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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Robert Novak is a Big Fat Snitch

The question that clogs my inbox more than any other is "who is Robert Novak's source?" It remains one of the great enigmas of Traitorgate. Now this tantalizing bit in today's WaPo:
A critical early success for Fitzgerald was winning the cooperation of Robert D. Novak, the Chicago Sun-Times columnist who named Plame in a July 2003 story and attributed key information to "two senior administration officials." Legal sources said Novak avoided a fight and quietly helped the special counsel's inquiry, although neither the columnist nor his attorney have said so publicly.
Assuming the "two senior administration officials" thing is true, that narrows it down. Let's look back at Time Magazine from July of this year:
Another character in the drama remains unnamed: the original source for columnist Robert Novak, who wrote the first piece naming Plame. Fitzgerald, says a lawyer who's involved in the case, "knows who it is—and it's not someone at the White House."
So. Was a "senior administration official" but is no longer. Who might that be?

New York Daily News, July 15, 2005:
Along with Bush political guru Karl Rove, the grand jury is investigating what role, if any, ex-White House mouthpiece Ari Fleischer may have played in the revelation that the former covert operative Plame was married to former Ambassador Joe Wilson. "Ari's name keeps popping up," said one source familiar with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's probe. Another source close to the probe added there is renewed interest in Fleischer, "based on Fitzgerald's questions."
And why would Ari's name keep popping up? Well, according to Bloomberg:
On the same day the memo was prepared, White House phone logs show Novak placed a call to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, according to lawyers familiar with the case and a witness who has testified before the grand jury. Those people say it isn't clear whether Fleischer returned the call, and Fleischer has refused to comment.
Wow. Doesn't look good for Ari. Especially considering that according to Colin Powell anonymous sources:
On the flight to Africa, Fleischer was seen perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife, according to a former administration official who was also on the trip.
Except -- according to the New York Times, that may not have been what Ari told the grand jury:
Mr. Fleischer told the grand jury that he never saw the document, a person familiar with the testimony said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the prosecutor’s admonitions about not disclosing what is said to the grand jury.
Then there's the fact that Fitzgerald subpoenaed Ari's 7/12/2003 press conference transcript from Nigeria, and the White House scrubbed it from the website (but later restored it).

That Ari played a big role in the "smear Joe Wilson" campaign was never in doubt. From Wilson's book:
Within a day, Fleischer was putting a different spin on the situation and downplaying the importance of my report. At one briefing after another, he had something to say about me, and by doing so gave the journalists another news cycle to talk about the sixteen words rather than about the president's trip. Instead of containing the burgeoning press frenzy, Fleischer kept giving the story legs, so much so that it soon overwhelmed the president's agenda in Africa.
Do people still really want to argue that Bush himself had no knowledge of this campaign? If it wasn't important to him, don't you think he would've pulled Ari aside and told him to shut the fuck up and stop overshadowing his "historic" Africa trip?

It may all just be idle speculation, and within days if not hours we could know the truth. But the truly exasperating thing is that you KNOW about a zillion reporters who cover DC know who Novak's source is -- the mysterious third man -- and just aren't saying. A commitment to informing the public obviously doesn't come at the price of a fat paycheck.

BTW -- I should note that I seriously doubt Novak was all that helpful right out of the gate. I've always given a great deal of credence to Murray Waas's claim that Bobby cooked up some whopper with Rove early on:
But federal investigators have been highly skeptical of Novak's account -- as they have been of Rove's -- and were concerned that the key participants might have devised a cover story in the days shortly after it became known that a criminal investigation had been commenced.
If I had to guess I'd say that Fitzgerald gave Novak a dose of the same magical memory helper he gave to Judy Miller, probably around the same time Novak had his meltdown on Crossfire. Just a hunch. But a strong one.

Update: Haloscan went all wonky. Hopefully back soon.