On the June 18 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) asserted that former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was "not the source of the leak" of then-CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, to which CNN correspondent John Roberts replied, "Right." Similarly, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen asserted in his June 19 column that special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald "wound up prosecuting not the leaker -- Richard Armitage of the State Department -- but Libby," who was "convicted in the end of lying," as Cohen wrote. But while Armitage leaked Plame's identity to syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, who revealed that information in a July 14, 2003, column, evidence and testimony at Libby's trial on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements showed that Libby was a source of the information about Plame's CIA employment for at least two other journalists.
As journalist Murray Waas noted in his book The United States v. I. Lewis Libby (Union Square Press, June 2007), former New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified on January 30 that Libby had disclosed Plame's CIA employment to her at a July 8, 2003, breakfast meeting at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C., well before Novak publicly revealed it in his July 14, 2003, column. From the edited trial transcript of Miller's January 30 testimony, included in Waas' book:
Q: Did there come a time following the publication of [Ambassador Joseph] Wilson's op-ed [July 6, 2003] that you met with Mr. Libby again?
Q: When was that?
A: July 8th.
Q: Was there discussion at any time about Mr. Wilson's wife [Plame] on this occasion?
Q: Can you tell us what you recall about that?
A: Yes. Mr. Libby was discussing what he called two streams of reporting on uranium and on efforts by Iraq to acquire sensitive materials and components. He said the first stream was reports like that of Joe Wilson. Then he said the second stream, and at that point he said, once again, as an aside, that Mr. Wilson's wife worked at WINPAC.
Q: Can you tell us what WINPAC is?
A: Yes, WINPAC is, stands for Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation and Arms Control. It's a part of the CIA which is specifically focused on weapons of mass destruction.
Then-Time magazine White House correspondent Matthew Cooper, in his first-person account (subscription required) of his testimony before the grand jury in the leak investigation, identified Rove as his original source for Plame's identity and Libby as his confirming source.
Roberts also failed to challenge Romney's assertion that what was "unusual" was Fitzgerald's "decision ... to investigate a case when he knew there was no crime that had originally been committed." In fact, during the October 2005 press conference announcing Libby's indictment, Fitzgerald said that it was Libby's obstruction that prevented the special counsel's office from determining if an underlying crime had been committed. Moreover, Fitzgerald, in his sentencing memorandum, stated that the investigation turned up substantial evidence indicating that the leak itself may have constituted a crime:
During its investigation, the grand jury obtained substantial evidence indicating that one or both of the foregoing statutes [the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act] may have been violated. The evidence obtained by the grand jury, and later presented at trial, established that information concerning Ms. Wilson's CIA-employment was disclosed to multiple members of the news media, including Robert Novak, Judith Miller, Matt Cooper, Walter Pincus and Bob Woodward, none of whom were authorized to receive that information. The disclosures were made by multiple high-level government officials, including defendant. The evidence demonstrated that defendant, in particular, made the disclosures deliberately and for the purpose of influencing media coverage of the public debate concerning intelligence leading to the war in Iraq.
From the June 18 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
ROBERTS: At one of the debates, you were asked about Scooter Libby -- should he be pardoned. You said, "That's something I would have to think about very hard." You'd consider it or consider it.
ROMNEY: Well, any time that someone brings forward a request for a pardon, you have to thoroughly evaluate it. In this case, there's an unusual circumstance, and that is that the prosecutor who investigated Scooter Libby knew at the time of the investigation that Scooter Libby was not the source of the -- of the leak.
ROMNEY: He knew it was someone else, and so he was on the quintessential fishing expedition -- an entrapment proceeding, if you will, and
ROBERTS: But he was convicted by a jury.
ROMNEY: Oh, he was -- absolutely. Quite the --
ROBERTS: And you said, as Massachusetts governor, you prided yourself on the fact that you did not issue a pardon or commute anyone's sentence, because you said you didn't want to overturn a jury decision.
ROMNEY: And what was unusual here is not the jury's decision. It is, instead, the decision of the prosecutor to prosecute a case and to investigate a case when he knew there was no crime that had originally been committed. That's --
ROBERTS: Yet the jury looked at the evidence and decided that he was a guilty of a crime.
ROMNEY: The jury decided that he was guilty of the -- of changing his story and of perjury. What the jury did not consider is whether the prosecutor entrapped him and pursued the course out of a political vendetta as opposed to pursuing a real crime, and the reason this is, in my view, a subject for careful review is because of the unusual circumstances associated with the prosecution of this case.
From Cohen's June 19 Washington Post column:
The attorney general called a meeting. He assembled all the U.S. attorneys in the Great Hall of the Justice Department and told them, in essence, that their chief responsibility was to decide whom not to prosecute. They should limit themselves to cases "in which the offense is the most flagrant, the public harm the greatest" and play no role in political vendettas. The speaker, of course, was not the lamentable Alberto Gonzales but the estimable Robert H. Jackson, who went on to the Supreme Court. This was 1940, but Jackson could have been talking to Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Whatever the case, the special counsel was not listening.
With the sentencing of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Fitzgerald has apparently finished his work, which was, not to put too fine a point on it, to make a mountain out of a molehill. At the urging of the liberal press (especially the New York Times), he was appointed to look into a run-of-the-mill leak and wound up prosecuting not the leaker -- Richard Armitage of the State Department -- but Libby, convicted in the end of lying. This is not an entirely trivial matter since government officials should not lie to grand juries, but neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics. As with sex or real estate, it is often best to keep the lights off.