THE PINCH AND JUDY SHOW

The comments I’d recommend are Mickey’s and Arianna’s. Funny how the shrewdest journalists on the case are geographically furthest away from D.C. I’ve now read the two NYT articles twice carefully, and all I can say is that, without all the evidence the Grand Jury is hearing, it seems to me some of the most plausible conclusions are

a) Miller is pulling a Clinton when she says she cannot recall who gave her the name “Valerie Flame.” So she is either protecting Libby or someone else entirely or her own reporting. What is she hiding and why?

b) Fitzgerald should never have agreed to restrict his questioning of Miller to the Libby conversations and the Wilson matter. (Score one for Bob Bennett!) The critical and lamest Miller argument is that the reference to “Valerie Flame” was somehow separated in her notebook from the notes she took from a conversation with Libby in the same notebook. The only way to really judge whether the notes back up her assertion of the name being unconnected to Libby – with no sign of whence it came – is to look at the notes. The best people to interpret the notes are other journalists who do the same thing that Miller does. But we find out that “Miller generally would not discuss her interactions with editors, elaborate on the written account of her grand jury testimony or allow reporters to review her notes.” It also appears that Miller was at best misleading and at worst lying to her editors when she said no to the question of whether she was one of six reporters leaked to in the case. Wherever her loyalty lies, it is obviously not to the New York Times. Why did her editors not insist on having her turn over the notes? Are they not NYT property? Or is she somehow in a “star-reporter zone” outside of normal editorial control? I thought the Raines era was over.

c) Libby’s cryptic letter to Miller persuades me, at least, that he was trying to influence her testimony. Even Miller cannot wriggle out of that obvious Occam conclusion. But if Libby and Miller were completely innocent of discussing anything illegal and believed so themselves, why would Libby need to influence her testimony at all? In other words, there are two plausible reasons for Miller’s defense of source-confidentiality, even though Libby waivered it. The first is that source confidentiality is sacrosanct, period; and Miller believed Libby was being “pressured” to cooperate. But if neither of them had anything to hide, why was it “pressure”? Why wasn’t it a chance to clear the record for good? And why would she think he would fear her testimony? The second plausible explanation is that Miller and Libby did indeed have something to hide, and were both responsible for spreading discrediting information about Joe Wilson’s wife, because they had become jointly wedded to a cause: exonerating themselves on the WMD fiasco. Whether either of them knew Plame was undercover or whether it will be possible to get an indictment on such grounds, is another matter. But a fair reading of what we know so far certainly suggests to me that protecting a mini-conspiracy of sorts between a reporter and her source is more credible an explanation for Miller’s jail-time than Miller’s histrionic display of First Amendment righteousness.

d) If all of this is true, I still find it hard to believe that Libby would be dumb enough to send Miller a letter of the kind he did. Why not just wait it out till October 28? The only plausible explanation I can think of is that he was genuinely upset that his co-conspirator and friend was stuck in jail, that all the other witnesses had exonerated him, that he had exonerated himself, and so she could go in and cover for him. The coast, in other words, was now clear. Except that Miller’s notes did not exonerate Libby. So Miller had to have a convenient memory loss about the central issue in the whole case.

e) I find it incredible that critical notes from Miller relating a key conversation with Libby were only recently “found”.

As I say, I don’t know what the Grand Jury knows. A lot of what I’ve just surmised might be undone by more evidence elsewhere that we all know nothing about yet. All I’m trying to do is use common sense in reviewing what has now been reported. I haven’t had much interest in this case so far, and have tended to admire Judy Miller’s work in the past. It’s also relevant that the mass of evidence now suggests that Libby and Miller were right: Saddam had long been interested in getting uranium from Niger. But, once again, the follow-up (cover-up?) to the original issue has now become something bigger than the issue itself. And what we now know about that seems pretty stinky to me. It certainly suggests that Miller long ago ceased being anything like a reporter whose first loyalty is to give as much information to her editors and readers as possible, within reason. (There’s a place for people like that, but they are not as news reporters at the New York Times.) And it suggests that there was indeed a coordinated administration strategy to discredit Wilson by slipping into the media ether that his wife was a CIA woman and that he should be discounted on nepotistic grounds. (Forget, for a minute the hilarious idea of anyone in the Bush administration trying to discredit anyone else because of nepotism and cronyism.) Who coordinated that strategy? From reading the NYT report, I’d say that Fitzgerald is very interested in finding out if Cheney is at the heart of it. Uh oh.

ROVE AGONISTES: My Sunday Times column is now up.

YGLESIAS AWARD NOMINEE: “I’m filling out my absentee ballot, and I’ve been trying to find a reason to vote no on 77, Arnold’s effort to create a non-partisan redistricting process in California. And I can’t think of any. I’m not sure why busting the current incumbent-protection racket would be a bad thing, why creating competitive districts and forcing incumbents to be more responsive to their constituents than the current 70-80 percent partisan districts require.” – Markos Moulitsas, putting democracy before party.

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