CNN, ABC offered unchallenged legal analysis on Plame leak from Novak's partisan friends


Reporting on White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove's alleged involvement in the leaking of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, CNN and ABC News presented unchallenged legal analysis from Victoria Toensing and Joseph E. DiGenova, respectively, both of whom defended Rove and were identified only as a "legal analyst" and a "former US attorney." Toensing and DiGenova, however, are partisan Republicans and personal friends of CNN host and columnist Robert D. Novak, who originally outed Plame in July 2003.

DiGenova and Toensing are married and are the founding partners of DiGenova & Toensing LLP, a Washington law firm. Toensing was President Reagan's deputy assistant attorney general and chief counsel to former Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ). DiGenova has been described as a "confidant" of independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the Monica Lewinsky investigation [The Baltimore Sun, 9/21/00] and as "a former federal prosecutor now working for House Republicans" [The Washington Post, 2/23/98]. In 1998, Toensing and DiGenova angered House Democrats by repeatedly discussing the Lewinsky investigation in the media while under contract with the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to investigate the Teamsters union [The Washington Post, 2/13/98]. Toensing and DiGenova have a well-documented personal relationship with Novak.

According to her website bio, Toensing was "instrumental in winning passage" of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, under which the intentional disclosure of a covert agent's identity is illegal; she also claimed in a January 12 Washington Post op-ed that she was among those "who drafted and negotiated the scope of" the act. The July 12 broadcast of CNN's American Morning featured a report by CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, in which Toensing cast Rove's purported comments to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper as irrelevant under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. CNN provided no opposing view, nor did it identify her partisan roots or her friendship with Novak. Malveaux referred to Toensing as a "legal observer," while the on-screen graphic identified Toensing simply as a "legal analyst."

From the July 12 edition of CNN's American Morning:

MALVEAUX: Some legal observers say Rove's comments to Cooper are irrelevant because they don't meet the high standards set by federal law which make outing a spy a crime.

TOENSING: That statement, that Karl Rove gave the identity of [former ambassador Joseph C.] Wilson's wife, can only be illegal if the CIA was taking affirmative measures to protect her identity, and Karl Rove was aware that the CIA was doing so.

ABC's World News Tonight featured similar commentary from DiGenova, who was identified as a "former US attorney." DiGenova claimed it is "absolutely clear that Mr. Rove is not in any legal jeopardy whatsoever." His commentary not only went unchallenged, but was seemingly bolstered by ABC News correspondent Geoff Morrell.

From the July 10 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight:

MORRELL: Last week, Rove gave Cooper permission to tell a federal grand jury investigating the leak about their secret conversation. That kept Cooper out of jail, but does it now expose Rove to criminal charges?

DiGENOVA: All the evidence makes it absolutely clear that Mr. Rove is not in any legal jeopardy whatsoever.

MORRELL: Indeed, Newsweek notes that nothing in Cooper's email suggests that Rove used the name of Wilson's wife, or even knew she was a covert operative. What's more, Rove's attorney [Robert Luskin] tells ABC News he has been assured by the special prosecutor [Patrick Fitzgerald] Rove is not a target of the investigation.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
CIA Leak Investigation, Media Ethics
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.