She Who Gets The Last Laugh…
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court dictated, in a landmark decision, that reporters could be jailed if they failed to reveal confidential sources to a Federal Grand Jury. (This was the same week the Court also decided that eminent domain could be used to benefit private developers.) The case specifically concerned the ‘outing’ of a female CIA Agent, Valerie Plame, which was seen by many as White House revenge for her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, questioning the veracity of White House claims about Iraq buying uranium from Niger. To quote yesterday’s Washington Post,
“The leak of Plame’s name to the news media spawned a federal grand jury investigation that has been seeking to find the origin of the disclosure. (Time Magazine reporter Matthew) Cooper avoided jail time last week by agreeing to testify before the grand jury about conversations with his sources, while New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to discuss her confidential sources.”
Miller has our sympathies. (Reporting on the events of 9/11, she was among the few journalists sent anthrax in the mail: this woman has suffered for her career.) But she may get the last laugh. The President has said he would fire anybody from the White House involved in the leak. And yet it’s looking increasingly likely that the source of the leak was none other than Karl Rove, the President’s trusted advisor. I wasn’t tuned to the radio or TV yesterday to hear his press secretary, Scott McClellan, try and wriggle his way out of this one, but I did enjoy the printed transcript online, when I got home. Here’s a choice excerpt:
Q: …In June of 2004, the President said that he would fire anybody who was involved in this leak, to press of information. And I just want to know, is that still his position?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but this question is coming up in the context of this ongoing investigation, and that’s why I said that our policy continues to be that we’re not going to get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation from this podium. The prosecutors overseeing the investigation had expressed a preference to us that one way to help the investigation is not to be commenting on it from this podium. And so that’s why we are not going to get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation, or questions related to it.
Q Scott, if I could — if I could point out, contradictory to that statement, on September 29th, 2003, while the investigation was ongoing, you clearly commented on it. You were the first one who said, if anybody from the White House was involved, they would be fired. And then on June 10th of 2004, at Sea Island Plantation, in the midst of this investigation is when the President made his comment that, yes, he would fire anybody from the White House who was involved. So why have you commented on this during the process of the investigation in the past, but now you’ve suddenly drawn a curtain around it under the statement of, “We’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation”?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, John, I appreciate the question. I know you want to get to the bottom of this. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation. That’s something that the people overseeing the investigation have expressed a preference that we follow. And that’s why we’re continuing to follow that approach and that policy.
Now, I remember very well what was previously said. And at some point, I will be glad to talk about it, but not until after the investigation is complete.
Q So could I just ask, when did you change your mind to say that it was okay to comment during the course of an investigation before, but now it’s not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think maybe you missed what I was saying in reference to Terry’s question at the beginning. There came a point when the investigation got underway when those overseeing the investigation asked that it would be their — or said that it would be their preference that we not get into discussing it while it is ongoing. I think that’s the way to be most helpful to help them advance the investigation and get to the bottom of it.
Q Scott, can I ask you this; did Karl Rove commit a crime?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, David, this is a question relating to an ongoing investigation, and you have my response related to the investigation. And I don’t think you should read anything into it other than we’re going to continue not to comment on it while it’s ongoing.
Those who worry that under George W. Bush, we no longer live in a democracy might like to know that the above excerpt actually comes from the White House web site, which faithfully transcribes all such press briefings. There’s surely many more amusing exchanges in the archives for those who have time and inclination. This one will run…