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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Plan of a Hack

I've spent the afternoon listening to Bob Woodward try to explain why he used his Watergate credibility to convince people that a legal imbroglio he was intimately involved in was nothing more than "gossip" even as he failed to admit he was one of the gossipers. Then Len Downie got to go to school on Bill Keller and try to bail his paper out of the Official White House Stenographic Pool. Neither were particularly successful.

Woodward's cast-iron refusal to act like a journalist and name a source who will undoubtedly be revealed as time goes on most assuredly and permanently bestows upon him perpetual Chief Stenographer status. His mea culpa was even more embarrassing than Judy Miller's (at least the Times named Libby as Miller's source upon her release from jail -- shit, who thought that sordid affair would ever be invidiously compared to anything?) The Post's up-and-comer status as the "paper of record" to replace the NYT was dealt a serious blow as they refused to buck their star reporter's desire to play White House suck-up. Today he verily laughed at any suggestion that he bore some professional obligation to the Post.

But enough Woodward bashing for the moment -- we have other fish to fry. What did we learn about Woodward's source from today's round of dissembling? Well we learned a hell of a lot more from Len Downie than we did Booby, that's for sure. Let's review:

1. The source is a man. Downie was quite specific that "he" did not want to be publicly identified at this time (and Downie apparently knows).

That lets out Matalin, Condi and Hughes (apparently).

2. Bush released a statement today saying that neither he, Andy Card, Dan Bartlett, Colin Powell, George Tenet nor John McLaughlin were responsible. Since in all likelihood the identity of Booby's source will become known sooner rather than later, we are going to give a group of known liars the benefit of the doubt for the moment.

From the NYT:
Mr. Cheney did not join the parade of denials. A spokeswoman said he would have no comment on a continuing investigation. Several other officials could not be reached for comment.
3. The source was interviewed by Woodward for his book, Plan of Attack. Now while he may well have interviewed people he never mentioned, we'll assume for the moment that if he had a casual, friendly relationship with the person he would most certainly want to flatter them with inclusion, because that's the kind of hard-hitting, edgy journalist he is.

Not mentioned: Bolton, Fleitz, Wurmser, Hannah.

Mentioned: Hadley, Cheney, Fleischer.

Okay, I'm knocking Fleischer out because he's cited in the indictment, a good indication that he came in and played straight with Fitzgerald from the start. Whoever this person is he either didn't tell Fitzgerald about the Woodward interlude, or hasn't been questioned by Fitzgerald yet.

In order to telescope it down further, I'm going to leap over to what potential scenarios of events could've been.

A few days before the Libby indictment was announced, Woodward evidently went to his editors and said "um, Houston, I think we have a problem," and mentioned he might be needing to do a story about his own involvement.

Oh the laughs they must've had in the Post newsroom over that one.

This was around the same time that Rover was doing one of those furious Wylie Coyote backpeddle things trying to get out of the way of the anvil that was poised to drop on his head.

And the night before, on Thursday, October 27, Michael Isikoff asked a question of Woodward on Larry King:
ISIKOFF: I talked to a source at the White House late this afternoon who told me that Bob is going to have a bombshell in tomorrow's paper identifying the Mr. X source who is behind the whole thing. So, I don't know, maybe this is Bob's opportunity.
But Woodward put everyone's suspicions to rest:
WOODWARD: I wish I did have a bombshell. I don't even have a firecracker. I'm sorry. In fact, I mean this tells you something about the atmosphere here. I got a call from somebody in the CIA saying he got a call from the best "New York Times" reporter on this saying exactly that I supposedly had a bombshell.
Protecting your sources is one thing. Nobody put a gun to your head and told you to lie your face off in the process, Bob.

The reporter at the New York Times was Doug Jehl, and evidently the whole NYT Washington crew had spent the day trying to track down the rumor that Steve Clemons was also privy to -- namely that Fred Fleitz was going to be the subject of a Woodward article

Now as Swopa notes, Michael Isikoff has a history of being a Rove water carrier. But Fitzgerald probably isn't as easily distracted by bright lights and shiny objects as Isikoff is. It's entirely possible -- and I'm guessing probable -- that in order to hold Fitzgerald off at least for a while, Rove had to give up somebody quite real. I doubt any of his lame Adam Levine excuses gave Fitzgerald "pause," but it would definitely suit Rove's agenda to have Libby be the first guy out there on the limb. And as Digby noted, it probably served the White House's agenda too -- they might have even made some sort of sacrifice play to evade the mortal blow of losing Rove and Libby on the same day.

Which puts Cheney in the possible category and places pretty damn good odds on Hadley.

Hadley was Deputy National Security Advisor at the time, and putatively the information clearing house for leaks. After Karl Rove spoke with Matt Cooper, he reported back to Hadley about it with the now-infamous email on July 11. The Washington Post described him as the "eyes and ears" for Cheney at the NSC, having served under him as assistant secretary of defense during Bush 41.

It was also Hadley's job to coordinate Tenet's apology for the "16 words" he didn't put in Bush's speech, and perhaps more significantly, was a member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG). He was also reportedly running around at one point and telling people he thought he was going to be indicted.

Although I've seen his name listed online as having appeared before the grand jury, I can't find any hard evidence of it. It seems likely that Hadley would've made an appearance, given his membership in WHIG and the fact that he was a recipient of the Rove email, but if it is him, he must've conveniently left out his early conversation with Bobby. In which case I wouldn't want to be in his shoes right now, because having listened to himself mis-quoted on the news all day and called "Inspector Clouseau," Patrick Fitzgerald is probably in quite the mood.

Second possible scenario -- Scooter is indicted. He hasn't got much hope of mounting a defense, but what hope he does have could entail calling reporters with whom he spoke and didn't talk shit about Wilson. He calls Woodward and says "listen, man, I just want to tell you -- this is coming down the path." Woodward knows he's going to get the Fitzgerald nod, phones his other source and warns them, and they come forward. Problem with this is, Woodward was already talking to his editors before Scooter was indicted. So I'll put this in the "unlikely" column.

Third possible scenario -- and this one is the wild card. Reddhedd thinks that with all the extra stuff in the indictment that didn't need to be there, Fitzgerald may have been telegraphing to someone that he had the dirt on them, and that's what provoked the sudden attack of candor and/or memory retrieval. And the Digby corollary is that watching Fitzgerald come down on Libby for perjury with 30 years' worth and a demand for hard time probably scared the living bejesus out of some of them who decided they just didn't want to play spin the bottle with the Special Counsel just now.

Which could mean Cheney. But as both Digby and Pachacutec have noted -- it is totally out of character for Cheney or Bush to back down and give Fitz (or anyone else) anything. Which leads back to Hadley or Cheney in the Rove sacrifice play.

One thing is for certain -- we will probably know sooner rather than later who Booby's source is. Libby will no doubt put any such information in his pleadings, and my guess is that the White House is going to want to get all this stuff aired and out of the way before the SOTU in January. So I think this is going to be a very, very festive holiday season for all of us.

And to everyone who was crying "it's over, Fitzgerald's done" after the Libby indictment, I'd like to say...Merry Fitzmas, y'all...

(graphic by Monk at Inflatable Dartboard)

Update: Steve Soto thinks Libby and Cheney gave up Hadley to establish Libby wasn't the first leaker. What this gives Libby in Fitzgerald's eyes I'm not entirely sure, but if true it's getting ugly.

Laura Rozen thinks it's not Cheney because Woodward says his source didn't believe the information was classified, something Cheney would most certainly have known.

John at Americablog likens the Post to a roomful of monkeys typing and says there is something quite peculiar with Woodward's timeline (via Jeralyn).

Crooks and Liars also has the clip of Downie's tour-de-force performance on CNN. You can see for yourself What Woodward Hath Wrought.