Rove's Trove of Trouble
July 14, 2005
By Ken Sanders
a turn of events worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy, Karl Rove is
falling from the dizzying heights of untouchable omnipotence to
the sordid depths of political scapegoat. Long regarded as Bush's
political Svengali, Rove now finds himself in the cross-hairs of
a legal and political manhunt for the White House official responsible
for revealing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Having staunchly defended Rove in the past against his alleged
involvement in the outing of Plame, the White House now finds itself
in the untenable position of withholding comment in deference to
the ongoing criminal investigation. No one, not even the press,
is buying the White House's current policy of silence on Rove's
involvement in the Plame affair. The skepticism arises out of the
fact that, while the investigation was ongoing, the White House
on repeated occasions summarily dismissed any question of Rove's
involvement as "totally ridiculous."
The White House's abrupt switch from dismissive boasting to contrite
silence speaks volumes. Like corporate executives or major league
baseball players who take the Fifth rather than testify before Congress
about their malfeasance or steroid use, the White House's sudden
resort to "no comment" amounts to a silent admission of wrongdoing.
If someone didn't have the goods on Rove, you can rest assured that
the White House would still be arrogantly brushing aside any and
all questions about his role in outing Plame. For Rove, the jig
is up, and the White House knows it.
However, there are still those who argue that even if Rove did
reveal Plame's identity to the media, he didn't do anything wrong.
Take for instance P. J. O'Rourke, columnist for The Weekly Standard.
According to O'Rourke's column in the July 18, 2005, issue of the
Standard, Rove could not have violated the Intelligence Identities
Protection Act because Plame was "hiding in plain sight." O'Rourke
claims that at the time she was outed, "Plame was working a desk
job at CIA headquarters."
Assuming O'Rourke is correct about Plame's desk status, that is
irrelevant to the question of Rove's wrongdoing. Under federal statute,
it is a felony offense (punishable by 3 to 10 years imprisonment)
to disclose any information identifying a covert agent to any unauthorized
person. For purposes of the statute, a "covert agent" includes "a
present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency,"
whose identity as such is classified information, and who is serving
or has served outside the U.S. "within the last five years."
Thus, that Plame might have been on desk duty at the time her
identity was revealed is immaterial. So long as she was an intelligence
officer who had served outside of the United States within five
years before she was outed, and whose identity was classified, then
anyone who intentionally disclosed any identifying information regarding
Plame committed a felony offense. It remains for the grand jury
to decide whether or not there is probable cause to believe that
Plame was a covert agent whom Rove revealed as political payback
against Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson. The White House, for its
part, is clearly, albeit silently, concerned.
O'Rourke also claims that "the secret identities of CIA covert
agents" are known to everyone. Therefore, according to O'Rourke,
if Rove revealed Plame's identity as a covert agent, all he really
did was repeat an open secret. Somehow I think Porter Goss would
disagree with O'Rourke's assertion that the identities of CIA covert
agents are actually widely known. If that were true, there would
be no need for the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Then
again, if O'Rourke is right and everyone knows the secret identities
of all CIA covert agents, it would explain the dearth of human intelligence
regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
At any rate, whether or not Plame's identity as a covert agent
was widely known, as O'Rourke claims, that would be no defense to
Rove's alleged criminal act of revealing her identity to the press.
Under statute, there are certain enumerated defenses to the crime
of identifying a covert agent. Those defenses include public disclosure
by the U.S. of the agent's identity, disclosure to select Congressional
intelligence committees, and an agent's disclosure of his or her
own identity. O'Rourke's "common knowledge" claim does not fall
within any of these statutory defenses.
Did Rove reveal Plame's identity as a covert agent in order to
screw her husband for daring to criticize Rove's prodigy? That remains
to be seen. However, if the allegations are true and Rove deliberately
endangered national security as part of a political vendetta, he
very likely committed a felony offense under federal law. That Plame
may have been a desk jockey whose secret identity was widely known
would be no defense to Rove's potential criminal liability.
It also remains to be seen how long Bush will stand behind the
man who propelled him to office. Bush applauds himself for his loyalty.
We're about to find out just how deep that loyalty runs.
Visit Ken Sanders' blog at http://www.politicsofdissent.blogspot.com.