07/13/2005 08:19 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Karl Rove's Reality-Free Defense

Let's play the trendy, new game: which Karl Rove line of defense is worth bupkis?

As you probably know, George W. Bush's friendly architect is in trouble because an email revealed by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff showed that Time's Matt Cooper had spoken to Rove on July 11, 2003--three days before the Plame/CIA leak was first published by conservative columnist Bob Novak--and that Rove had told Cooper that "Wilson's wife" apparently worked for the CIA. This evidence, of course, contradicted previous White House statements that Rove had nothing to do with the leak--which is why the White House has been engaged this week in a ridiculous act of stonewalling by refusing to answer any and all questions related to Rove.

But while the White House tries to wish this scandal away, Rove's pals at the GOP and within the conservative media have fashioned a defense. It breaks down to three main points. All are them are untrue or misleading. So spin the wheel:

Rove did not reveal classified information. Wrong. He did. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 defines the CIA employment status of an undercover CIA officer (which Valerie Wilson was) as "classified information." So by disclosing that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA, Rove--wittingly or not--was indeed passing classified information to a reporter. I explain this further in another column. Click here to read that.

Rove did not ID Plame/Wilson by name. Perhaps. In Cooper's email, Cooper reported that Rove had discussed "Wilson's wife." Maybe he didn't use her name in his conversation with Cooper. But this is irrelevant. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, it's a crime for a government official to disclose intentionally "any information identifying" an undercover intelligence officer. To commit a crime, it is not necessary to say the person's name. Noting that a person's spouse is a CIA officer is certainly identifying that CIA officer. After all, it would not have been too hard for Cooper--or any other reporter--to find the name of Wilson's wife; it was available on the Internet.

Rove was merely trying to help Cooper. How kind of him. First, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act does not say that it's okay to out a CIA official as long as you're trying to assist a journalist. This is no defense. Secondly, Rove's pals claim that he was attempting to prevent Cooper from writing a piece with false information in it. But, according to that infamous memo, Rove said that "Wilson's wife" had "authorized" Wilson's now-controversial trip to Niger, where he was sent to by the CIA to check out allegations that Iraq was shopping for weapons-grade uranium there. (He concluded there was nothing to this charge.) The aim for Rove was to challenge Wilson's account of his trip. But Wilson's wife had not "authorized" the trip. She had recommended to her colleagues that they talk to Wilson about the Niger allegation, and his trip emerged out of these discussions. Rove was passing bad info to Cooper. He was not performing community service as a pro bono factchecker for Time magazine.

So what's left for Rove? He can argue that he did not know Valerie Wilson was an undercover CIA officer. If special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald cannot prove that Rove was aware of her undercover status, he has not much of a case under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. (Perjury might be another matter.) But the Bush White House, Rove and his comrades in the conservative media cannot argue Rove did nothing wrong--unless they want to claim it's fine to leak classified information that reveals the identity of a covert CIA officer (who was working to prevent the spread of WMDs) in order to undermine a critic. That's the spin-free reality.
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