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Reporting on the ongoing investigation into whether White House senior adviser Karl Rove committed a crime in leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to the press, ABC News Washington correspondent Jake Tapper claimed that "to have broken the law, Rove, or anyone else, would have had to have named Valerie Plame." But even Robert Luskin, Rove's lawyer, has acknowledged that leaking Plame's actual name, as opposed to information that otherwise identified her, is not central to whether Rove revealed classified information.
From the July 12 edition of ABC's Nightline:
PRESIDENT BUSH (clip): If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.
TAPPER: But notice the president was sure to say if the person has violated law, he'll be taken care of. To have broken the law, Rove, or anyone else, would have had to have named Valerie Plame, and would have to have known she was undercover. Rove's allies say he did not break any law.
Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper reportedly wrote in an email to his bureau chief that Rove told him that it was "wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip." Contrary to Tapper's claim, National Review White House correspondent Byron York wrote that Luskin sees no meaningful distinction between identifying Plame as "Wilson's wife", and identifying her by name: "Luskin told NRO [National Review Online] that Rove is not hiding behind the defense that he did not identify Wilson's wife because he did not specifically use her name. Asked if that argument was too legalistic, Luskin said, 'I agree with you. I think it's a detail.' "
Moreover, by restricting his discussion of the applicable law to the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, under which the intentional disclosure of a covert agent's identity is illegal, Tapper overlooked reports that prosecutors are considering charges of perjury or obstruction of justice. A July 3 New York Daily News article quotes "a source familiar with the investigation" stating that "I long ago concluded this is not a leak probe ... it's about perjury." As Knight Ridder noted on July 12, "That would echo Washington's other scandals -- Watergate during the Nixon administration and the Monica Lewinsky affair of Clinton's tenure -- in which the cover-up ends up being the problem."
Finally, in suggesting that Bush would "take care of" only those in his administration found to have "violated law," Tapper was selectively quoting the White House. In fact, White House press secretary Scott McClellan made clear in a September 29, 2003, press conference that Bush would fire anyone found to have been involved in outing a CIA agent. McClellan did not predicate such a dismissal on the leaker being convicted of a crime:
Q. Scott, has anyone -- has the President tried to find out who outed the CIA agent? And has he fired anyone in the White House yet?
McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, that's assuming a lot of things. First of all, that is not the way this White House operates. The President expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing.
McCLELLAN: The President has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.