Sunday, August 01, 2004

plame escape route?

This Newsweek story says that Powell recently testified for the Fitzgerald grand jury investigation of the Plame outing.

In the midst of reassurances that the probe is comprehensive ("sources say the decision to question Powell shows the thoroughness with which Fitzgerald is conducting the probe") there are two statements that will concern people anxious to see heads roll over this issue.

1. "The [State Department intelligence] report stated that Wilson's wife had attended a meeting at the CIA where the decision was made to send Wilson to Niger, but it did not mention her last name or undercover status."

The significance of this report is apparently that Powell had it with him when he traveled with Bush to Africa in July 2003. The implication is that Powell may have diseminated info from this report to Bush.

Now, before you start jumping up and down screaming "It was Bush! It was Bush!", think again and realize that it is highly unlikely Bush personally picked up the phone and called Novak. It's far more likely that he told someone else to make sure the involvement of Wilson's wife got out to the public. The obvious bad news is that this report provides for the possibility that someone high up might know "wife" without knowing "undercover operative".

This does not in any way clear Novak, however. Josh Marshall analyzed last year that Novak's use of the word "operative" to mean "undercover agent" was 100% consistent. Although this point is unlikely to sway a grand jury to an indictment, the fact that Novak was contacted by CIA and asked not to reveal Plame's identity should do some swaying.

2. "Though most lawyers thought the investigation was nearly complete, sources say Fitzgerald has recently recalled witnesses before the grand jury—apparently to ask about issues raised by a new Senate intelligence committee report that seemed to contradict some of Wilson's public statements about Plame's role in his trip to Niger."

In the face of a recent barrage of commentary that Plame's involvement in Wilson's trip is somehow supposed to make outing her acceptable, many people pointed out that the issue was wholly irrelevant from a legal standpoint. Surely Fitzgerald would not be swayed by these clever sounding but erroneous arguments? Well, perhaps not.

The only real good news in this article is that virtually every item of information and analysis in it comes from anonymous "sources". Perhaps these unnamed sources are trying to get ahead of any Powell testimony buzz.