A report on Hardball last night raises interesting questions:

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A witness who testified at the grand jury and lawyers for other witnesses say the memo was written in July of 2003, identified Valerie Wilson, also known as Valerie Plame, as a CIA officer, and cited her in a paragraph marked S for sensitive.

According to lawyers, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and undersecretaries, including John Bolton, gave testimony about this memo. And a lawyer for one State Department official says his client testified that, as President Bush was flying to Africa on Air Force One two years ago, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer could be seen reading the document on board.

The timing is significant, because the president’s trip on July 7 was one day after Ambassador Joe Wilson’s column was published criticizing the administration. In other words, on July 6, Wilson’s column comes out. On July 7, the State Department memo about Wilson’s wife is seen on Air Force One. And, on July 8, Karl Rove had a conversation with columnist Robert Novak, but says it was Novak who told him about Valerie Plame, not the other way around.

Commentary on the flip:
First of all, on Bolton:

In his disclosure form for his confirmation hearings, Mr. Bolton made no mention of being interviewed in the case, a government official said.

So, today’s NY Times reveals that John Bolton did not disclose to the Senate being interviewed in the Plame case, but NBC News is reporting that he gave actual testimony. Either Bolton made a rather glaring omission in his disclosure, or he gave testimony only after filling out his disclosure forms.

Another thing has become clear in recent days, and Shuster’s report brings it out. It appears that the entire White House defense is little more than a game of pass the buck. Novak said:

Why was it that Ambassador Wilson…why was he being selected?

I asked this question to a senior Bush administration official, and he said that he believed that the assignment was suggested by an employee at the CIA in the counterproliferation office who happened to be Ambassador Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame. I then called another senior official of the Bush administration, and he said, Oh, you know about that? And he confirmed that that was an accurate story. I then called the CIA.

If Novak is telling the truth here, we can identify Rove as the second person that Novak called. The first person he called would be the really guilty party. Was it Libby? Was it Fleischer? Was it Hadley? Rice? Cheney?

Let me speculate here. If I’m Novak, I have two key facts. (1) Wilson was sent by the CIA (2) on a mission requested by the Vice-President. So, if I’m Novak I am going to call either the VP’s office, or my contacts in the CIA, or both.

Novak appears to have called Rove on another story, and only asked about Wilson’s wife as an afterthought. This makes sense, too. As long as he had Rove on the phone, why not ask about the information he had received from another more appropriate source?

Now, here’s another thing. According to Shuster, a lawyer for a state department official says that his client testified that Fleischer could be seen reading the memo aboard Air Force One. Could Fleischer have called Novak?

Novak claims he initiated the inquiries into Wilson, and we know he called Ari from phone logs. Ari has testified that he never called Novak back. But is that true?

It looks to me as though Novak either got his initial information about Valerie Plame from Ari Fleischer or from Scooter Libby (or someone else in the VP’s office). He then called Rove, who had heard about Wilson’s wife, and confirmed the story. Then Rove offered up this information to Cooper totally unsolicited. We know that Mitchell, Pincus, Miller, and Russert were also contacted or informed in some manner.

Lots of questions, lots of opportunities for perjury.

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