Sunday, July 17, 2005

Rove-ing Reporter

Since I've been in NY all week, I haven't been able to follow the news as much as I normally do, so I should acknowledge that my understanding of where things stand with the Valerie Plame/Karl Rove "scandal" is weak. So I'll just ask a question in the form of a hypothetical. Suppose it's true that Robert Novak told Karl Rove (not the other way around, as was originally suspected) that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative and that it was she who arranged for her husband to be sent to Niger. Novak tells Rove that his next column will mention this fact. So Rove mentions to Judith Miller and the-other-reporter-who's-name-I-can't-remember, "You know, Novak's about to publish a piece saying it was Plame, who used her status as a CIA employee, to get Wilson the job." If this is really what happened, did Rove do anything wrong?

I'm not so sure. I guess one thing it would depend upon is whether Rove used his prestige and position within the government to support the veracity of Novak's claim, and certainly whether Rove intentionally broke laws to do what Wilson and MoveOn.org have claimed, which is to silence internal critics by putting them in danger. I'm dubious of this latter possiblity, but the investigation may find something to back it up. Who knows. But it does seem that Rove's actions were what we might call "epiphenomenal." Which is to say that Rove didn't actually make a difference here. Even if Rove kept his mouth shut, Novak still would have published the column, and there would have been the same investigation into the leak, and Wilson would have still said to the media that he wanted Novak to be "frog-marched" out of the White House into a squad car. So Rove played no essential causal role here.

Even if this doesn't necessarily absolve him from blame, it does place what he did in context. Had Novak not told him of his intent to publish that column, Rove could say that he wouldn't have said anything that wasn't going to be public anyway. The Valerie Plame story wasn't even really overdetermined, if Rove's discussion was, itself, causally dependent upon Novak's plans. No causal role - no foul - no crime?

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