Rove/Plame: What does Judy know?


class=img_thumbleft>In the July 7 hearing that preceded Judith Miller's jailing, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told the judge that the NYT reporter's refusal to testify meant that "we are having this whole thing derailed by one person." Each week that passes without indictments in the probe lends a little more credence to Fitzgerald's assertion that his case--or at least the optimal version of his case--rests on what Miller knows. Facing a shortage of fresh leaks from the apparently stalled grand jury proceedings, some Plame watchers have turned back to the central question in the probe: What is it Miller knows that Fitzgerald is so anxious to get at?

There are about three possibilities, broadly speaking, and theories of the case to go with each:

1. Her account would contradict that of administration personnel who have testified. This is not so much a theory as the popular workaday assumption, based on the leaks regarding other reporters' testimony, which have contradicted those of the White House on several particulars. So the notion here is that Miller would provide a few more bricks toward a criminal conspiracy or obstruction of justice case. It's possible that this is the extent of Fitzgerald's interest in Miller, but that seems questionable given her status as one of the two or three American reporters most intimately plugged in both to the administration (as Roger Morris pointed out last week, many critics think her bogus pre-war WMD stories were spoonfed to her by pal John Bolton) and to the US intelligence apparatus where Valerie Plame Wilson plied her trade.

2. Miller's story would reveal more parties to Fitzgerald's conspiracy or obstruction of justice case. In recent days, the names added to the list of "figures of interest" via leaks or informed speculation include Colin Powell and Richard Armitage (Time notes that they both saw a State Department memo identifying Plame's status and labeling it secret), Ari Fleischer, and John Bolton. (Roger Morris, a former National Security Council staffer, writes that many people think Bolton spoonfed Miller some of her bogus pre-war WMD scoops.) It's conceivable that Miller's testimony could pull some of them into the criminal case that Fitzgerald is trying to build.

3. Miller's testimony would add an element to the criminal case. Two main lines of speculation here. Nearly a month ago, criminal defense lawyer and TalkLeft blog author Jerralyn Merritt theorized that Miller was privy to the details of an alleged meeting of Cheney staffers to discuss ways of discrediting Joseph Wilson's story. (As I noted in last week's Rove/Plame FAQ, Wilson claimed to USA Today that such a meeting had taken place, which Cheney's office denies.)

But Arianna Huffington reported late last week that an altogether different theory is circulating among some of Miller's colleagues at the New York Times: The element that Judith Miller stands to add to the prosecution might be--Judith Miller.

I'll quote Huffington's recap of the NYT conjecture at length, but you should read the entire piece:

It's July 6, 2003, and Joe Wilson's now famous op-ed piece appears in the Times, raising the idea that the Bush administration has "manipulate[d]" and "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." Miller, who has been pushing this manipulated, twisted, and exaggerated intel in the Times for months, goes ballistic. Someone is using the pages of her own paper to call into question the justification for the war -- and, indirectly, much of her reporting. The idea that intelligence was being fixed goes to the heart of Miller's credibility. So she calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, Who is this guy? She finds out he's married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby (Newsday has identified a meeting Miller had on July 8 in Washington with an "unnamed government official"). Maybe Miller tells Rove too -- or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and Cooper. The story gets out.

This is why Miller doesn't want to reveal her "source" at the White House -- because she was the source. Sure, she first got the info from someone else, and the odds are she wasn't the only one who clued in Libby and/or Rove (the State Dept. memo likely played a role too)… but, in this scenario, Miller certainly wasn't an innocent writer caught up in the whirl of history. She had a starring role in it. This also explains why Miller never wrote a story about Plame, because her goal wasn't to write a story, but to get out the story that cast doubts on Wilson's motives.

Read the Huffington column.

Whilst we await any official word on the disposition of the investigation--don't hold your breath, unless you think you can hold it longer than Miller and Fitzgerald both--this gratifying footnote: A news analysis column by Mark Hand in PR Week quotes a former Justice Department public affairs director, Mark Corallo, as follows: "The dirty little secret in [DC] was she was about to be fired.... She should be sending Pat Fitzgerald a dozen roses and a thank-you note right now because he just made her untouchable. She's unfirable. He basically just saved her career."

I only wish I could believe it. The Times called it "patently untrue," as they are now obliged to do whether Corallo's tale is true or not. He's certainly right about one thing: Unless someone else's testimony in the Plame case lands her in hot water, Miller is nigh untouchable going forward.

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