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Context of 'September 29, 2003: Bush Assures Press Secretary that Rove Not Involved in Plame Wilson Leak'

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The Justice Department authorizes the FBI to open a criminal investigation into leaks of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity by sources within the Bush administration (see July 14, 2003, July 30, 2003, and September 16, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] The investigation is headed by the Justice Department’s counterespionage chief, John Dion. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]
Questions of Impartiality - Dion is a veteran career prosecutor who has headed the counterespionage section since 2002. He will rely on a team of a half-dozen investigators, many of whom have extensive experience in investigating leaks. However, some administration critics are skeptical of Dion’s ability to run an impartial investigation: he will report to the Justice Department’s Robert McCallum, who is an old friend and Yale classmate of President Bush. Both Bush and McCallum were members of the secret Skull & Bones Society at Yale. Others believe the investigation will be non-partisan. “I believe that the career lawyers in Justice—the people who preceded [Attorney General] John Ashcroft and who will be there after he leaves—will do a nonpolitical investigation, an honest investigation,” says legal ethics specialist Stephen Gillers. “Ashcroft’s sole job is to stay out of it.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2003]
CIA Director Filed Request - The request for an investigation (see September 16, 2003) was filed by CIA Director George Tenet; a CIA official says Tenet “doesn’t like leaks.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he knows of no leaks about Wilson’s wife: “That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing. I don’t have any information beyond an anonymous source in a media report to suggest there is anything to this. If someone has information of this nature, then he or she should report it to the Department of Justice.” McClellan calls Joseph Wilson’s charges that deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove leaked his wife’s name (see August 21, 2003) “a ridiculous suggestion” that is “simply not true.” A White House official says that two administration sources (later revealed to be Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see June 13, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) leaked Plame Wilson’s name to six separate journalists (see Before July 14, 2003). The White House is notoriously intolerant of leaks, and pursues real and supposed leakers with vigor. Wilson says that if the White House did indeed leak his wife’s name, then the leak was part of what he calls “a deliberate attempt on the part of the White House to intimidate others and make them think twice about coming forward.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
White House, Democrats Respond - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that the White House is willing to have the Justice Department investigate the charges. “I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate,” she tells Fox News. “My understanding is that in matters like this, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action and that’s what is going to be done.” However, some Democrats want more. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the charges, since the department has an inherent conflict of interest: “I don’t see how it would be possible for the Justice Department to investigate whether a top administration official broke the law and endangered the life of this agent (see July 21, 2003). Even if the department were to do a thorough and comprehensive investigation, the appearance of a conflict could well mar its conclusions.… Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network of intelligence assets. On top of that, it poses a serious threat to the national security of this nation.” Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says the White House should find out who is responsible for the leak, and Congress should investigate the matter as well. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Fox News, 9/29/2003]
FBI Will Acknowledge Investigation - The FBI officially acknowledges the investigation on September 30 (see September 30, 2003), and informs the White House of the investigation. [New York Times, 2006]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Stephen Gillers, US Department of Justice, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, John Dion, Robert McCallum, George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Eleven days after White House political strategist Karl Rove told press secretary Scott McClellan that he had not been one of the sources responsible for outing CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 16, 2003), the Washington Post prepares to print a story that alleges “a senior administration official” is claiming two senior White House officials spoke with at least six reporters about Plame Wilson (see September 28, 2003). The Post reporters do not yet know who those two officials are. In 2008, McClellan will write: “The implication of the Post story was clear: the White House had disclosed Plame’s identity to discredit or even punish Joseph Wilson. The story would put the leak of her identity right at the White House’s doorstep… implying the possibility of concerted effort by the White House to reveal Plame’s role and her involvement in her husband’s trip to Niger.” McClellan learns from his deputy, Claire Buchan, that Rove had indeed spoken to columnist Robert Novak. According to Buchan, Rove admits that Novak called him about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, but says he could not confirm it because he did not know; McClellan checks with Novak, who says the same thing to him as he told Buchan. McClellan will describe himself as “bewilder[ed]” by Rove’s contradictory statements to him and Buchan. He will write, “I felt that Rove should have disclosed this conversation to me previously, so I decided to call him.” He asks Rove, “Were you involved in this in any way?” and later writes: “I was clearly referring to the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity—information that was believed to be classified—to any reporter.” Rove replies: “No. Look, I didn’t even know about his wife.” McClellan will later note that Rove does not mention his phone discussion of Plame’s CIA identity with Time reporter Matt Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). He will write: “Rove’s categorical ‘no’ gave me the assurance I needed to defend a fellow member of the Bush team and fellow Texan I had known for more than a decade, who was invariably a prime target of our most partisan critics.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 180-181]

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House press secretary Scott McClellan obtains a third confirmation from White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove (see September 27, 2003) that he had “neither leaked nor condoned leaking [CIA agent Valerie] Plame [Wilson]‘s identity,” as McClellan will write in 2008. McClellan will add, “That day would be the last time I would talk to or hear from Karl about anything specifically related to the leak.” When McClellan asks President Bush about it, as he will later write: “‘Karl didn’t do it,’ the president reflexively said.… The ‘it’ clearly meant disclosing Plame’s identity to reporters.… ‘He told me he didn’t do it,’ the president continued.… Rove had already denied to me that he’d leaked Plame’s name, and now I was learning that he had also told the president that he was not involved.” Both Bush and McClellan catch sight of White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who, in McClellan’s recollection, “had raised his hands above his waist and was now gesturing down with both to indicate to the president that he should keep quiet and stop talking about what was fast becoming a sensitive subject.” Bush says, “with a slight hint of irritation in his voice: ‘What? That’s what Karl told me.’” Card responds: “I know. But you shouldn’t be talking about it with anyone, not even me.” McClellan believes Card is referring to the strictures imposed on the White House staff by the Justice Department investigation (see September 26, 2003 and September 30, 2003). In McClellan’s recollection, Bush has little interest in observing Card’s warning. McClellan tells Bush that though he has already told the press that Rove was not involved in the leak, he will undoubtedly be asked again. Then he asks Card, “Do we know anything more about the investigation?” Card says he knows of nothing new. McClellan will later write, “The discussion in the Oval [Office] that morning—the day we would learn that an investigation was indeed under way—was a moment Andy would later recollect for prosecutors, and that I would be asked to confirm under oath to a federal grand jury.” McClellan confirms the line to take during the morning “press gaggle” (see September 29, 2003): the leak “of classified information is a serious matter,” it should be “pursued to the fullest possible extent,” and “the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency to look into it.” Bush agrees, and adds, “And I hope they find who did it.” McClellan then asks Card, “I am still good to say that nothing has been brought to our attention to suggest White House involvement, beyond what we have read in the papers, right?” Card agrees, and adds, “[L]ast I heard from Al [White House counsel Alberto Gonzales], he did not either.” As McClellan will later write, “We were all on the same page.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 182-185] Shortly after the FBI launched its investigation (see September 26, 2003), Rove had personally assured Bush that he had not disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity to anyone in the press (see After September 26, 2003).

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The FBI publicly acknowledges that it has opened an investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003). The White House directs its staff to fully cooperate with the investigation (see September 29-30, 2003). President Bush tells the press: “If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated the law, he will be taken care of.” [New York Times, 9/30/2003; New York Times, 2006] (In White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s later recollection, “he’d made clear that if anyone in his administration had been responsible for the leak, he or she would have to leave.”) [McClellan, 2008, pp. 216] Bush says there are “just too many leaks” from both the White House and Congress. The Justice Department instructs the White House, through White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to preserve all records relating to the case, including any involving contacts with columnist Robert Novak (who first publicly outed Plame Wilson—see July 14, 2003), and two Newsday reporters, Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce (see September 30, 2003). Phelps and Royce wrote a July 2003 article claiming that “intelligence officials” had confirmed and expanded on Novak’s identification of Plame Wilson, and stated that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA in “an undercover capacity” (see July 21, 2003). Bush tells reporters that he is “absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job” of investigating the case, indicating that he will not support calls for an outside special counsel to take over the probe. The Justice Department has not ruled out asking for a special counsel, though Attorney General John Ashcroft says his department is more than capable of handling the investigation itself. Democrats say that Ashcroft’s Justice Department should not conduct any such investigation because of Ashcroft’s close connections to White House personnel who may be involved in the leak, such as White House political adviser Karl Rove. At a fundraising luncheon, Bush indirectly dismisses the controversy over the Plame Wilson outing as part of the “needless partisan bickering that dominates the Washington, DC, landscape.” A Republican source close to the White House tells the New York Times that the investigation will blow over within a matter of days. “The general view inside the White House among senior staff is that this is going to create a few rocky political days, that it’s mainly the Democrats pushing it and that if all the Republicans stay on board, the story goes away,” the source says. [New York Times, 9/30/2003; New York Times, 2006] Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassdor Joseph Wilson, will later call this an “absurdly broad net, as there were only a very small number of people in the administration whose responsibilities overlap the national security and the political arenas, the best pool of possible suspects in which to start looking.” Wilson will note, “If the president really wanted to ‘come to the bottom of this,’ as he claimed to reporters on October 7 (see October 7, 2003), he could have acted like the strong chief executive he claims to be and brought his senior people into a room and demanded that they produce the leaker.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 399]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Department of Justice, Timothy Phelps, Scott McClellan, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House press secretary Scott McClellan knows that Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff is planning another article detailing what White House official Karl Rove told reporter Matt Cooper (see July 10, 2005). McClellan believes the Isikoff article will reveal that Cooper asked about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, but McClellan has been personally assured by Rove that he told Cooper nothing (see September 16, 2003 and September 27, 2003). President Bush has also assured McClellan that Rove is not the source of the leak (see September 29, 2003). McClellan will later write, “Maybe I did not want to believe that Karl had not been completely forthcoming, or that what he had told me—and the president—was not true.” White House counsel Harriet Miers tells McClellan, “There’s some news that’s likely to come out tomorrow about Karl in the leak investigation that may appear to contradict what you said nearly two years ago” (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003 and July 13, 2005). She warns him not to comment on the investigation. As he will later write, “In effect, she was forbidding me from talking and setting the record straight about my previous comments.” Miers then apologizes and leaves McClellan to mull over the impact of the Rove revelation. He will later disclose the “painful, chilling effect” the revelation has on his “relationships with reporters,” and will reflect: “[I]f some of the highest-ranking officials of the Bush White House hadn’t been forthright with the president’s chief spokesman, how could anyone assume they were honest with the public? The White House had a serious credibility problem, and I was now going to take the heat for it.” He will compare the impact of the Isikoff article to “getting whacked upside the head with a two-by-four. I never saw it coming, given Karl’s personal assurances to me and the president, at least not until the final few days before it became public. And even then I convinced myself not to believe the growing buzz in Washington because of the personal assurances I had received.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 257-260]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Matthew Cooper, Harriet E. Miers, Scott McClellan, Michael Isikoff, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Terry Moran, ABC News’s chief White House correspondent, tells ABC host George Stephanopoulos that he believes White House press secretary Scott McClellan unwittingly lied to reporters when he asserted that White House staffers Karl Rove (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, September 29, 2003, and September 29, 2003) and Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see October 4, 2003 and October 4, 2003) knew nothing of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. “He was telling falsehoods right at us over and over unwittingly,” Moran says. Asked if McClellan knew he was lying, Moran replies: “No. And he signaled he wants to tell us the story,” referring to McClellan’s comments that he would like to be able to discuss his public support of Rove and Libby. Stephanopoulos asks, “[Y]ou say he didn’t know it, so that means Karl Rove lied to him?” “Yes,” Moran answers, “yes.” Moran notes that the White House will most likely do nothing except continue to “stonewall” and deny involvement: “My sense it right now they’ll kick this down the road. They’ll say it’s a continuing case and we’re going to kick it down the road.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 265-266]

Entity Tags: Terry Moran, ABC News, Bush administration (43), George Stephanopoulos, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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