Karl Rove talked. But did President Bush’s deputy chief of staff break the law when he told a reporter that an administration critic’s wife worked for the CIA?
Legal experts said the answer to that question is far from clear. It appears to hinge on whether Rove knew that Valerie Plame was a covert officer and blew her cover anyway.
It’s a tough legal hurdle for Patrick Fitzgerald, the special federal prosecutor who has been investigating the Plame case for more than 18 months.
“He has to find somebody who would say Rove knew that she was covert, that he knew that the government was making an effort to hide her identity,” said Philip Heymann, former deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration. “It would appear he is working very, very hard to prove that because without it, you don’t have a crime.”
Enacted in 1982 to protect undercover CIA officials, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a crime to intentionally identify a covert agent.
Former federal prosecutor Lawrence Barcella said one large problem for Fitzgerald was that the statute making it a crime to identify a covert operative was virtually untested.
“This (the leak case) is exceedingly complex and all new,” Barcella said. “Understandable care is being taken to make sure you’re not stretching the statute beyond what was intended.”
The odyssey of the Plame case began with a trip to Africa in 2002 by her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium for nuclear weapons. Wilson discounted the claim in an article published on The New York Times op-ed page on July 6, 2003.