Bubbling under: the new Watergate?

Don't look now, but Karl Rove's on a grand jury hot seat

Coming off the 4th of July holiday, all eyes in media are fixed on the massing armies of lobbyists and special pleaders set to do battle over Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court. But there's a story coming up beneath it with the potential to go a long way toward undoing the Bush administration. As noted here last week, Time mag's decision to turn over reporter Matthew Cooper's notes to a federal grand jury looking into who disclosed a CIA undercover agent's identity means that criminal indictments of White House staffers could be forthcoming sooner rather than later.

Most of the informed speculation has focused on people who work for Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, like Cheney chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby. But on Friday, McLaughlin Group panelist Lawrence O'Donnell fingered Rove himself as Cooper's source during a taping of the show. And on Monday Newsweek published a Michael Isikoff story that likewise indicated Rove spoke to Cooper a few days before Plame was eventually outed elsewhere, by the syndicated columnist Bob Novak. Isikoff's story stops short of calling Rove the source of the Valerie Plame outing, but one doubts that Rove was just asking after Cooper's family.

Rove spoke to federal agents about the case in the fall of 2003, and though what he said is officially under wraps, the investigative reporter Murray Waas published a story at the American Prospect website in March 2004 claiming that

President Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, told the FBI in an interview last October that he circulated and discussed damaging information regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame with others in the White House, outside political consultants, and journalists, according to a government official and an attorney familiar with the ongoing special counsel's investigation of the matter.

But Rove also adamantly insisted to the FBI that he was not the administration official who leaked the information that Plame was a covert CIA operative to conservative columnist Robert Novak last July. Rather, Rove insisted, he had only circulated information about Plame after it had appeared in Novak's column. He also told the FBI, the same sources said, that circulating the information was a legitimate means to counter what he claimed was politically motivated criticism of the Bush administration by Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. [emphasis added]

Note the highlighted part--if Waas's summary of what Rove said to the FBI is correct, he's already caught out on one seemingly pivotal lie to federal agents.

Waas's piece is also the most concise backgrounder on the Plame case that I've read. It's worth checking out here.

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