The Valerie Plame story

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(HOST) What’s all the fuss about Karl Rove and the Valerie Plame story? Commentator Allen Gilbert thinks it’s worth paying attention.

(GILBERT) A year ago, I had the opportunity to hear Daniel Ellsberg speak at a conference. One of the things he said was, “Watch the Valerie Plame story.” July 2004. The national political conventions were gearing up. Michael Moore’s movie Fahrenheit 911 had just been released. I doubt that most people at the time knew who Valerie Plame was.

But now her name is in the news – a lot. Valerie Plame is the wife of diplomat Joseph Wilson. Her identification by a highly-placed government official as a CIA agent was a federal crime, Ellsberg pointed out. The investigation into who “outed” her would not start until after the election. But when it did, Ellsberg said, the invest- igation could be a turning point in the Bush presidency – assuming Bush was re-elected, which Ellsberg thought he would be.

The Valerie Plame case a “turning point” in the Bush presidency? The prediction seemed a bit far-fetched to me at the time. But now it’s looking like there is something quite interesting about the case. The person who “outed” Plame may have been the pres- ident’s political strategist, Karl Rove.

Rove isn’t admitting guilt. He and other White House officials are dodging questions about the case.

When Ellsberg spoke a year ago, he reminded his audience that Richard Nixon’s downfall as president had started with a relatively minor event: a two-bit break-in of Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office and apartment complex near the Kennedy Center in Washington. But the Nixon administration attempted to hide the fact that the break-in had been carried out by some rogue campaign operatives working for the president’s party. The cover- up became much worse than the crime. And the result was the political equivalent of the old adage, for want of a nail the battle was lost.

It’s hard now to think of the undoing of the Nixon presidency as anything but dramatic. The revelation earlier this year of the iden- tity of “Deep Throat” – the secret source who tipped reporters Woodward and Bernstein – seemed part of a drama that could only have had one ending. But when news of the Watergate break-in was first reported, many newspapers didn’t even carry the story on Page 1.

Momentous events often start this way – with an incident that seems so minor and unconnected to anything else of significance that you don’t bother reading the whole story. And in the case of the Valerie Plame story, one wonders where the thread, if follow- ed, will lead. At this point, that may almost be secondary. The story has stuck with journalists partly because New York Times reporter Judith Miller has been sent to jail. She won’t reveal Rove – or possibly someone else – as a secret news source. And interest- ingly, Miller never even wrote a story using the information she was given.

Don’t get bored with all the stories about Karl Rove and Valerie Plame. The unfolding of Watergate was also numbingly slow during the summer of 1972, as well.

This is Allen Gilbert.

Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. He has a longtime interest in public policy issues.

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