News Intelligence Analysis
Editor & Publisher
What was Judith Miller Up
Was she simply a recipient of
the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent--or did she
carry that news to others herself? Speculation grows that the
special prosecutor is looking at the possibility that unnamed
journalists "started a chain of conversations," passing
information about Plame to administration officials.
By William E. Jackson, Jr.
(July 12, 2005) -- From Frank Rich in the New York Times to
Michael Kinsley in the Los Angeles Times, opinions were expressed
across a wide spectrum in the days following the decision by
federal district court Judge Frank Hogan to sentence Judith Miller
to jail and let Matt Cooper go free in special prosecutor Patrick
Fitzgerald's investigation of officials who may have committed
a crime in leaking the identity of CIA undercover agent Valerie
Plame two years ago.
Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation" even went so
far as to compare Miller's sentence for refusing to reveal sources
to a grand jury to Martin Luther King's civil disobedience.
In his column of July 10, grieving for his colleague Miller
who "has been taken away in shackles for refusing to name
the source for a story she never wrote," Rich weighed in
with the melodramatic conclusion that "this is worse than
Watergate. But Rich later found ground in reality when
he wrote that the scandal began with the sending of American
men and women to war in Iraq based on twisted intelligence. Unlike
many of Miller's apologists, he recalled that "Judy Miller
was one of two reporters responsible for a notoriously credulous
front-page Times story" (with Michael Gordon in September
2002) that enabled the Bush Administration's propaganda campaign
to hype the threat of Saddam's WMD.
This was just one of her error-ridden contributions to the
cause of invasion. Demonstrating a singular lack of propriety,
one of the most insensitive comments of the past week came from
Miller herself when she told the judge after he sentenced her
to jail: if U.S. troops could risk death in Iraq, "surely,
I can face prison to defend a free press."
It is important to note that The Times' legal affairs reporter,
Adam Liptak, has been thoroughly professional in day-to-day reporting
on the case, despite the eminent pro-Miller roles of his publisher
and executive editor. It would be far more difficult to follow
the ins and outs of the case without his regular reports. However,
it remains a mystery as to how Liptak can be certain that she
conducted interviews and was contemplating writing about the
controversy in July of 2003, possibly a key element in this case.
Prosecutor Fitzgerald has insisted: "This case is not
about a whistle-blower. It's about a potential retaliation against
a whistle-blower." Helping the government vindictively to
leak -- to "declare war" (as Cooper put it) -- hardly
counts as watching the government closely and aggressively. As
reported by AP, when Times counsel Floyd Abrams was asked why
prosecutors had sought Miller's testimony when she never wrote
a story about Plame, he said: We don't know, but most likely
somebody testified to the grand jury that he or she had spoken
So Miller was fingered by an administration official back
in the summer of 2004, and then she was subpoenaed? Then, one
theory goes, she covers for him or her by claiming she was working
on a story, hoping to throw the cloak of "reporter's privilege"
over the conversation. By not agreeing to testify, Miller --
along with that official -- might thereby have been involved
in obstruction of justice. It would require her oral testimony
to confirm what games the White House-level official was playing.
Of course, this is just a theory; no one yet knows what actually
happened. But since the New York Times was originally subpoenaed,
as were Time and The Washington Post, and that subpoena has been
dropped, it could be read that Miller was not working on a story,
or took no notes --or destroyed them. Otherwise the New York
Times would be on the hook for them.
A novel theme emerging in some press coverage of the Plame
case raises the possibility of unnamed journalists being participants
in a potential crime, and not just witnesses. Carol Leonnig of
The Washington Post wrote on July 6: "Sources close to the
investigation say there is evidence in some instances that some
reporters may have told government officials -- not the other
way around --that Wilson was married to Plame, a CIA employee."
Richard Schmitt wrote in the Los Angeles Times of July 9:
"It appears clear that one possibility pursued by Fitzgerald
is whether a journalist started a chain of conversations about
Plame between reporters and White House officials."
This idea was first raised by me in an E&P column of April
7, based on conversations with legal sources, in which I suggested,
among other scenarios, that Miller basically was a "carrier,"
around Washington, of the rumor about Plame's real identity,
but not a reporter actively covering a story. She was "both
a source for, and a witness to, disclosure by sources of Plame's
She may have just been helping to spin the neo-conservatives'
gossip. Her "source" is incidental, as she wrote nothing.
No evidence has been presented that she even contemplated writing
a story. None of her colleagues at the newspaper that I have
spoken to over the past two years have suggested that she was
actively working on a story about Plame.
But talking to someone at a high level somehow got her on
Fitzgerald's list. She may have both received the information
on Plame from a high official, who was trying to smear Wilson,
and spread it as a "carrier" to another one. Or maybe
she already knew what Plame's job was, as her government beat
If this scenario is close to the reality of what happened,
her "cover" is likely to be blown if and when the special
prosecutor releases the information from those crucial redacted
eight pages of court documents that persuaded one judge after
another to hold her in contempt in the first place. What's in
those pages is obviously key to the whole Miller case.
The New York Times should answer some questions. For example,
have they contacted Miller's source[s] and asked for an explicit
waiver of confidentiality -- and been denied? If so, would that
not appropriately put the pressure back on the White House, where
it belongs? Does the Times want her sources to come forward?
William E. Jackson, Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a former arms control official and legislative aide in Congress.
He has written about the Plame case for E&P for almost two
column of April 7
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