Canal Water Review

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Rove V. Cooper: Duelling Emails

Originally posted at TPMCafe.

Karl Rove and Matthew Cooper had a telephone conversation on July 11, 2003. Each of them followed up on their conversation with an email to another person in their respective organizations. Cooper emailed his bureau chief, Michael Duffy. Rove emailed Stephen Hadley in the security section. Unless it is standard operating procedure in both organizations to document every telephone conversation in such a manner, it would seem that both understood that they had participated, however briefly (less than two minutes), in a significant interaction with potential national security implications.

Michael Isikoff, writing for Newsweek's July 18 [2005]issue (usually published a week earlier than the date stamp), gives us some information about Cooper's email (direct quotes emphasized):

It was 11:07 on a Friday morning, July 11, 2003, and Time magazine correspondent Matt Cooper was tapping out an e-mail to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy. "Subject: Rove/P&C," (for personal and confidential), Cooper began. "Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation ..." Cooper proceeded to spell out some guidance on a story that was beginning to roil Washington. He finished, "please don't source this to rove or even WH [White House]" and suggested another reporter check with the CIA.

. . .

In a brief conversation with Rove, Cooper asked what to make of the flap over Wilson's criticisms. NEWSWEEK obtained a copy of the e-mail that Cooper sent his bureau chief after speaking to Rove. (The e-mail was authenticated by a source intimately familiar with Time's editorial handling of the Wilson story, but who has asked not to be identified because of the magazine's corporate decision not to disclose its contents.) Cooper wrote that Rove offered him a "big warning" not to "get too far out on Wilson." Rove told Cooper that Wilson's trip had not been authorized by "DCIA"—CIA Director George Tenet—or Vice President Dick Cheney. Rather, "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip." Wilson's wife is Plame, then an undercover agent working as an analyst in the CIA's Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division. (Cooper later included the essence of what Rove told him in an online story.) The e-mail characterizing the conversation continues: "not only the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. he [Rove] implied strongly there's still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger ... "

John Solomon, writing for the Associated Press (July 16 [2005], 10:18 a.m.)quotes from Rove's email to Stephen Hadley (direct quotes emphasized):

Rove told then-deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley in the July 11, 2003, e-mail that he had spoken with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper and tried to caution him away from some allegations that CIA operative Valerie Plame's husband was making about faulty Iraq intelligence.

"I didn't take the bait," Rove wrote in the message, disclosed to The Associated Press. In the memo, Rove recounted how Cooper tried to question him
about whether President Bush had been hurt by the new allegations Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had been making.
. . .

"Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he's got a welfare reform story coming," Rove wrote Hadley, who has since risen to the top job of national security adviser.

"When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn't this damaging? Hasn't the president been hurt? I didn't take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn't get Time far out in front on this."

While it would be better to have the full texts of the emails to review, there are a couple of points that might be gleaned from the evidence that we do have.

First, while Cooper was reporting new information in an emerging story to his Bureau Chief and requesting additional investigation from other reporters, Rove was reporting one more activity in what was evidently a larger effort to minimize that story and preserve the credibility of claims that Saddam Hussein was seeking resources in Africa for manufacturing nuclear weapons. Rove was reporting to a national security advisor. He didn't provide any context for his reference to Niger ("He immediately launched into Niger." Niger what? Niger's economy? Niger's national dance troup?), indicating that the subject of "Niger" was under discussion and the context already known. Unless Hadley is the mysterious second source for Novak's article (notice how I don't really need to provide context for that reference?), then there was a wider group of individuals in the White House who were looking at strategies to deal with Joseph Wilson's thorn in their side.

Yes, we pretty much "knew" this; this email simply confirms it. The next question is who participated in this group, and what was the full scope of their strategy to deal with Wilson and the whole issue of Niger?

Second, Rove's email to Hadley does not seem to deal with the issue of Wilson's wife, by name or otherwise. Instead, Rove documents a two-minute conversation that includes discussion of a welfare reform story as well as "Niger" just before he is due to leave on a family vacation. That is, if nothing else, an admirable display of attention to detail on a day which one would expect to be fairly hectic in terms of tying up loose ends and making sure that the house didn't burn down, so to speak, while one is away. More than that, however, it points to how important the issue was at the time that even so short a conversation needed to be documented. That it does not include reference to the details of the imputation of nepotism against the Wilsons and the disclosure of a covert operative's identity suggests that (1) Rove recognized that the latter was illegal and didn't want it documented and/or (2) he was creating plausible deniability for himself should his disclosures ever become an issue. It is the latter element that is most interesting here.

How is that so? When Rove talked to Cooper, he warned Cooper that Time should not get too "far out in front on this." He knew that Novak was going to be publishing an article that carried some serious water for the administration very soon. (Indeed, it may have hit the wire that very day.) He also knew that plans were in the works to have CIA Chief George Tenet fall on his sword for the administration, take the blame for the infamous sixteen words in the State of the Union address, and, at the same time, toss a grenade at Wilson by pointing out that there were still concerns about Hussein's aspirations for nuclear capability. That happened within days. If challenged, Rove could say, as his supporters seem to be doing now, that he was merely warning Time away from a story that the administration already expected to have under control and that, indeed, he never really gave much attention to the issue of Wilson's wife. Moreover, that wasn't what he was talking about, so, if it slipped out, he didn't even notice it, which, of course, is why he neglected to mention it in his email to Hadley. No smear here, move along.

Of course, I could be pulling too much from the words (and omissions) of these emails, especially given that we don't have the full texts to look at. Nonetheless, two men talk, two men think their discussion is important enough to document, two men see the same discussion as important for very different reasons. You gotta wonder.


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