Rove/Plame: the smoking gun?

class=img_thumbleft>Important story in today's WashPost: Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei write that a June 10, 2003 memo prepared by the State Department's intel branch clearly marked as secret a passage mentioning Valerie Plame Wilson's role as a CIA employee. Though it will likely be swallowed up in the media scrum over the Roberts nomination, this is the biggest disclosure in the case since Michael Isikoff's Newsweek story fingering Rove as Matt Cooper's source. Since the law governing special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's inquiry makes it a crime to out a secret agent only if it is done knowingly, this is a critical domino: It establishes that the administration had that information in its possession before all the telephone tag commenced.

Fitzgerald has to further demonstrate that the information reached Rove and Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby. The WashPost story clarifies why Fitzgerald has been so interested in the phone records from Air Force One: A day after Joe Wilson's July 6, 2003 New York Times op-ed on his trip to Niger, Colin Powell carried a copy of the memo with him on an Air Force One flight to Africa with Bush and the entourage. That was prior to any known Rove or Libby conversation with reporters about Plame, and a week before the notorious Novak column.

And a footnote of interest: As the redoubtable Billmon noted at Whiskey Bar a few days ago, last week's initial round of wire stories discussing the existence of the State Department memo placed it in Powell's hands and no other--except for the Bloomberg news service dispatch, which contains this passage:

"On [July 7], White House phone logs show Novak placed a call to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, according to lawyers familiar with the case and a witness who has testified before the grand jury. Those people say it is not clear whether Fleischer returned the call, and Fleischer has refused to comment.

"The Novak call may loom large in the investigation because Fleischer was among a group of administration officials who left Washington later that day on a presidential trip to Africa. On the flight to Africa, Fleischer was seen perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife, according to a former administration official who was also on the trip.

"In addition, on July 8, 2003, the day after the memo was sent, Novak discussed Wilson and his wife with Rove, who had remained in Washington, according to the New York Times."

Read today's WashPost story Read the Bloomberg wire story

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