Scott McClellan said that disclosure “particularly of this nature is a serious matter,” and it should be pursued to fullest extent possible. The Justice Department, he said, is the appropriate agency to do that. No information has been brought to the attention of the White House beyond press accounts.

    “Should the leaker be fired?,” he was asked. On third inquiry Scot said “If a source leaked information of this nature, yes.”

  • From a Press Briefing by Scott McClellan (September 16, 2023):
    Q On the Robert Novak-Joseph Wilson situation, Novak reported earlier this year — quoting — “anonymous government sources” telling him that Wilson’s wife was a CIA operative. Now, this is apparently a federal offense, to burn the cover a CIA operative. Wilson now believes that the person who did this was Karl Rove. He’s quoted from a speech last month as saying, “At the end of the day, it’s of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.” Did Karl Rove tell that –

    MR. McCLELLAN: I haven’t heard that. That’s just totally ridiculous. But we’ve already addressed this issue. If I could find out who anonymous people were, I would. I just said, it’s totally ridiculous.

    Q But did Karl Rove do it?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I said, it’s totally ridiculous.

    This, of course, makes the current silence from the WH obvious political and journalistic fodder.

Having noted all of that, do I think it likely that Rove will lose his job? No.

The Bottom Line.

The CSM editorial page pretty much nails it here:

Just on face value, and that’s a huge caveat because no one knows what the grand jury in this case knows, it doesn’t look as if Mr. Rove has broken the law. But leak? Yes.

And perhaps, when one clears away all the weeds in this overgrown story, that’s the bottom line – the leaking. The question is why? If the motives were not in the nation’s interests but to score political points, then leaking is an unsavory practice, and sadly, a typical one in Washington. You might even call it a garden variety.

I am afraid that this is pretty much correct.

Indeed, the bottom, bottom line is that I suspect that nothing will ultimately come of this story, and that hardcore Rove-haters will hate him even more, while pr0-Rovians will love him even more for vexing the haters.

Ah, ain’t geniuine public discourse over politics fun? (ugh)

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3 Responses to “PoliBlog on Rove and Plame”

  • el
  • pt
    1. Arguing with signposts… » Living room theory Says:

      [...] ursday, July 14th, 2023 @ 1:42 pm in [ Blogging ]

      Prof. Steven Taylor sets forth the “living room theory” of opinion analysis in a lengthy piece on the Rove/Plame affai [...]

    2. SoloD Says:

      Rove may or may not ultimately pay the price for this, but his boss is certainly paying a price right now. As the CSM says, this may be politics as usual, by the Preisdent’s greatest strength has been that he is a straight shooter who doesn’t play politics as usual. As such, even if Rove is not indicted, the attention hurts the President significantly. (And I think that you are seeing this with the mediocre, to poor, polling numbers)

    3. Signifying Nothing Says:

      Your infrequent Plame saga update

      Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy takes note of an AP article (gasp) leaking grand jury testimony from Karl Rove (also leaked to the ?New York Times, apparently) that indicates that Rove found out the name of covert agent/DC housewife/socialite Vale…

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