Sunday, August 14, 2005

Not a Target. Nope, Nope. Nosireebob 

Every day we visit Whatever Already! hoping to read Murray Waas's latest scoop, and dang! -- tonight we find out (via AmericaBlog) that he's been catting around on us at the Village Voice, where he breaks the news that Karl Rove has been in Patrick Fitzgerald's crosshairs since day one:
Justice Department officials made the crucial decision in late 2003 to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the leak of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame in large part because investigators had begun to specifically question the veracity of accounts provided to them by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to senior law enforcement officials.

Several of the federal investigators were also deeply concerned that then attorney general John Ashcroft was personally briefed regarding the details of at least one FBI interview with Rove, despite Ashcroft's own longstanding personal and political ties to Rove, the Voice has also learned. The same sources said Ashcroft was also told that investigators firmly believed that Rove had withheld important information from them during that FBI interview.

Those concerns by senior career law enforcement officials regarding the propriety of such briefings continuing, as Rove became more central to the investigation, also was instrumental in the naming of special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald . . . .

As the truthfulness of Rove's accounts became more of a focus of investigators, career Justice Department employees and senior FBI officials became even more concerned about the continuing role in the investigation of Ashcroft, because of his close relationship with Rove. Rove had earlier served as an adviser to Ashcroft during the course of three political campaigns. And Rove’s onetime political consulting firm had been paid more than $746,000 for those services.

In response to these new allegations, Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the current ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and former chairman of the committee as well, said in a statement: "There has long been the appearance of impropriety in Ashcroft's handling of this investigation. The former attorney general had well documented conflicts of interest in this matter, particularly with regard to his personal relationship with Karl Rove. Among other things, Rove was employed by Ashcroft throughout his political career, and Rove reportedly had fiercely advocated for Ashcroft's appointment as attorney general. Pursuant to standard rules of legal ethics, and explicit rules on conflict of interest, those facts alone should have dictated his immediate recusal.

"The new information, that Ashcroft had not only refused to recuse himself over a period of months, but also was insisting on being personally briefed about a matter implicating his friend, Karl Rove, represents a stunning ethical breach that cries out for an immediate investigation by the Department's Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspector General."

A Justice Department spokesman declined on Friday to say what action, if any, might be taken in response to Conyers' request.
UPDATE (via our distinguished colleague Peter Daou of the Daou Report): More Murray, this time from the usual venue:
[A]n investigation within the Department of Justice itself-- as to the circumstances of Ashcroft's refusal to recuse himself and as to why he continued to be briefed regularly on the Plame probe even after his friend, Karl Rove became more of a central focus of investigators-- obviously would in no way impinge on anything being done by Fitzgerald.

Both the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspector General, it should be noted, take pride in their independence from those they oversee. It is fully within the range of possibility that either one or both might look into the matter at the request of congressional Democrats . . . .

Some final thoughts, based on some information not published in the Voice piece or elsewhere: Why were investigators so skeptical of Rove's claims at even such an early stage of the investigation? As I have previously reported, and others such as the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek have since confirmed, Rove never told investigators of his conversations with Time's Matthew Cooper during his initial FBI interview.

But perhaps even more importantly, Rove also claimed that he first learned about Plame's employment with the CIA-- not from a classified source-- but rather from a journalist.

What has not been previously reported until now (a blog breaks news!?), is that not only could Rove not remember the name of the journalist who purportedly might have told him of Plame's CIA employment, but he also claimed to remember virtually nothing about the circumstances of the purported conversation. He could not even recall whether the conversation took place on the phone or in person.

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