One Novak away from the Mayberry Machiavelli
January 7, 2004 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Why Did Attorney General Ashcroft Remove Himself From The Valerie Plame Wilson Leak Investigation? If there is a witness willing to testify against one -- or both -- of the leakers in exchange for immunity, what then? It seems likely that Fitzgerald will move very quickly to find out if there is indeed a case to be made against the leakers. To bolster his case, he may call Novak and others to the grand jury or, as noted above, subpoena Novak's (and others') phone records over the relevant period. Even Ashcroft himself could in theory be called to the grand jury. If this case does not make headlines in 90 to 120 days, it will be quite surprising. There has been too much high level action and Comey, a presidential appointee, knows that politically it would be better for Bush & Company to have the matter flushed out within the next few months, than to have it arise just before the November election. Needless to say, this could be an interesting year for the White House, with more than reelection to worry about.
posted by y2karl (8 comments total)
On a sidenote:
White House press secretary Scott McClellan declined to say Monday whether President Bush thinks his aides should sign forms that would release reporters from any pledges of confidentiality regarding the leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
posted by y2karl at 10:39 AM on January 7, 2004

This is all very interesting, but it's so speculative and sounds more like wishful thinking for an interesting story/scandal. Basically what will have to happen if this investigation is going to go anywhere is that someone will have to squeal, and that's highly unlikely given the backlash said squealer will endure.
posted by BloodyWallet at 11:58 AM on January 7, 2004

Well, Bloody, they're saying that someone already has squealed and agreed to be a witness. This was interesting, about Toensing: Moreover, Toensing was quoted in a recent Washington Post story explaining that it is possible that any leak "could be embarrassing but not illegal" -- suggesting that a leaker might have a possible defense. (Unfortunately for the leaker, however, as I noted in an earlier column, more than one law may have been broken.)
When the lawyer -- diGenova, Toensing, or someone else -- went to the government seeking immunity for his or her client, Ashcroft would have heard that the middle-level person was offering to finger the high-level leaker. At that point, he would have realized he himself knew the high-level leaker; and decided to recuse himself from the case, and let Fitzgerald take over.

posted by amberglow at 12:00 PM on January 7, 2004

As the pressure mounts, Rove will wag any dog whose tail he can grab, until it howls.

But if what I've heard about Fitzgerald is accurate, Rove may not be able to wag this special prosecutor, and the yowling and howling of all the dogs a 'wagging may not penetrate his professional, industrial grade earplugs.

*rubs hands together with glee*
posted by troutfishing at 1:26 PM on January 7, 2004

...they're saying that someone already has squealed...

Correction: the author is speculating that someone may have squealed. This isn't a news story, it's just speculative analysis. I'll believe there's an informant when I see it.
posted by BloodyWallet at 1:55 PM on January 7, 2004

Relevant post from TPM.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:05 PM on January 7, 2004

Grand Jury Hears Plame Case

Thursday, Jan. 22, 2004

Sources with knowledge of the case tell TIME that behind closed doors at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse, nearby the Capitol, a grand jury began hearing testimony Wednesday in the investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists.

Prosecutors are believed to be starting with third-party witnesses, people who were not directly involved in the leak of Plame's identity. Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, claims that the leak was an act of retaliation against him for undercutting Bush's weapons-of-mass-destruction rationale for going to war in Iraq. Soon enough, witnesses with more direct knowledge will be called to testify, and a decision to subpoena journalists for their testimony will also be made. In December, the FBI asked some administration staffers to sign a waiver releasing reporters from confidentiality agreements in connection with any conversations they had about the Wilson affair. Novak's attorney, Jim Hamilton, had no comment about the latest developments.

Grand juries aren't always used in criminal probes, but they are the preferred way to go in cases with potential political fallout, if only to lend credibility to the result. One conclusion to be drawn from this latest step, said one lawyer familiar with the case, is that investigators clearly have a sense of how the case is shaping up. "They clearly have a sense of what's going on and can ask intelligent questions" to bring the grand jury up to speed. A grand jury is not a trial jury, but is used as an investigative tool and to decide whether to bring indictments in a case.

Anyone who's subpoenaed in the inquiry, noted the lawyer, can be almost certain that prosecutors aren't contemplating indicting him or her. Subpoenas are rarely sent to the targets of an investigation, and if they are, the recipients must be told in advance that they are considered targets—at which point they would almost certainly cite the 5th Amendment and refuse to answer questions.

A huge unanswered question in this case is whether the leaker or leakers knew that Plame was undercover when they gave her identity away. That is a necessary element for any indictment for leaking the name of a covert agent. However, charges could also be brought for making false statements to the FBI, if a guilty party has falsely claimed innocence in interviews with government agents.

It's also possible that prosecutors will learn who perpetrated the leak but won't have enough to bring charges. But true to form, the Bush administration continues to be extremely tight-lipped about the investigation -- even internally. "No one knows what the hell is going on," says someone who could be a witness, "because the administration people are all terrified and the lawyers aren't sharing anything with each other either."

posted by y2karl at 8:23 PM on January 22, 2004

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