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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

July 15, 2005 PERMALINK
NY Times = Suckers
(posted July 15 2 AM ET)

The news today should be about how a Bush Administration leak of the name of an Al Qaeda member turned double agent in Aug. 2004, hurt a British counterterror operation, allowing suspected terrorists to escape -- including possibly the eventual London Bombers.

As the leak was part of justifying a politically timed terror alert, right after the Dem Convention, this would be a second example of the Bush Administration misusing classified information for political purposes, harming our national security.

But more likely, the punditocracy will ignore the pattern that’s emerging, and flock to today’s NY Times report, claiming that Karl Rove didn’t leak Plame’s name to Bob Novak, but Novak told it to Rove.

It is stupefying that the NY Times would print this story.

It clearly comes from a single anonymous White House source, at a time when all White House officials are refusing to answer questions publicly.

Basically, the NY Times is picking up where its own Judith Miller left off – giving the White House free ink to distribute its talking points.

The source was described as “someone who has been officially briefed on the matter” and who “discussed the matter in the belief that Mr. Rove was truthful in saying he did not disclose Ms. Wilson's identity.”

That ain’t coming from the Special Counsel’s office.

Why would the White House want to get this info out?

Because if Rove can claim he received the info from a journalist, and not “as a result of having authorized access to classified information,” he won’t be liable under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

Why do we know this is the White House strategy?

Because Fox News already told us, during Wednesday’s pundit roundtable on Special Report with Brit Hume:

JEFF BIRNBAUM (W. Post): We are missing an important fact. And that is, where did Karl Rove get his information? --

HUME: Well, I do know one thing. I know what the Rove camp says. The Rove camp says he actually heard about it from a journalist.

...

BIRNBAUM: ...if Karl Rove did not get his information from the CIA or from someone who should not have told him under this law ... then he's sort of off-the-hook.

The NY Times and Fox have their anonymous sources. And Murray Waas has his. Waas recently reported:

..of interest to investigators have been a series of telephone contacts between Novak and Rove, and other White House officials, in the days just after press reports first disclosed the existence of a federal criminal investigation as to who leaked Plame's identity.

Investigators have been concerned that Novak and his sources might have conceived or co-ordinated a cover story to disguise the nature of their conversations.

Another possibility is that this info fed to the NY Times is nominally accurate, and Rove’s role in The Leak was not of primary leaker, but of secondary leaker.

A smaller fry may have initially leaked the name and started rumors, while Rove, who surely gets calls from reporters all the time, could act as a more passive gossiper and maintain plausible deniability.

We can’t be sure how exactly The Leak went down until the special counsel finishes his work.

But we do know that Novak got it from somebody in the Administration.

And we know that nobody in the White House has been forthright about what happened, and willing to answer any questions in the public about it.

They don’t deserve the opportunity to make their case through self-serving leaks of selective info. Their credibility is shot.

And since it is letting them, the NY Times’ credibility is shot too.

(More on the NY Times story from TalkLeft.)

(UPDATE 7/15/05 10:15 AM ET -- Some actual reporting about who else may be involved from the NY Daily News.)

July 14, 2005 PERMALINK
Can't You Investigate The White House Any Faster?
(posted July 14 2:15 AM ET)

CNN’s Lou Dobbs on Monday repeated a common refrain for those complaining that Judith Miller is in jail for no reason:

We don't even know if a crime has been committed. We don't know why this special prosecutor in two years of investigation can't bring it to conclusion.

So why is Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald moving so slowly?

Trick question. He isn’t moving slowly.

Fitzgerald was appointed to lead The Leak probe on Dec. 30, 2003. (He actually has been investigating for little over a year and a half, not two years.)

He has said in a legal motion that: “By October 2004, the factual investigation - other than the testimony of Miller and [Matt] Cooper and any further investigation that might result from such testimony - was for all practical purposes complete.”

Matt 'n' Judy's attempts to avoid testifying have extended the investigation another 9 months and counting. Otherwise, it appears he would have been done in 10 months.

(Yes, we were thatclose to finding out the full truth in time for Election Day. Thanks Matt ‘n’ Judy for standing up for the public’s right to know.)

In any event, we’re at Month 19.

How does that compare to, say, the Iran-Contra investigation?

It took Independent Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh 15 months before his first indictments of government officials, including Ollie North and John Poindexter in March 1988.

(He scored a couple of early guilty pleas from people outside the government in 1987. Also, indictments and guilty pleas continued through June 1992, then George H.W. Bush pardoned six Iran-Contra figures as he walked out of the Oval Office in Dec. 1992.)

So Fitzgerald would have beat Walsh if not for Matt ‘n’ Judy. But even still, he’s only a few months past Walsh.

Considering that investigating the upper levels of the federal government is tricky business, and that Matt ‘n’ Judy put him on a significant detour, Fitzgerald appears to be working at a reasonable pace.

QUICK HIT

How Many Laws Might Have Benedict Rove Broken?

Yesterday, LiberalOasis discussed how Rove may have violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the law that most are focused on.

But there are other laws Rove may have broken.

Mark A.R. Kleiman suggests it’s more likely Rove may have violated the Espionage Act and also the law against “making false statements to officials.”

On CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, John Dean suggested Rove may have violated laws against “converting government information to his own political uses” and “conspiring with others to do what he's not being paid as a government employee to do.”

Dobbs summarized his comments by saying, “Effectively, fraud and conspiracy.”

Dean also speculated about violating the Espionage Act in a 2003 FindLaw piece (hat tip to one of LO’s lawyer readers.)

Of course, most of this speculation is based on what little info about the case has been leaked to the public. This likely goes far deeper than what we know was communicated between Rove and Cooper.

July 13, 2005 PERMALINK
The Pushback
(posted July 13 12:15 AM ET)

A couple of observations on the Benedict Rove case:

1. The GOP pushback is spotty.

The RNC sought to get its peeps on message, distributing a talking points doc (uncovered by Raw Story) that mainly sought to smear whistleblower Joe Wilson instead of explaining the contradictions in Rove’s and Scott McClellan’s statements.

And Talking Points Memo reports that the White House was in heavy damage control mode:

Everyone I hear from today says that the White House is going after Joe Wilson hard in their background conversations with reporters. Apparently Karl Rove himself.

(Reporters are letting Rove talk on background about his own scandal. Scandalous.)

But despite the White House-RNC coordination, not all Republicans got on board.

CNN’s Ed Henry reported:

It's very interesting that amid these Democratic attacks, though, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Republican leader, told me today that he will not comment.

He's not rising to Karl Rove's defense and he's not attacking him either.

You would expect the Republican leader to be stepping up and defending the White House at this moment, but Frist says he does not know enough about the grand jury investigation.

He doesn't want to get into the details of this.

Henry went on to say that he felt GOPers were “nervous privately.”

Also, The Hill found some congressional Republicans going along with the Attack Wilson strategy, but also reported: “Several lawmakers said they do not know enough about the facts of the case to respond.”

RNC Chair Ken Mehlman was the most prominent face of the pushback yesterday, but as someone who was in the White House when The Leak occurred, he proved a poor choice for spokesman.

On CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Reports, after Mehlman took a few whacks at Wilson, Blitzer shifted gears:

BLITZER: Were there meetings, when you were the political director, on what to do involving Joe Wilson, how to deal with this problem that erupted after he wrote that op-ed piece in "the New York Times"?

MEHLMAN: I recall -- I don't recall those meetings occurring.

...

BLITZER: Karl Rove, we know, has been called before a grand jury. A lot of other White House officials have been called before a grand jury.

Were you called before a grand jury?

MEHLMAN: I'm not going to comment on the specifics of this investigation.

...

BLITZER: Well, why can't you tell us if you've been asked to testify?

MEHLMAN: I don't think it's appropriate for anyone to talk about.

BLITZER: You were working at the White House at that time.

MEHLMAN: I think it is not appropriate for me or any else to talk about where we may or may not have been testifying.

...

BLITZER: Have you given a waiver to reporters who may have talked to you about whether or not you authorized them to reveal --

MEHLMAN: I don't recall giving a waiver. I don't recall.

BLITZER: The White House officials had to sign that statement.

MEHLMAN: I don't remember the specifics with respect to that.

Anyone who has to go into “I don’t recall” mode isn’t helping the White House’s cause. It just makes ‘em all look like crooks.

2. What Rove Leaked

Regarding the small part of the pushback that actually involves Rove:

One element of the pushback is that Rove didn’t technically leak Valerie Plame Wilson’s name, he only said “Wilson’s wife.”

But as far as the Intelligence Identities Protection Act is concerned, it’s not the name that matters. It’s the identity.

The law says you can’t “intentionally disclose[] any information identifying [a] covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information”.

It is indisputable that Rove revealed Plame’s identity.

Another element of the pushback is broader, that Rove did not leak any sort of classified info.

His lawyer told Newsweek he did not “knowingly disclose classified information.” And Mehlman said that “the fact is Karl Rove did not leak classified information.”

But what Rove told Time’s Matt Cooper -- that “wilson's wife... authorized the trip” which brought Wilson to Niger to investigate if it gave nuclear material to Saddam -- may well have come from a classified memo.

Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff said on CNN Monday that:

...there was a classified State Department report that said this, that was taken by Secretary of State Powell with him on the trip to Africa that President Bush was then on, and many senior White House aides were on.

That ... may well have been the source for the information that Rove and others were then dishing out to reporters.

Last August, Newsweek reported on that classified memo, and said that Powell was hauled into the grand jury to talk about it:

Sources close to the case say prosecutors were interested in discussions Powell had while with President George W. Bush on a trip to Africa in July 2003, just before Plame's identity was leaked to columnist Robert Novak.

A senior State Department official confirmed that, while on the trip, Powell had a department intelligence report on whether Iraq had sought uranium from Niger...

...The 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.

However, the fact that the memo didn’t mention her last name was a clear indicator that she was undercover.

When the Wall Street Journal reported on this same memo back in 2003, it noted:

Operations officers like Ms. Plame are sometimes identified only by their first names even in interagency meetings.

Rove surely would have known that.

The WSJ also noted:

Classified memos, like the one describing Ms. Plame's role, have limited circulation and investigators are likely to question all those known to have received it.

Intelligence officials haven't denied Ms. Plame was involved in the decision to send Mr. Wilson, but they have said she was not "responsible" for the decision.

This could offer Rove an argument that he didn’t leak classified info.

He said Plame “authorized the trip.” That wasn’t classified. That was just a lie.

Send Rove a well-deserved Pink Slip.

July 11, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted July 11 12 AM ET)

US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and the White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend hit the shows yesterday.

The goal: don’t the let public start thinking the attacks in London mean Bush isn’t doing as good a job on terror as they’ve been told.

The strategy: spin, mislead, repeat.

For example, when Chertoff was asked about sleeper cells in the US, (which he was on NBC’s Meet The Press, CBS’ Face The Nation, and ABC’s This Week) he gave the same talking point each time. The CBS version:

...if you look over the past few years, we've been successful in actually making cases against sleeper cells in northern Virginia and other parts of the country out in the far West.

And sometimes, actually, you know, critics say, “Well, these cells aren't really operational. There's no specific plan.”

I think the lesson of things like London and Madrid is you don't wait until a cell becomes operational, because if you wait until the fuse is lit, you're waiting too long.

And that's why we are very active and aggressive in pursuing these cells, even when we just have them training or lying in wait.

But the criticism is not that counterterrorism units arrest Al Qaeda members too quickly.

It’s that they keep arresting people who are not in Al Qaeda.

As the W. Post reported last month:

Bush said that "federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted."...

...But the numbers are misleading at best.

An analysis of the Justice Department's own list of terrorism prosecutions by The Washington Post shows that 39 people -- not 200, as officials have implied -- were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security.

Most of the others were convicted of relatively minor crimes such as making false statements and violating immigration law -- and had nothing to do with terrorism, the analysis shows...

...Among all the people charged as a result of terrorism probes in the three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, The Post found no demonstrated connection to terrorism or terrorist groups for 180 of them.

Just one in nine individuals on the list had an alleged connection to the al Qaeda terrorist network and only 14 people convicted of terrorism-related crimes...have clear links to the group...

...a large number of people appear to have been swept into U.S. counterterrorism investigations by chance -- through anonymous tips, suspicious circumstances or bad luck -- and have remained classified as terrorism defendants years after being cleared of connections to extremist groups.

For example, the prosecution of 20 men, most of them Iraqis, in a Pennsylvania truck-licensing scam accounts for about 10 percent of individuals convicted -- even though the entire group was publicly absolved of ties to terrorism in 2001.

Bushies love to say they’re “forward-leaning.”

But continually arresting the wrong guys isn’t “forward-leaning.” It’s just “piss-poor work” that doesn’t make us safer.

Suffice it to say, none of interviewers brought up the Administration’s shoddy record to counter Chertoff’s misleading remarks.

Over at Fox News Sunday, Townsend was asked by Brit “Charles Schwab” Hume about the tiny amount of money going to rail security:

HUME: We've seen this enormous difference between the amount of spending at the federal level on air safety...and the relatively puny sums [for ground transportation safety].

And we're talking about billions and billions for air safety, millions and millions for rail and other safety, other ground transportation safety.

What about those discrepancies? And isn't it possible and likely that it's just nowhere near enough money for the transit safety?

TOWNSEND: ...I think you can't just compare federal funds. Many of the funds spent on rail and mass transit security are done at the state and local level, which you're not factoring in.

Second, we've spent about $250 million, which was up from almost nothing prior to 9/11.

In our current budget, the infrastructure protection program would allocate $600 million more. And that doesn't even account for the over $8 billion --

HUME: $600 million more for?

TOWNSEND: Available for rail and mass transit.

HUME: To be allocated by?

TOWNSEND: By the Department of Homeland Security [DHS] using grant funds.

HUME: So, in other words, even though it's not earmarked, it could be spent on that.

TOWNSEND: That's correct.

And there's over $8 billion in the Urban Area Security Initiative that's available for rail security in DHS's grant program.

HUME: And DHS decides how that money gets spent and what the grants are for?

TOWNSEND: That's right.

HUME: All right.

Acutally, not right. Not right at all.

First, the Urban Area Security Initiative is not strictly a rail security program as Townsend implies, it’s far broader than that, covering all aspects of urban security.

Second, UASI’s budget for fiscal year ‘05 was $1.2B, not $8B. And Bush’s ’06 budget cut UASI spending by $180M (see page 4 of the 2/14/05 National Cities Weekly), though it looks like Congress is going to restore the proposed cut.

Third, perhaps most importantly, Townsend’s key weasel words were that these funds were “available for rail security.”

They theoretically could be spent on rail security, not that they will.

In fact, a few days earlier, Marc Short, another Homeland Security spokesperson, was a little more candid about what “available” means. Deleware’s News Journal quoted him saying:

We've given $8.6 billion to states and urban areas this year. They have the flexibility to use [part of those funds] on rail if they so choose.

See? “Available for” really means, “Don’t blame us feds. Blame the cities if they don’t spend the money wisely.”

In other words, shift blame instead of solve the problem.

Furthermore, Short told US News he doesn’t even know how much of that money went to ground transportation security. Way to be on top of things.

Perhaps it’s that stellar federal oversight from Short that prompted the DHS Inspector General to report that lots of federal grant money from DHS isn’t even going to homeland security projects.

Finally, while Townsend tossed out a bunch of numbers to mislead and confuse, the bottom line is that, according to USA Today:

U.S. transit authorities say the nation's ground-transportation network requires an immediate $6 billion security upgrade, yet it is budgeted to receive just $100 million from the federal government next year.

Townsend is right that ground transportation security funding has increased from where it was four years ago, but that’s meaningless if it’s nowhere near enough to get the job done.

QUICK HIT

Newsflash: ABC Roundtable Discussion Actually Informative and Insightful

Cokie Roberts and George Will were absent from this week’s ABC roundtable discussion, opening the door to a rare informative discussion on Sunday.

The roundtable featured former Bush State Department official Richard Haas, former Clinton and Bush counterterror official Richard Clarke and ABC’s Pentagon reporter Martha Raddatz.

They discussed possible connections between the London attacks and the Iraq War. Crooks and Liars has the video.

This exchange is worth excerpting at length, without additional comment:

HAAS: ...even if Iraq didn’t exist, these [terrorists] have other causes to do what [they’re] doing. The linkage isn’t that clear.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But ... we hear [Bush] say again and again and again, we’re fighting them in Iraq so we that don’t have to fight them here at home. But instead it’s become a breeding ground for these terrorists.

HAAS: Sure. That’s a different argument, which is that if Afghanistan was Terrorism 101, Iraq has become Terrorism 201.

And it has become a training ground, and a place where people are getting practical experience.

And it will spread. Whether it’s to Europe, or one day, to the United States, it wouldn’t surprise me.

RADDATZ: And a better training ground, in many ways. Most intelligence officials I’ve talked to say Iraq is a better training ground.

They’re getting much more sophisticated there than they were in Afghanistan...

...The most startling figure to me is there have been 500 suicide bombings in Iraq...most of them within the last year.

What does that tell you about the spread of terrorism and the spread of this ideology?

CLARKE: What it tells you is that Iraq is not just a training ground. It’s a motivator.

Richard’s right. There’d obviously be some terrorists even if we weren’t in Iraq.

But I believe there are many more terrorists because we are in Iraq.

It’s enough of a motivator that people are willing to go and risk their lives or lose their lives.

People who would otherwise just be sitting around in mosques somewhere complaining about all of this, because we are occupying Iraq still, are willing to go out and fight.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ...Do we have to stay there and continue to grind it out, until -- you know it seems like there’s an endless supply of jihadists -- but we stay there until we proven we can smash them? Or [is it] time to go?

CLARKE: We have to leave at a responsible pace.

But we have to realize that a lot of fighting that goes on there, a lot of the dying that goes on there, goes on because we’re there.

And whenever we leave, there’s going to be some degree of chaos.

The real analytical question is: is the difference in chaos, post-withdrawal, going to be substantially different if we leave next year, or five years from now?

And is that difference in chaos, post-withdrawal, worth the price that we’re going to pay for it?

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Chuck Currie: United Church of Christ church set of fire days after landmark resolution supporting gay marraige passed

Hullabaloo on Rove and Plame: "Everybody is just assuming that because it's 'out there' that government officials continuing to spread classified information is not a crime. That may not actually be so."

TomDispatch: "The World Monuments Fund has just placed the country on its list of the Earth's 100 most endangered sites ... This is the first time that the Fund has ever put a whole nation on its list"

The Stakeholder: Will DeLay be charged for bribery?

[britain bloggers]

We're Not Afraid! has a message for the bombers

Europhobia and Tim Worstall have been tracking the London bombings throughout the day

Shot By Both Sides: "If it is terrorists - what, is that the best you can do? We live here, we don't give a fuck about your stupid bombs, and we'll survive this without changing the way we live our lives. Nor are we going to let you be used as spurious grounds for surrendering our freedom..."

Nick Barlow: "if you’re using what’s happened in London as an excuse to start waving your 'people who should be dealt with' list, and demanding for the bombs to start falling, the walls to start building and the jails to start filling up with anyone you don’t like the look of then Shut. The. Fuck. Up."

Bloggerheads and The Yorkshire Ranter are critical of Tony Blair's remarks

[/britain bloggers]

Balkinization: "once conservative social movements arose and began to dominate American politics, they learned that they could use many of the same tools that liberals had ... conservative think tanks came up with creative constitutional arguments, and a judiciary staffed increasingly with conservative judges found that judicial restraint made much less sense when you actually had power ... conservative judges have been willing to use the power of judicial review early and often."

Think Progress: Bush’s “Stinginess” on African Aid Revealed

BlueGrassRoots: "In finding [in Kelo] that the city was within its Constitutional authority to take the property through eminent domain, the Court stuck with years of precedent (over a hundred years' worth to be more precise) - in other words it was judicially inactive."

UCC Blog: "The General Synod of the United Church of Christ put the national setting of our denomination on record supporting same sex marriages. This makes the UCC the first mainline Christian denomination to take such a stand."

Baghdad Burning: "Why aren’t the Americans setting a timetable for withdrawal? Iraqis are constantly wondering why nothing is being done to accelerate the end of the occupation."

MyDD live-blogged Live8, which urged people to give their voice to The ONE Campaign to make poverty history

Huffington Post's Lawrence O'Donnell: "If what I have reported is not true, if Karl Rove is not Matt Cooper’s source, Rove could prove that instantly by telling us what he told the grand jury. Nothing prevents him from doing that, except a good lawyer who is trying to keep him out of jail."

The Nation's Capital Games: "the Democrats and progressives may be placed in the position of having to oppose an experienced jurist whose opinions they do not like on policy grounds. They should fight such a nominee vigorously, and they should be upfront about their reasons ... they ought to argue that the Senate ought not to confirm a nominee who is likely to vote to curtail or eliminate abortion rights, to favor corporate polluters over consumers, or to restrict the federal government's ability to advance social justice. The 'extremist' strategy, I fear, is worn out and ineffective."

Nathan Newman: "The Supreme Court is the interpreter of legislative statutes and they can either enforce them strongly on behalf of the rights of middle class families or they can give corporations a free pass to loot pensions, poison the environment and violate their employees rights at work ... Let's remind people that only a few of the Supreme Court decisions are about hot-button social issues."

ACSBlog: What happens if more a conservative justice replaces Justice O'Connor?

Daily Kos: "Supreme Court: What You Can Do RIGHT NOW"

Sirotablog on the Rove strategy: "first nominate a wild-eyed lunatic ... either the lunatic gets appointed, or the lunatic loses, and then Bush puts up someone a shade less crazy - but equally as conservative - as the 'compromise.'"

Swing State Project posts a statement from PFAW: "With Justice O'Connor providing the swing vote on critical 5-4 decisions regarding privacy, reproductive rights, affirmative action, government neutrality toward religion, and more, we cannot overstate the profound impact her replacement could have on the direction of American law and society."

The Sideshow: "privatization is a way to make things more expensive, less efficient, and generally more of a rip-off. Today's example tells us how post-9/11 'security' went haywire once the administration decided to let the private sector handle it"

Informed Comment: "Taliban used some sort of rocket to shoot down a US helicopter in Afghanistan, killing all 17 servicemen aboard ... It is not clear if these are rocket propelled grenade strikes, which are difficult to pull off and therefore rare, or if Taliban and Iraqi guerrillas are getting hold of shoulder-fired missiles, which would be more dangerous to the US ... If the sophistication of the weaponry in Afghanistan and Iraq increases, it could signal a two-front, hard-fought war for the US."

Arran's Alley and Liberals Against Terrorism on an underreported story: American contractors in Iraq being detained and abused by American troops

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