Ruling Offers Window Into Plame Investigation

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, August 10, 2004; 11:39 AM

Sure the newly unsealed order by a federal judge in the Valerie Plame case sets up what could be the greatest First Amendment clash in decades -- but it also contains some very intriguing clues about the hugely secretive investigation into the leak of Plame's identity as a CIA operative.

And it does appear that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is asking a lot of questions about Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis I. "Scooter" Libby.

U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan's ruled Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper in contempt of court for refusing to testify in front of the grand jury investigating the case.

The ruling contains a "background" section that provides a rare -- if still fragmented -- view into the investigation.

Here's the full text of the ruling.

"Specifically, Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper and NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert were asked to appear before the grand jury to testify regarding alleged conversations they had with a specified Executive Branch official," Hogan writes.

"On May 21, 2004, grand jury subpoenas were issued to Mr. Cooper and Mr. Russert. Subsequent discussions between each reporter's respective attorneys and Special Counsel revealed that Mr. Fitzgerald intended to question each journalist about alleged discussions they had with a specified Executive Branch official. The specific subject matter Special Counsel will address before the grand jury is quite circumscribed, but it does delve into alleged conversations each reporter had with a confidential source."

And, Hogan writes: "The information requested from Mr. Cooper and Mr. Russert is very limited, all available alternative means of obtaining the information have been exhausted, the testimony sought is necessary for the completion of the investigation, and the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct evidence of innocence or guilt."

So who is that specified Executive Branch official?

Well, Hogan doesn't say. But Russert did agree to an interview, under oath, with Fitzgerald on Saturday. And according to NBC, "the questioning focused on what Russert said when Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, phoned him last summer."

When Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler agreed to a similar interview with Fitzgerald's office earlier this summer, the questions also revolved around Libby.

But both Kessler and Russert told Fitzgerald that Libby did not mention Plame in their conversations.

That, of course, sounds like evidence of innocence, not guilt.

Here is the text of Hogan's order from yesterday, finding Cooper and Time Inc. in contempt.

The Next Wave

Susan Schmidt and Carol Leonnig write in The Washington Post that Fitzgerald doesn't appear to be done yet.

"Lawyers involved in the case said it appears that Fitzgerald is now armed with a strong and unambiguous court ruling to demand the testimony of two journalists -- syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, who first disclosed the CIA officer's name, and Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, who has written that a Post reporter received information about [Plame] from a Bush administration official.

"Pincus was served with a subpoena yesterday after Hogan's order was unsealed."

The Post's counsel said she will try to quash the subpoena.

Adam Liptak writes in the New York Times: "It is not known whether Mr. Novak has received a subpoena or, if he did, how he responded. His lawyer, James Hamilton, declined to comment yesterday."

Here, by the way, is the Walter Pincus and Mike Allen article from October that apparently sparked Fitzgerald's interest.

Who is Scooter Libby?

Sometimes called "Dick Cheney's Dick Cheney," Libby is Cheney's supremely confident and hawkish chief adviser.

Elisabeth Bumiller profiled him in the New York Times in 2002, calling attention to the fact that he is a published novelist.

John Lyman of the liberal Center for American Progress recently described Libby as "the guy behind the guy behind the guy."

Libby is also a major character in this 2002 Nicholas Lehman story for the New Yorker, "The Next World Order."

Here's a photo of Libby.

Who is Matt Cooper?

He's our new media darling, of course -- with quite the Washington pedigree.

Cooper is the deputy Washington bureau chief of Time. Before joining Time in 1999 he worked for Newsweek, the New Republic (where he wrote a column called "White House Watch") and the Washington Monthly.

He moonlights as a stand-up comedian and is married to Clinton media adviser Mandy Grunwald.

Here's his official bio.

And according to Kenneth R. Bazinet in the New York Daily News, after being released on bail, Cooper went on vacation.

Who is Porter Goss?

Well, he's the other man of the hour, of course.

Mike Allen, Fred Barbash and Walter Pincus write for this morning: "President Bush today named Florida Republican Rep. Porter J. Goss to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

"Goss has long been mentioned as a leading candidate to replace George Tenet, who resigned as director of Central Intelligence in June. But there had been some delay in part because of the potential for opposition in Congress in the middle of the presidential campaign. . . .

"Although administration officials have privately predicted that winning Senate confirmation for Goss would be little more than a formality, some Democrats have disagreed and predicted such hearings would assertively probe both the CIA's performance under Bush and Goss's fitness for the job."

Terence Hunt of the Associated Press notes: "If the president names an intelligence czar, his CIA chief would lose some power in the reshuffling and essentially would be required to report to the new head of all intelligence operations."

Here's a video excerpt of Bush's announcement and the full text.

Said Goss, already trying to grease the skids: "I look forward to the challenges of the future. I also look forward to the confirmation process with the Senate. As a member right now on the Hill I know the value of that and the importance of that."

Bush's Economic Predicament

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "Soaring fuel prices and slowing job growth are presenting President Bush with a difficult choice: He can concede there are problems with his economic policies or insist the recovery is progressing -- and risk looking out of touch.

"The first President Bush lost re-election in 1992 in part because of a perception by voters that he was isolated from the concerns of average workers. The younger Bush has worked hard to show his engagement, traveling extensively to promote his tax cuts and other economic incentives."

Bush's Economic Plan

Jacob M. Schlesinger and Jackie Calmes write in the Wall Street Journal: "Handcuffed by big budget deficits but eager to show voters a fresh economic agenda, President Bush laid out the central economic theme of his re-election campaign: He is pledging to create an 'era of ownership' that will include proposals to partially privatize Social Security, and liberalize tax breaks for health care, savings and job training.

"Most of the specific White House campaign proposals are likely to be small-scale, and will leave some of Mr. Bush's backers yearning for bolder steps to assuage voter anxiety over issues such as jobs, and lay the groundwork for a sweeping, conservative legacy. Most will also likely just repeat previous proposals, albeit in somewhat revised or expanded form. In large part, the Bush advisers feel constrained by the president's pledge to cut the budget deficit to $260 billion by 2009, down from the projected $445 billion this year. The White House economic team's caution toward new initiatives also reflects the risk-averse attitude of a campaign facing a close election."

The Bush/Cheney campaign also unveiled a new ad yesterday, called "Ownership."

That Other Leak

Ted Bridis writes for the Associated Press: "A Democratic senator asked the White House on Monday to explain why the name of an imprisoned al-Qaida terror suspect was disclosed to reporters even as the suspect was cooperating secretly by sending e-mails to terrorists so authorities could trace their locations.

"Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York asked the White House homeland security adviser, Frances Townsend, to identify who provided to reporters last week the name of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan and why Khan's name was disclosed. Schumer also asked whether Townsend believed the disclosure had compromised national security."

Here's the text of Schumer's letters.

Munir Ahmad writes for the Associated Press: "Two senior Pakistani officials said initial reports in 'Western media' last week of the capture of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan had enabled other al-Qaida suspects to get away, but declined to say whether U.S. officials were to blame for the leak."

Here's the transcript of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's appearance on CNN on Sunday, where she appeared to confirm that Khan's identity was disclosed by administration officials on background -- which means reporters can use the information, just not specify where it came from.

No Threat

Dan Eggen and Sari Horwitz writes in The Washington Post: "Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, challenging remarks by a top White House homeland security official, said yesterday that 'there is not a specific, credible, direct threat against Congress as an institution, or its members.'

"Gainer was responding to statements by Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, who said in a television interview Sunday that the most recent intelligence on threats by al Qaeda included mention of the U.S. Capitol and members of Congress."

Return of the Stem Cells

Randy Kennedy writes in the New York Times: "Venturing forcefully into one of the more contentious issues of the campaign, Laura Bush on Monday defended the limits her husband had imposed on embryonic stem cell research and criticized those who suggested that the research could lead quickly to cures for Alzheimer's and other diseases."

Here's the text of her speech.

Ron Fournier of the Associated Press notes: "The first lady weighed in on the highly charged political and scientific issue on the third anniversary of Bush's decision to limit federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to only the 78 stem cell lines in existence Aug. 9, 2001."

"The sleeper issue of stem cell research leapt into the center of the presidential race Monday," write Peter Wallsten and James Rainey in the Los Angeles Times.

NBC's David Gregory says "three years later the stem cell debate is back with a political vengeance."

Iran Watch

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "President Bush said Monday that the United States would maintain pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program, emphasizing that his administration was working with other countries and not confronting Iran on its own."

Barbara Slavin writes in USA Today: "The United States and its European allies appear to be nearing a diplomatic showdown with Iran over that country's suspected program to develop nuclear weapons."

In Virginia

Michael D. Shear writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush campaigned in Northern Virginia yesterday, speaking to an invitation-only crowd of more than 1,400 supporters after other Republican leaders predicted he would win big this fall in a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in four decades."

Talk-Show President

Richard Benedetto writes in USA Today: "When President Bush picks up a microphone, bounds onto a stage and engages his cheering audience in a rambling discussion of topics from Iraq to the economy, it comes off as relaxed, informal and largely spontaneous. . . .

"But these 'Ask President Bush' campaign forums, the eighth of which was held at Northern Virginia Community College here Monday, leave little to chance.

"The national Bush campaign staff works through a local Republican office to assemble an audience of 1,000 to 2,500 people, depending on the site. . . .

"Depending on the message Bush wants to put across, the local office also lines up some carefully chosen locals to take the stage with him and explain how Bush's policies are helping them afford college, buy a home, save money on health insurance or expand a business. They are given 'talking points' ahead of time. . . .

"After Bush chats with those people, he asks for questions from the audience. The ones he gets are usually soft and friendly, raising suspicions that they have been arranged in advance. Campaign officials insist they have not. . . .

"Two more 'Ask President Bush' forums will be held this week: today in Niceville, Fla., and Wednesday in Albuquerque."

MBA President

Stephen Barr, Federal Diary columnist for The Washington Post, writes that Bush and the Office of Management and Budget yesterday "marked the third anniversary of the president's management agenda."

You can read all about it on

War President

Peter S. Canellos notes in the Boston Globe: "The United States has never voted out a president in wartime, and both President Bush and Democratic challenger John F. Kerry seem to be only too aware of it."

Today's Calendar

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Bush's rival for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, is tagging along Tuesday as the president campaigns in the Florida Panhandle where voters historically have elected Republicans or moderate Democrats. . . .

"An 'Ask President Bush' event in Niceville, Fla., is sandwiched between two campaign rallies -- one in Pensacola, Fla., and the other in Panama City, Fla."

James Harding writes in the Financial Times: "On a day of campaigning that reveals much about the Bush-Cheney re-election strategy, the self-styled 'war president' is choosing to bring his muscular message on fighting terrorism to a corner of the country with a dense population of veterans, military personnel and their families."

Vice President Cheney speaks at the 7 Flags Event Center in Clive, Iowa, today.

Laura Bush speaks about women's issues today at SEEK, Inc. in Grafton, Wis., then at Gruber's Quilt Shop in Waite Park, Minn., and then at the Crowne Plaza in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Running Hard

Ken Herman writes for the Cox News Service: "President Bush on Monday kicked off an aggressive week of coast-to-coast campaigning that will look more like a candidate's closing weeks barnstorming tour than an agenda for the dog days of summer. . . .

"Bush strategists wave off any talk of a desperate incumbent. As the president took the stage for the week's first event, campaign manager Ken Mehlman was upbeat in insisting the schedule has nothing to do with his candidate getting beat up. . . .

"By Saturday, Bush will have crossed the nation, stumped in nine states that offer 140 electoral votes and slept in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington state."

Late Night Humor

From the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno", via the Associated Press: "First Lady Laura Bush said that people shouldn't be saying that the benefits from stem cell research are 'right around the corner' because it gives people false hope. Then later her husband said that the economic recovery is 'right around the corner.' "

© 2004