Sunday show hosts left key Rove scandal questions unasked

››› ››› SIMON MALOY & JEREMY HOLDEN

In appearances by Karl Rove on Sunday morning talk shows on Fox, CBS, and NBC, not one interviewer asked whether an August 19 Washington Post article was accurate in stating that, according to White House officials, one of Rove's "two basic rules" in putting together briefings for political appointees was "to make sure they complied with the Hatch Act," a federal law that limits political activities by federal employees. As the article noted, "the Office of the Special Counsel ... has concluded that the Hatch Act was violated" during a briefing that was conducted by a Rove aide for political appointees in the General Services Administration.

Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, who announced August 13 that he will resign his position at the end of the month, appeared on the August 19 broadcasts of NBC's Meet the Press, CBS' Face the Nation, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday. In none of the interviews, however, was Rove asked to reconcile the assertion by White House officials quoted in an August 19 front-page Washington Post article -- that one of Rove's "two basic rules" in putting together briefings for political appointees was "to make sure they complied with the Hatch Act," a federal law that limits political activities by federal employees -- with a finding by the Office of Special Counsel that the Hatch Act was violated during a briefing that was conducted for political appointees in the General Services Administration (GSA) by J. Scott Jennings, a Rove aide and the White House's deputy director of political affairs. The Post article did not quote Rove, yet all three interviewers on the Sunday morning shows passed up the opportunity to ask him about the article.

In addition, on each of the programs, key questions regarding Rove's involvement in the leak of the identity of a CIA operative were left unasked. While Meet the Press guest host David Gregory and Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace did ask some scandal-related questions, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer failed to mention a single controversy in which Rove has been implicated.

Potential Hatch Act violations

The Post article, which did not quote Rove, reported that Drew DeBerry, the Agriculture Department's liaison to the White House from 2001 to 2005, stated, "What was surprising was how adamant Karl and his whole team was that we involve the lawyers in our discussions to make sure we didn't come up with things that ran afoul of the law." However, as Media Matters for America has noted, the OSC, headed by Bush appointee Scott J. Bloch, concluded that GSA chief Lurita Alexis Doan violated the Hatch Act.

According to the OSC, following a January presentation by Jennings that detailed 79 candidates targeted by the White House for support or opposition in upcoming elections, Doan asked Jennings, "How can we help our candidates?" The OSC described this question as an "inherently coercive" attempt to "ask and/or encourage her subordinates to engage in political activity." The August 19 Post article reported that "Rove's team gave more than 100 such briefings during the seven years of the Bush administration. The political sessions touched nearly all of the Cabinet departments and a handful of smaller agencies that often had major roles in providing grants, such as the White House office of drug policy and the State Department's Agency for International Development."

Rove was not quoted in the article, and Schieffer, Wallace, and Gregory all failed to ask Rove about the Doan meeting or the OSC's findings.

CIA leak investigation

In 2002, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV was sent to Niger by the CIA to investigate whether Iraq had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium from the African country. Wilson's investigation, which was prompted by questions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, turned up no evidence that any sale had taken place and found that "it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq." After President Bush referred to Iraq's purported attempt to obtain uranium from Africa in his 2003 State of the Union address as justification for invading Iraq, Wilson detailed the findings of his trip in a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed. Eight days later, in a July 14, 2003, column, conservative columnist Robert D. Novak identified Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as "an Agency [CIA] operative on weapons of mass destruction" and wrote: "Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger." Novak's sources were later revealed to be Rove and then-deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

On Meet the Press, Gregory noted that Rove was "a central part" of the CIA leak investigation. Gregory then asked Rove about his July 8, 2003, conversation with Novak in which he reportedly confirmed to Novak Plame's identity as a CIA operative. Gregory aired a clip of Novak on the July 15 broadcast of Meet the Press claiming that Rove confirmed that information to him. Rove denied that he was, as Gregory put it, a "confirming source for Novak," adding: "[I]f a journalist had said to me, 'I'd like you to confirm this,' my answer would have been, 'I can't. I don't know. I've heard that, too.' "

Gregory, however, did not challenge Rove's claim by asking about Time reporter Matt Cooper, who testified that Rove was his primary -- not confirming -- source for Plame's identity. As Media Matters noted, Cooper, on January 31, testified at the trial of former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby that Rove was the first person with whom he discussed Plame's identity. From Cooper's testimony, as documented in journalist Murray Waas' book, The United States v. I. Lewis Libby (Union Square, June 2007):

Q: And can you tell us when you first discussed Mr. Wilson's wife that week and with whom?

A: Sure. It was on Friday, July 11th, 2003. And it was with Karl Rove, a member of the White House staff.

Q: And can you tell us how that conversation came about?

A: Sure. Well, I put in a call to Mr. Rove's office. I believe I called through the White House switchboard, and I was routed to his office. At first they said he wasn't there or that he was busy, and then they put me through to him, and we talked.

Q: And tell us what you recall about the conversation with Mr. Rove on that day.

A: Sure. Well, these aren't the exact words, but the gist of it was I said, you know, we are interested in this Wilson story and the sixteen words. By this time, it had become a very big story. And he immediately said, well, don't get too far out on Wilson, which I took to mean, don't lionize Ambassador Wilson or don't idolize him.

And he went on to say -- and, again, I am paraphrasing -- that a number of things were going to be coming out about Ambassador Wilson that would cast him in a different light. He said that the director of the CIA had not sent him, I believe he said the Vice President's office had not been involved in sending him.

And then he said, you know, it would turn out who was involved in sending him.

And I had to draw it out of him a bit. I said, who? And he said, like his wife.

And I guess I, until that point, didn't know Wilson had a wife; I hadn't even thought about it. And then I said, "The wife?" And he went on to say that she worked on WMD at the agency, and by that I took to mean the Central Intelligence Agency, not, say, the Environmental Protection Agency.

And we talked a bit more. And then, at the end of the conversation, he said words to the effect of, "I have already said too much. I have got to go." And that was it.

Gregory did not ask Rove about this discrepancy, even though Gregory was clearly aware of it. Cooper appeared later on the program as part of a panel discussion, during which Gregory asked him about the distinction between Rove's claim that he could not have "confirm[ed]" Plame's identity and Cooper's testimony that Rove was his primary source. Cooper said of Rove's comments, "I think he was dissembling, to put it charitably":

GREGORY: Matt Cooper, let's pick up on an aspect of the interview with Karl Rove having to do with the leak case, the CIA leak case that you were part of as well. And something is very interesting: He went out of his way to say, "I would not have been a confirming source on this kind of information," and taking issue with Novak's testimony and his column that he knew who Valerie Plame was. He said he would never confirm that information. That's different from your experience with him.

COOPER: Yeah, I think he was dissembling, to put it charitably. Look, Karl Rove told me about Valerie Plame's identity on July 11, 2003. I called him because Ambassador Wilson was in the news that week. I didn't know Ambassador Wilson even had a wife until I talked to Karl Rove, and he said that she worked at the agency and she worked on WMD. I mean, to imply that he didn't know about it, or that this was all the leak of someone else --

GREGORY: Or that he had heard it from somebody else.

COOPER: -- or that he heard it as some rumor out in the hallway is nonsense.

From the August 19 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:

GREGORY: Let me talk about the CIA leak case, of which you were obviously a, a central part. This is what the president said in 2003 after the identity of Valerie Plame was divulged in a Robert Novak column. Watch.

BUSH [video clip]: If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated laws, that person will be taken care of.

GREGORY: Robert Novak, who divulged Valerie Plame's name in his column, appeared on this program with [Meet the Press host] Tim Russert back in July, and Tim asked about his book. Watch.

[begin video clip]

RUSSERT: Then you go on to say, in the book, "Senior White House adviser Karl Rove returned my call late that afternoon," July 8, 2003, the same day. "I mentioned I had heard that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA in the counterproliferation section and that she had suggested Wilson be sent to Niger. I distinctly remember Rove's reply," quote, " 'Oh, you know that, too.' Rove and I also discussed other aspects of Wilson's mission, but since he never has disclosed them publicly, neither have I."

So you considered Rove's comments -- "Oh, you know that, too" -- as a confirmation?

NOVAK: Yes.

[end video clip]

GREGORY: Were you a confirming source for Robert Novak?

ROVE: No. And I, I remember it slightly differently. I remember saying, "I've heard that, too." Let, let me say this. There is a civil lawsuit filed by Mr. Wilson and Ms. Plame. It has been tossed out at the district court level. They've announced their intention to appeal. I think it is better that I not add anything beyond what is already in the public record until that suit is resolved. But, as I'm -- my recollection is that I said, "I heard that, too." We -- I would point you to --

GREGORY: Where, where had you heard that?

ROVE: You'll have to wait.

GREGORY: But that's an important distinction, because the -- you -- "I heard that, too," suggests that you heard it from somebody else rather than knowing it yourself.

ROVE: That's correct.

GREGORY: But he, he took those notes down just as you said them.

ROVE: Well, but I -- my recollection is, "I've heard that, too." So -- but the point is, if a journalist had said to me, "I'd like you to confirm this," my answer would have been, "I can't. I don't know. I've heard that, too."

GREGORY: It's important to point out that the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, declined to bring any criminal charges against you. But given the president's emphatic statement about getting to the bottom of this, were you ever held to account by the president for what you did?

ROVE: You know, I acted in an appropriate manner, made all the appropriate individuals aware of my contact. I met with the FBI right at the beginning of this, told them everything. You're right, the special prosecutor declined to take any action at all. I was never a target. In fact, it's -- what's interesting to me is that the person who did give the name, Richard Armitage, we found out at the end of the process, did, did have the conversation with Novak, took no action against him either.

From the August 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: Why did you discuss with two reporters that Valerie Plame, the wife of ambassador Joe Wilson, worked for the CIA?

ROVE: First of all, let me say there is a civil lawsuit filed by Wilson and Plame against a wide variety of people.

WALLACE: That's been dismissed.

ROVE: Well, it's been dismissed, but they've announced they intend to appeal. And so, I'm not going to add anything to the public record. What I did say to one reporter was, "I've heard that, too." And what I said to another reporter off the record was, in essence, "I don't think you ought to be writing about this." And, you know, we'll -- I intend to hold my fire and not add anything else to the public record until after this is over.

WALLACE: Matt Cooper, the second reporter you're talking about, who then worked for Time, says you told him that Joe Wilson's wife, who worked for the CIA, authorized the trip.

ROVE: Which I had been told by a reporter.

WALLACE: But did you tell that to Matt Cooper?

ROVE: I don't recall Mr. Cooper's conversation. I'll let his notes stand as a record of it. It's clear off the record, that I'm talking to him off the record, trying to discourage him. After all, this is the day that the CIA is going to issue a statement. I'll remind you what that statement said. By the CIA director George Tenet on July 11. He said contrary to Mr. Wilson's claim in The New York Times, neither the White House, the vice president, or the director of the CIA sent him to Niger. The information he came back with was not treated as dispositive or conclusive on the question of whether or not Iraq had tried to acquire uranium in Niger. In fact, we now know from the Senate Select Intelligence Committee that Mr. Wilson came back but did not mention in his article information that corroborated the British intelligence report about Iraq trying to acquire uranium in Niger. That he, Mr. Wilson, had found a previously undisclosed contact between Iraq and a third party to pressure the Niger government to accept a trade delegation, which it did, and since the only thing they had to trade was uranium cake, the Niger government was very nervous and basically shut down the meeting.

WALLACE: But whether it was off the record, whether you were saying I just heard that, too, whatever it was you were saying, you're a government official. Why traffic at all in the fact that his wife worked for the CIA?

ROVE: I didn't confirm it. If somebody -- if you as a reporter said I'd like you to confirm this, my answer would have been to say I can't. And again --

WALLACE: But you say that's not what you said to Bob Novak.

ROVE: I said I heard that, too. That was not confirmation. If you talk to the CIA, you talk to --

WALLACE: Do you think that you should even have been discussing a CIA operative?

ROVE: Look, there are 30-some-odd-thousand people who worked at the CIA. I did not -- under no -- and I'm not even certain to this day whether she fit the definition of a CIA operative.

WALLACE: I want to take you back --

ROVE: I would remind you also if she were, I suspect that special prosecutor would have done something different about both Mr. Richard Armitage, who was the person who had an extensive conversation with Mr. Novak about this, and would have done something different about me.

WALLACE: I want to take you back to the fall of 2003, when both the president and the president's press secretary said -- denied you had spoken to anyone about Valerie Plame. Take a look.

BUSH [video clip]: I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it and we'll take the appropriate action.

[begin video clip]

REPORTER: You said this morning that, quote, "The president knows that Karl Rove wasn't involved. How does he know that?"

SCOTT McCLELLAN (former White House press secretary): Public knowledge, I've said that it's not true, and I have spoken with Karl Rove.

[end video clip]

WALLACE: Question -- did you mislead the president and Scott McClellan.

ROVE: No, I didn't. In fact, the president said "classified information." I was very clear right from the very beginning on this with both the counsel's office and with the FBI. And look, if I had leaked classified information, Peter [sic] Fitzgerald would have done something different. And what I told Scott McClellan was I didn't know her name, didn't know her status at the CIA.

WALLACE: When was the first time you told the president?

ROVE: I'm not going to -- again, nice try. I've said I'm not going -- there is a civil lawsuit. I'm not going to expand the public record. What I've just said to you is available on the public record before today.

WALLACE: Well, thank you for making it seem even more important, Mr. Rove.

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