For some time, the big mystery in the Novak-Plame-gate scandal has been why douchebag of liberty Robert Novak has not been forced to reveal his source. Novak, as you’ll recall, is the heroic journalist who first publicly disclosed Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA operative in order to further a Bush administration vendetta against Plame’s husband. Yet it is not even clear whether Novak has actually spoken to investigators (although most observers think he has), while reporters Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller (who had the same info but who either wrote about it later (Cooper) or didn’t write about it at all (Miller)) are now facing jail time for refusing to name the leaker unless the Supreme Court bails them out.
One possible explanation, which I floated here a few months back, goes roughly like this: Novak testified voluntarily about his source; he lied; the special prosecutor knows he lied; and therefore the special prosecutor needs Miller and Cooper’s testimony to nail Novak for perjury as well as to accurately assess whether he can file criminal charges against the real leaker. I still haven’t seen any other theory that successfully explains why the prosecutor is so desperate for Miller’s and Cooper’s testimony while simultaneously not seeming to care much about Novak. And let us remember that a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that the special prosecutor had made a sufficient showing to overcome any privilege that the reporters might have the right to invoke – clearly, the prosecutor convinced the court that he isn’t just pursuing these reporters for the sake of being nasty.
Now, according to the excellent reporting of Murray Waas (for whom well-placed sources in the Plame affair seem to sing like little birdies), the "Novak lied" theory seems to be gaining traction. Waas says that "federal investigators have for some time believed that columnist Novak has very likely lied to shield his sources from potential criminal culpability." Waas also reports that there was, indeed, a campaign within the Bush administration to discredit Plame’s husband, and that the Plame leak was part of it. Fascinating. Waas’s new blog has quickly become a must-read for those interested in what’s really going on in this story.
I really, really hope that Miller and Cooper choose to testify rather than go to jail to protect their sources (although they’ve stated publicly that they won’t). Simply put, this is a stupid case for them to martyr themselves on principle. The source that they are protecting is not worthy of protection – whether or not the leak was technically illegal, it was a profoundly unpatriotic act. The leaker did not disclose any information that furthers the public interest (in Judge Tatel’s words (see p. 40 of his opinion), the leak "lacked significant news value"), but did manage to undermine America’s ability to defend itself against terrorists. Nice work, jerk. Miller and Cooper may misguidedly believe that their going to jail protects America. It doesn’t. It protects a leaker who did a really bad thing and should be punished for it (at least by losing his or her job), and it protects Bob Novak. Why they want to rot in jail for folks like that is beyond me.
UPDATE: Susan Gardner, an excellent diarist at Kos, has this interesting interview with Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame’s husband, which is in part a response to Waas’s story.