Friday, July 14, 2006

Maybe Not Illegal, But Unethical

I am getting so tired of Republicans saying that we should apologize to Karl Rove, because he will not be indicted for his behavior in the leaking of a CIA operative's identity.

The Republicans are correct on one point--he will not be indicted, however, that doesn't mean what he did was wrong and unethical.

Just this week, Robert Novak came out and publicly said Rove was one of the sources who leaked Valerie Plame's identity:

For almost three years, as fellow Washington correspondents faced jail and the harsh scrutiny of a grand jury for refusing to reveal their sources in the Valerie Plame affair, Robert Novak remained mum.

Then, yesterday, after public interest in the scandal had all but disappeared, Mr. Novak finally came clean -- sort of.

The 75-year-old curmudgeon and mainstay of the right-wing press in Washington acknowledged yesterday that Karl Rove, the closest political operative of U.S. President George W. Bush, was a source for his initial identification of Ms. Plame in his column of July 14, 2003.

As it turns out, several other reporters had gotten hold of the same information about Ms. Plame. Some published and some didn't, but they all resisted identifying their sources. Judith Miller of The New York Times spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify. Time magazine's Matthew Cooper finally gave in after being threatened with jail for contempt of court after initially refusing to talk.

Lewis (Scooter) Libby, chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney, is the most high-profile target in the affair. He has been charged with perjury, obstruction and lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

But through it all, Mr. Novak stayed publicly mute -- although he did talk eventually to the prosecutor and the grand jury.

"He told the prosecutor what the prosecutor wanted to hear," said Stephen Hess, professor of media and communications at George Washington University. "He answered the prosecutor's questions. But he shrewdly kept this all to himself."

Mr. Hess said that Mr. Novak had a very good reason for co-operating. Unlike Ms. Miller and Mr. Cooper, who were both backed by big news organizations, Mr. Novak was paying his own legal bills as an independent columnist.

"His attorney said, 'We're not going to win this one,' " Prof. Hess said.

In his original column, Mr. Novak identified Ms. Plame as the Central Intelligence Agency operative who had suggested that her husband, former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, be sent to Niger to look into reports that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from the African country. Mr. Wilson reported back that the uranium story was baseless, but it didn't stop Mr. Bush's administration from using the unfounded allegation as part of its argument to justify the invasion of Iraq in early 2003.

The information made its way to Mr. Novak after Mr. Wilson published a stark critique of the rationale for the Iraq war in The New York Times, referring to the Niger mission. The implication of the column Mr. Novak then published was that Mr. Wilson would never have got the work if his wife hadn't touted him for it.

But outing an undercover CIA agent is a federal crime in the United States, so the disclosure turned into a big deal. Mr. Bush appointed special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the matter in late 2003.

Only yesterday, after Mr. Fitzgerald announced that Mr. Rove was told he wouldn't be charged in the case, did Mr. Novak break his silence.

In his column, Mr. Novak said he initially refused to identity his sources to the FBI but gave in when he realized that Mr. Fitzgerald "knew the names of my sources."

The journalist said he testified before the grand jury and told Mr. Fitzgerald that Mr. Rove had confirmed Ms. Plame's identity, as did another source, CIA public information officer Bill Harlow. Both had signed waivers releasing Mr. Novak of his confidentiality promise.

Explaining why he finally decided to identify these two sources, Mr. Novak wrote: "I have revealed Rove's name because his attorney has divulged the substance of our conversation, although in a different form from my recollection. I have revealed Harlow's name because he has publicly disclosed his version of our conversation, which also differs from my recollection."

But Mr. Novak said he still would not publicly identify his "primary source" in the Valerie Plame affair, saying only that this official was "not a political gunslinger," and had not intended to out Ms. Plame.

Let the Republicans rejoice that Karl Rove will not be indicted. However, at the same time they should realize that voters will keep in mind his actions come election time.

Leaking the name of a CIA operative is no minor matter. It is highly unethical and nothing to brag about.

However, it falls right in line with the rest of the Republicans unethical behaviors over the past few years.

They have created an ethical mess in Washington D.C. and all over the nation and refuse to clean it up. (John Boehner and company actually think there isn't a problem!)

It is time America restored its moral highground. I am confident that will happen when Democrats take control of Congress next year and pass meaningful ethics laws.