Thursday, July 14, 2005

USA Today clears Rove...sorta

According to today's USA Today, Rove probably isn't guilty of "outing" former CIA agent, Valerie Plame, in a way that would have violated the law. However, some people think Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald might get him on a case of perjury or obstruction of justice a la Martha Stewart.

Here's the important part:

The alleged crime at the heart of a controversy that has consumed official Washington — the “outing” of a CIA officer — may not have been a crime at all under federal law, little-noticed details in a book by the agent's husband suggest.

In The Politics of Truth, former ambassador Joseph Wilson writes that he and his future wife both returned from overseas assignments in June 1997. Neither spouse, a reading of the book indicates, was again stationed overseas. They appear to have remained in Washington, D.C., where they married and became parents of twins.

Six years later, in July 2003, the name of the CIA officer — Valerie Plame — was revealed by columnist Robert Novak.

The column's date is important because the law against unmasking the identities of U.S. spies says a “covert agent” must have been on an overseas assignment “within the last five years.” The assignment also must be long-term, not a short trip or temporary post, two experts on the law say. Wilson's book makes numerous references to the couple's life in Washington over the six years up to July 2003.

“Unless she was really stationed abroad sometime after their marriage,” she wasn't a covert agent protected by the law, says Bruce Sanford, an attorney who helped write the 1982 act that protects covert agents' identities.


Though that key law may not have been broken in leaking the name, Fitzgerald must still be pursuing evidence of some type of wrongdoing, said Victoria Toensing, another of the attorneys who helped draft the 1982 act. Like Sanford, she doubts Valerie Wilson, as she now refers to herself, qualified as a “covert agent” under that law. She and Sanford also doubt Fitzgerald has enough evidence to prosecute anyone under the Espionage Act. That law makes it a crime to divulge “information relating to the national defense” that “the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury” of the nation.

But, Toensing said, “reading between the lines, I'd say he's got a ‘Martha Stewart case' ” involving perjury or obstruction of justice. In other words, though a crime may not have been committed at the start, one may have occurred during the investigation when someone lied to Fitzgerald or to a federal grand jury.

Bloomberg reports that, "people familiar with the inquiry say Fitzgerald also is reviewing testimony by former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, though it isn't clear whether the prosecutor is focusing on him or seeking information about higher-ups. Fleischer last night refused to comment."

For those keeping track at home, that's the first time his name's come up regarding this case.

By the way, is it true-as Rush Limbaugh asserted on Tuesday-that only 1% of the American public knows who Rove is? I've asked some of my friends (none of whom bother reading the newspapers or my blog) and none of them know who he is. Could Rush be right?


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