Unspin from Matt Cooper

Cooper first heard about Valerie Plame from Karl Rove, who then remarked, “I have already said too much.” Yes he did, didn’t he?

Kevin Drum finds nothing much new in Matt Cooper’s account of his appearance before the grand jury. [Firewall buster here.] I don’t think I agree.

Sure, there’s not a grand revelation of anything we hadn’t suspected, but Cooper’s account contradicts most of the pro-Rove spin coming out of the White House and its political, journalistic, and bloggic allies over the past week. And Cooper’s contemporaneous notes show that Rove was aware that he was playing with classified information.

1. Cooper didn’t bait and switch Rove by pretending to call about welfare reform and then changing the subject.

2. Cooper first learned about “Wilson’s wife” from Rove, who volunteered the information when Cooper asked about the damage Wilson’s op-ed was doing to the administration. Rove wasn’t merely confirming something Cooper had heard elsewhere.

3. Rove told Cooper — according to Cooper’s notes and subsequent emails — that “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”

4. Rove ended the conversation with “I have already said too much.” Cooper seems to be puzzled by the meaning of this. I thought it was clear enough: “I have already said things I shouldn’t have said.” Linked with the comment about declassification, the implication is that some of what Rove just said was still classified.

On the other hand, Rove didn’t say “double super secret background;” that was Cooper’s grace-note in his note to his editors. Rove used the more conventional “deep background,” which means that the reporter can print the information (as opposed to “off the record,” which means he can’t use it unless he can find it out for himself from another source) but can’t source it at all closely (“a well-informed source” is the usual formula, as opposed to the simple “background” formula, which would be something like “a White House official who asked not to be further identified”).

So: Rove, asked about Wilson’s trip, spontaneously mentioned Wilson’s wife’s job working for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction, said that some information was about to be declassified, and then said “I have already said too much.”

Yes, I rather think he did. Don’t you?

Update MSNBC, working from AP and Reuters accounts, reads the Time story as I do: mostly very bad news for Rove. It points out that Cooper’s account makes hash of Ken Mehlman’s “Rove heard it from a reporter” nonsense.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com