updated 7/19/2005 8:17:25 AM ET 2005-07-19T12:17:25

Guest: John Dickerson, Anne Kornblut, John Fund, Barney Frank, Jack Kingston, Christopher Wolf, Dick Sauber

CAMPBELL BROWN, GUEST HOST:  President Bush again refuses to comment on Karl Rove‘s role in the White House leak case, but adds:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  As “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller spends her 12th day in jail for refusing to reveal her source. 

I‘m Campbell Brown.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, everybody.  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews. 

Tonight, HARDBALL begins a week-long special investigation into the White House CIA leak case.  In a moment, the attorney for “TIME” magazine reporter Matt Cooper and the attorney for Joe and Valerie Wilson. 

But, first, President Bush vowed to fire anyone in his administration who broke the law in the CIA leak case after “TIME” magazine reporter Matt Cooper went public about his testimony before the grand jury and confirmed Karl Rove as his source. 

And there‘s been a new development in the case.  The State Department prepared a secret memo in May of 2000 -- 2003 about Joe Wilson‘s trip to Niger, which mentioned that Wilson‘s wife was a CIA agent and that she had suggested her husband for the mission. 

We begin tonight with David Gregory at the White House. 

And, David, first, tell us—give us your take, rather, on President Bush‘s comments today. 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s—they‘re raising some eyebrows, Campbell, because the president came out today and said anybody who has committed a crime will be fired. 

There‘s been a big question about accountability and whether the president has tried to get to the bottom of all this and what would he do if it turns out that somebody did leak classified information?  You remember, back in September of 2003, he said anybody who leaked classified information would therefore have violated the law, would be dealt with, would be fired. 

And then, last year, he says kind of something broader, which is anybody who revealed her name, her, Valerie Plame‘s, name, would be fired.  And now today, did he raise that bar and say, well, they would have to commit a crime, in other words, sort of be proven that it was a crime. 

There are some real questions, because the president is apparently raising the bar for what would trigger somebody‘s dismissal.  And Democrats are making the argument today that these past statements are important, because it is now revealed that Karl Rove did reveal Plame‘s identity, didn‘t use her name, didn‘t say that she was covert.  But Matt Cooper‘s testimony before the grand jury was that he never knew who Valerie Plame was before he spoke to Karl Rove. 

And so, the president continue to sidestep these questions about Rove‘s involvement and just focus in on the end result, which is that he would take the findings of the special prosecutor‘s investigation very seriously. 

BROWN:  But, David, there‘s still a big lurking question out there, isn‘t there, about who Novak‘s other source may have been, the original source?

GREGORY:  Right.  And that‘s really what is at the heart of the criminal investigation.  Who originally knowingly blew Valerie Plame‘s cover?  Because, as you know, the statute that appears to be under the microscope here is the 1982 statute that would require someone who had access to classified information to knowingly reveal the identity of a covert officer. 

The name is not as important as the identity and the fact that Wilson‘s wife in this case, Valerie Plame, was working at the CIA when she was under official cover at—at the time.  So, it can‘t just be somebody who confirms the information or, if you believe the testimony of Karl Rove, as has been related to us through his attorney, that he only learns who Valerie Plame is from a journalist.  He can‘t remember who that is and then later hears from Novak her name and then says to Cooper simply that Wilson‘s wife apparently worked at the agency, that that‘s not enough, that somebody had to originally put out that information that this is Valerie Plame.  This is what she does in an effort to discredit Wilson, but, in the process, blow her cover. 

BROWN:  All right, quickly, David, the State Department memo.  What is in it?  Why is it important? 

GREGORY:  Well, if it is true, if its content are true, and if indeed it was known to White House officials, it would contradict this claim that nobody at the White House knew who Valerie Plame was, because, apparently, in that memo, mentions Plame and what she does at the CIA and her apparent role in sending her husband to Niger. 

BROWN:  All right, thanks, David.

GREGORY:  OK.

BROWN:  NBC‘s David Gregory at the White House tonight. 

Dick Sauber is the attorney for Matt Cooper, who wrote about his account before the grand jury in this week‘s “TIME” magazine.”

And, Dick, welcome.

DICK SAUBER, ATTORNEY FOR MATT COOPER:  Thank you.

BROWN:  So, Matt, probably to the annoyance somewhat of the special prosecutor, has given us this pretty extraordinary window into how this grand jury works.  And Cooper wrote in his “TIME” piece that grand jurors investigated his interactions with Rove in—quote—“microscopic, excruciating detail.”

What did he mean by that?

SAUBER:  Well, I think Matt wrote about it in his piece that he was asked in pretty excruciating detail exactly who said what to whom.  And he confirmed, basically, word by word what he had written in his piece was exactly how Mr. Rove spoke to him over the phone.

BROWN:  He talked yesterday with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press,” Matt did.  Let‘s play a little bit of that and then I want to get your reaction on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  When Karl concluded his conversation with you, you write, “He said, ‘I‘ve already said too much.‘”  What did that mean?

MATTHEW COOPER, “TIME”:  Well, I‘m not sure what it meant, Tim.  At first you know, I thought maybe he meant, I had been indiscreet.  And then, as I thought about it, I thought it might be just more benign, like, I‘ve said too much, I‘ve got to get to a meeting.  I don‘t know exactly what he meant, but I do know the memory of that line has stayed in my head for two years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  Stayed in his head for two years.  Do you think this indicated that Rove knew he was leaking classified information?

SAUBER:  Well, I think what Matt tried to do was to report to the grand jury, and again on “Meet the Press” yesterday, exactly what was said without speculating on what might or might not have been in anyone‘s head.  I think that phrase, as Matt said, stayed in his head for two years.  It could be significant.  It could also mean he had to go out and get a sandwich.  We really don‘t know.

BROWN:  But to say something like, wait, wait, I‘ve already said too much, I mean, just to play counter to that, it‘s almost like something you might here out of a movie or something.  Do you think that Rove might have been baiting him a little bit?

SAUBER:  No one seems to know.  I think the easiest way to find out is to have Mr. Rove explain it.

BROWN:  Rove also told Cooper that there was material that was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson‘s mission and his findings.  Does that indicate to you that Rove had access to classified material and was leaking classified material about Wilson‘s trip?

SAUBER:  That‘s a good question. 

I don‘t believe that anything like that did in fact happen.  I am not aware of any information, ultimately, being declassified.  I think it does suggest that the special prosecutor has focused on classified information as the heart of the case.  And there is a suggestion, even in some of the judges who have looked at his under-seal information, there‘s a suggestion that there is a great deal of classified information that is the focus of the investigation.

And I think we‘re just going to have to wait until the unsealing of that material to see what‘s really at stake here.

BROWN:  What did Cooper think about these new reports, about the State Department memo which contains information, this supposedly classified memo about Wilson‘s trip and the details of Valerie Plame?

SAUBER:  You know, that is something that never came up in Matt‘s testimony.  It never came up in his—in his dealings with Mr. Rove or anyone else in the White House.  And, frankly, it‘s news to us and we‘ll just have to see what comes out on it.

BROWN:  Why do you think it might be important, though, to the overall case?

SAUBER:  Well, I think the implication is that people in the White House would have known from other sources, such as this report which has been cited, that Mr. Wilson had a wife who was a CIA agent who had something to do with his being sent to Africa. 

So, it might be—no one seems to know, but it might be the source of the knowledge that high-level White House officials may have first learned about Valerie Plame.

BROWN:  Why was Cooper asked about whether he and Rove discussed welfare reform?

SAUBER:  Well, this week, Mr. Rove indicated through his lawyer that there had been an e-mail that he sent to Stephen Hadley suggesting that Matt first called him about welfare reform and then switched subjects.   As Matt said, he had no recollection that that was a subject of their discussion and can‘t really explain why Mr. Rove would have had that impression.

BROWN:  But Rove‘s lawyer has disputed a little bit of what Matt said and also in a report in the “Washington Post” basically accused Matt of losing his desire to protect a source.  What do you make of all this?

SAUBER:  Well, what I make of it is that it is very, very difficult to keep up with what Mr. Luskin says is Mr. Rove‘s position.  I think there has been a merry-go-round of suggestions about what that position might be.  I don‘t know ultimately what the position is.

The easiest way—as I said before, the easiest way to find out what the position is, is to have Mr. Rove explain it.

BROWN:  Let me ask you that one other thing that—that I don‘t think Matt clarified for us yesterday when he spoke out.  In his original article, he did refer to some government officials.  Are there government sources beyond Rove and Libby? 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney‘s chief of staff.

SAUBER:  I think Matt did say in his appearance yesterday on “Meet the Press” that he did not want to get into it.  Suffice it to say that Libby and Rove were his principal sources.  There were other sources of information that the special prosecutor is fully aware of.

BROWN:  Where do you think this investigation is headed?

SAUBER:  I don‘t know where it‘s headed.  I do have to say that both Matt and I spent a fair amount of time with Mr. Fitzgerald, and Matt spent a fair amount of time with the grand jury.  And the two of us came away without the slightest clue or indication or hint about where this was headed.  Mr. Fitzgerald did a terrifically professional job of making sure that he didn‘t convey to us any information about his intentions or where the grand jury was going.

BROWN:  And we‘ll be right back with Dick Sauber, the attorney for Matt Cooper.  And we‘ll be joined by the attorney for Joe Wilson and his wife.

And all week long on HARDBALL, we‘re taking an in-depth look at the White House-CIA leak case.  Tomorrow, we‘ll take a closer look at the prosecutor in this case, Patrick Fitzgerald, a Bush appointee.

You‘re watching a HARDBALL special investigation, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK FITZGERALD, U.S. ATTORNEY:  Earlier today, a federal grand jury sitting in this district returned a superseding indictment charging former Governor George Ryan with a number of charges, including participating in a racketeering conspiracy for more than a decade.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Coming up, we‘re going to talk to the attorney for former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife, when our HARDBALL special investigation into the CIA leak returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews. 

And we‘re back with Dick Sauber, the attorney for “TIME” magazine‘s Matthew Cooper.  And also joining us now is attorney Christopher Wolf, who is advising former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife. 

Welcome.  Good to have you here.

CHRISTOPHER WOLF, ATTORNEY FOR JOE WILSON AND VALERIE PLAME:  Thank you, Campbell.

BROWN:  Tell me what struck you and the Wilsons about Matt Cooper‘s account of his grand jury testimony.

WOLF:  Well, it was the first detailed description of the conversation that Mr. Cooper had had with Mr. Rove.  And it confirmed, as we suspected all along , that Mr. Rove did in fact leak Valerie Wilson‘s identity to a reporter or reporters.

BROWN:  But do you believe that Rove knew that she was a covert CIA operative?  Isn‘t that what‘s important here?

WOLF:  Well, that‘s being investigated by Mr. Fitzgerald, and we don‘t know the answer to that. 

But it certainly was reckless of him not to confirm her status before identifying her.  Whether it was illegal or not remains to be seen, but it was not the kind of conduct that someone with a security clearance in the White House should have engaged in.

BROWN:  How do you think Rove learned who Valerie Plame was?

WOLF:  It would be complete speculation on our part. 

But we do know this much, that he had very senior level access to classified information.  And, more importantly, the CIA itself determined that this was a major breach of national security sufficient to warrant a criminal investigation, which is why it was referred to the Justice Department.  

And, notably, if you read the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in ruling on the reporter‘s privilege issue, they recognize—without, of course, citing the evidence, because it‘s secret and confidential—they recognized that this is a serious issue of a breach of national security.

BROWN:  Do you believe he violated his security clearance, Rove?  Do you believe that, based on...

(CROSSTALK)

WOLF:  I don‘t have personal knowledge.  I don‘t know what‘s going on in the grand jury.  I don‘t know what the evidence is. 

But I do know that, as John Podesta pointed out yesterday on “Meet the Press,” the Mr. Rove had signed a nondisclosure agreement that provides that even confirming classified information is prohibited.  So, whether it was illegal or not, I don‘t know.  It certainly seemed inappropriate, and, in our view, was reckless.

BROWN:  What do you think about this, Dick?  Let me go back to you on it, because some in Congress are even talking about having Rove‘s security clearance revoked or trying to.  Do you think he violated it?

SAUBER:  I really don‘t know.  I do know that, in this city every day since I‘ve been a defense lawyer, people are investigated for inappropriate handling of classified material.  So, there‘s a plethora of laws and regulations and statutes out there that might address a situation like this.

I don‘t know if the information was classified.  I don‘t know whether he released it inappropriately.  I think that‘s what Mr. Fitzgerald is trying to get to the bottom of.  And I do agree—I think that the under-seal submission that Mr. Fitzgerald gave to the judges contains a lot of the information that would explain whether or not there‘s been a national security breach.

BROWN:  I want to go back to the question a moment ago of how he may have known, because of this new information about this secret State Department memo and also this briefing book that was prepared for Dr.  Condoleezza Rice prior to her being secretary of State, so that she could then go on the Sunday shows and sort of rebut many of these claims.  Does that change your opinion, all this new information, in any way?

WOLF:  Well, it really doesn‘t.  But it does confirm what we had suspected and what Ambassador Wilson has written his book and said in public statements, that this information, whatever it‘s nature, was used as political payback, was used to feed a campaign against someone who was the first to blow the whistle on the administration with respect to its claim of using nuclear weapons in Iraq.

BROWN:  But let me interrupt.

WOLF:  Sure.

BROWN:  Did—is it not possible that—that administration officials, that Rove, that Libby, had a right to question those findings?

WOLF:  Well, you know, they didn‘t question them.  In fact, the day after Joe Wilson‘s article appeared in “The New York Times,” his op-ed, Condoleezza Rice and the White House confirmed that the 16 words in the State of the Union, the words that raised the specter of a mushroom cloud, should not have been in the State of the Union, and, notably, the White House has not retracted that retraction.

That‘s the whistle-blowing that Joe Wilson engaged in.  And there was no reason based on that for the White House then to engage in a personal attack on his family.

BROWN:  OK.  I do want to ask you - we‘re going to take a quick break, but about the question of whether Joe Wilson may have a separate credibility problem, though, when we come back.

WOLF:  Sure.

BROWN:  We‘ll be back with more with Christopher Wolf and Dick Sauber. 

This is a HARDBALL special investigation, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  We‘re back with two of the lawyers in the CIA leak investigation, Dick Sauber, who represents “TIME” magazine reporter Matt Cooper, and Christopher Wolf, attorney for former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife.

And let me ask you, Republicans are out there hammering your guy right now.  Does Joe Wilson have a credibility problem?

WOLF:  I don‘t think so at all.  In fact, if you look at the whole history of this affair, Joe Wilson kept secret his mission to Niger for two years—or for a year, rather, before he wrote his op-ed.  And even before he wrote his op-ed, he tried to get the administration to correct the statements he made, which he thought were distorting his findings.

It was only after the administration made its claims, that there was this specter of nuclear weapons obtained by Iraq from Niger, did he go public.  No.  Joe Wilson was appointed by both Presidents Bush and Clinton.  He enjoyed a very good relationship with President Bush I.  He, until this episode, was not a partisan person.  He freely admits he has become one, as is his right as an American citizen.

BROWN:  Right.  But there are—there are other questions here, because he suggested that he was sent on this mission by the vice president‘s office.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLF:  No, he never did.  He never did.  And that‘s one of the ...

BROWN:  He said he thought he may have been...

WOLF:  No.

BROWN:  He wasn‘t unclear on it.

WOLF:  No.

BROWN:  Hey, look, come on.  I talked to him.  I interviewed him right after his...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  ... came out. 

WOLF:  I understand, but if you read his book—if you read his book and if you read...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  But he never let on in any way, shape or form that his wife was involved in the discussions about how he should go—or why he should go.

WOLF:  What he said was that his understanding—his understanding was, Campbell, that the vice president‘s office had asked the CIA to look into this issue of whether Iraq was seeking to obtain nuclear fissionable material from Niger. 

He then had meetings at the CIA and his wife participated on the periphery.  And what he also said was, she was not the one who authorized his trip or engineered his trip.  All of that is true.  And all of the discussion about this is simply a sideshow.  It has nothing to do with the ultimate report which he gave, which, as I said earlier, the White House confirmed and admitted that the 16 words should not have been in the State of the Union.

BROWN:  Also, at the time that he wrote his op-ed, he was advising Senator Kerry and the Kerry campaign, correct?

WOLF:  I don‘t believe that‘s right.  At the time he wrote his op-ed was 2003.  In 2004, he became involved in the campaign.

BROWN:  And that‘s when he became a partisan, based on the reaction to his op-ed and what he viewed as a smear campaign.

WOLF:  He became a partisan—he‘s spoken for himself on this, but as I understand it, he became—he became a partisan because he believed the American people had been lied to about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, and he disagreed with going to war in Iraq.

BROWN:  Dick, you said that‘s what initially interested Matt in this whole story and his desire to pursue it was what he viewed as a smear campaign against Wilson.  Explain that.

SAUBER:  Well, well, what Matt said was that, when Ambassador Wilson‘s op-ed piece came out, the White House then said that the 16 words that made it into the State of the Union address should not have been in there.  They weren‘t fully supported.  And yet, within a few days, he began hearing from administration officials things that seemed to undercut Ambassador Wilson‘s credibility.

What Matt couldn‘t do is to reconcile both facts.  If they—if the administration was retracting support for those 16 words, why then start to undermine Ambassador Wilson‘s credibility?  That was the contradiction that led to and was the basis of and the point of his article in “TIME” online entitled “War on Wilson.”

BROWN:  Why—let me go back to the big picture, I guess.  How do the Wilson‘s want to see this play out?

WOLF:  Well, they want justice to be done, and they have complete confidence in the criminal justice system. 

And they want to see the grand jury complete its mission, and they want to see the special prosecutor complete his work.  And whatever the results are, they are.  But they believe that this needs to be thoroughly investigated.  They don‘t believe that the White House has done what it said it would do at the beginning, which is tell everything and let everything be known.  And they have complete faith in the American system of justice.

BROWN:  Based on what we know now, do both of you think that indictments will ultimately be handed down?

SAUBER:  I honestly have no idea whether there will be indictments to come out of this.

WOLF:  I have no idea either.  But certainly this is a prosecutor who has worked very hard and a grand jury that‘s been sitting for quite some time.  So, needless to say, it will be interesting to see the results.

BROWN:  There‘s been a lot of talk about Joe Wilson, but we have not yet heard from Valerie Plame-Wilson.  What does she think about this?  How has it affected here life and her ability to do her job, frankly?

WOLF:  Well, you‘re not going to hear from her, because she‘s an intensely private person.  I happen to be not only their lawyer, but their next-door neighbor. 

And for—until July 2003, which was five years after becoming their next-door neighbor, I had no idea that Valerie Wilson was an undercover agent.  She said she was a consultant, which, in Washington, typically means you‘re either unemployed or have worked for a failed political campaign.  So, I backed off, and I didn‘t press.

I know Valerie Wilson as a loving mother of twins and as someone who volunteers for her church and works for charities and likes to putter in her garden.  I know her as an intensely private person.  And this has been a terribly painful episode for her.

More importantly, it‘s been a terrible episode for the United States, because Valerie Wilson working undercover had sources all over the world, who conceivably have been put in jeopardy, as the D.C. Circuit itself recognized in its published opinion.  It‘s that breach of national security  which is of paramount interest to both the Wilsons.  And the personal harm to Valerie is secondary, but obviously important.

BROWN:  All right.  We have got to end on that note. 

Christopher Wolf and Dick Sauber, thank you very much.  Appreciate your both being here.

WOLF:  Thank you.

BROWN:  And when we come back, Democrats on Capitol Hill want Karl Rove‘s security clearance revoked.  We‘re going to debate Rove‘s political future with two House members, Democrat Barney Frank and Republican Jack Kingston, when our HARDBALL special investigation returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Campbell Brown, sitting in for Chris Matthews.

Lawmakers on the Hill are lining up on either side of the CIA leak controversy and taking strong positions on the man at the eye of the storm, the president‘s top political adviser, Karl Rove.

Congressman Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, says criticism of Karl Rove is a personal attack and politically motivated.  Congressman Barney Frank, a Democrat of Massachusetts, has made an official inquiry into whether the Constitution allows Congress to start impeachment proceedings against a high-ranking administration staffer like Karl Rove. 

Welcome to both of you. 

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Thank you. 

BROWN:  So, Congressman Frank, impeachment proceedings?  Are we not getting a little out in front of this story? 

FRANK:  No.  It is not the impeachment now.  By the way, during the Clinton impeachment, the Republicans kept saying, remember, impeachment does not mean the end of the process.  It is the beginning. 

But here‘s my problem.  I must honestly say, I do not trust the president to do an independent investigation here.  And that‘s where...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  It‘s not the president.  There‘s a special prosecutor. 

FRANK:  Yes.  But it is still also the president, because I don‘t think being convicted of a crime or to be the only—not being convicted of a crime or to be the only qualification for being deputy chief of staff. 

Remember, one thing has happened to Karl Rove since he leaked the name

·         or of the identity of the CIA agent, not the name, but the identity.  He got promoted to deputy chief of staff.  The president has said, for example, he doesn‘t know exactly what happened.  Well, if somebody worked for me and was accused of what Karl Rove has clearly been accused of, I would know what happened, because I would ask him. 

               

And the president‘s reluctance to in fact find out from Karl Rove what happened makes me think that we cannot rely on the president himself to do this.  And so, yes, there is a prosecutor.  But I don‘t think being convicted of a crime is the only issue that ought to decide whether or not you become the deputy chief of staff for the president. 

BROWN:  But is there any way at this point, based on what we know, to know if Karl Rove intentionally or knew she was a covert agent when he leaked this... 

(CROSSTALK)

FRANK:  Well, we certainly know that he gave the name to Matthew Cooper.  Matthew Cooper said, Karl Rove un—he did it on—Matthew Cooper said double super secret background. 

Well, frankly, if I have something that I‘m not embarrassed about, I don‘t go to double super secret, fragilisticexpidoceous background.  And he identified Joe Wilson‘s wife as a CIA agent to Matt Cooper for the purpose of discrediting her.  It is not simply something that he blurted out one day.  He was using the fact that she was a CIA operative in a negative way. 

I—that is already admitted.  And, by the way, it is admitted.  And the president said, oh, if anybody leaked the name, leaked the identity, because the identity is the key thing, I wouldn‘t have him around.  So, we already know that Karl Rove disclosed the identity of a CIA operative to a reporter for political purposes.  That‘s pretty serious. 

REP. JACK KINGSTON ®, GEORGIA:  Campbell, you know, I sit here and listen to my good friend, very intelligent member of Congress, colleague Barney Frank talk about impeachment. 

I wish that the Democrats would put some effort into Social Security reform, illegal immigration‘s reform, tax reform, or some of the other real issues that are out there. 

BROWN:  Right. 

KINGSTON:  Here‘s a case where Karl Rove has absolutely, for 18 months now, cooperated with the special investigator. 

And I want to say this, that a special investigator, Mr. Fitzgerald, can be very, very, very—in fact, biased in the opposite direction, not only fair, but biased.  Case in point, our former colleague, Bob Barr, as a U.S. attorney, actually prosecuted Republican Congressman Pat Swindall when he was a member of the House.  So, Republicans can fairly prosecute and investigate other Republicans.  It is absurd to say that they can‘t. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Why did Karl Rove in 2003 tell Scott McClellan he didn‘t have anything to do with this? 

KINGSTON:  Well, he may have said that. I don‘t have any knowledge of an internal information.  I want to say that...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Scott McClellan went on television and told all of us that he went to Karl Rove and asked him.  And Karl Rove told him he was not involved. 

KINGSTON:  Well, here is what we know.

We know that the conversation between Matt Cooper and Karl Rove was initiated by Cooper.  It was on welfare reform.  And there was an, oh, by the way, and, apparently, that Rove had heard...

BROWN:  Matt Cooper says that is not true, by the way.  He says it wasn‘t about welfare reform.

KINGSTON:  Well, remember, Rove has signed a full disclosure and said to Cooper, say everything that you know.  I‘m not going to hold you on this double secret standard, everything you can. 

And what do we know about Wilson?  We know Wilson said that the vice president sent him.  The bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee said, that‘s not true.  We know that Wilson said his wife had nothing to do with it.  Again, the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee said that is not true.

BROWN:  Right. 

KINGSTON:  And then he said that it proved that there was no connection between Iraq and Niger when it comes to uranium.  And we know that that was not true.  And so, we have a very...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  But why—is it not—I mean, if this were the Clinton administration, would you not be outraged at the—at just what I‘m talking about?

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  We‘ve gone through the Wilson issues prior to this.  But this question of having the White House come out and publicly say in 2003, our guys were not involved in this.  Now we know that is not the case. 

KINGSTON:  I think what the president has said—and he said it clearly.  And he has said it in the past.  But I think what he was saying today was sort of cleaning it up a little bit, saying that, if somebody has broken the law, they‘re going to be out of here. 

And, you know, what I don‘t understand, people who did not support George Bush seem to be the ones most disappointed that he may be modifying -- which I don‘t think he is—but he may be modifying a statement of management principle that he had put out there on the public record. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Modifying a management principle?

FRANK:  I‘m frustrated, because I‘ve run out of fingers.  I was trying to keep track of the number of diversions that Jack was trying to throw into here, Social Security and this one and that one. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Well, OK.  Let me give you this.  Shouldn‘t Democrats be focused on something?  I mean, that‘s a fair point. 

FRANK:  Yes.  And you know what? 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Should Democrats really be pursuing on impeachment proceedings on this...

(CROSSTALK)

FRANK:  Yes.  No, I think we can do both. 

The fact is, look, I have to say, did you invite me to do a show on Social Security?  I‘ll make you a deal, Campbell.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANK:  Invite me to do a show on Social Security.  I would love to do it.  But you haven‘t asked me.

KINGSTON:  I...

FRANK:  Excuse me, Jack.  I didn‘t interrupt you.

I would love to say, put the money back.  Stop taking money out of Social Security and put the money back and then there would be no need to cut it.  I would be glad to talk about other issues as well.  But you asked me to come and talk about this one.  And the fact is, what Jack is doing, first of all, he say the president cleaned up his language.  There, the president changed what he said. 

He said he would fire Karl Rove or anybody who leaked.  He found out that he leaked, so now he has got to change that.  Karl Rove clearly disclosed the identity of a CIA agent for political purposes.  Whether or not Joe Wilson was right or wrong about Niger is not the issue.  The issue is the tactic of this right-wing political hit man, who became the deputy chief of staff of the White House, exercising great public power now, in addition to political strategy, using the identity of a CIA agent with a reporter who wasn‘t authorized to know that for political purposes.

KINGSTON:  Well...

BROWN:  OK, 15 seconds. 

KINGSTON:  OK, let me say this. 

The 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, it‘s very clear that you have to knowingly and maliciously disclose the identification of a covert agent.  Karl Rove did not do that.  He did not jeopardize the mission.  And what is interesting is that Barney wants to move this into the realm of politics, not national security.  If this was a national security issue, it would be nonpartisan.  This is a political issue.

BROWN:  Well, didn‘t we learn in the last campaign that they‘re both intertwined to no end? 

FRANK:  We‘re talking about the electoral process.  We‘re talking about the electoral process.  And I get—I‘m not—Karl Rove clearly did it maliciously.  How knowing, I guess I‘m ready—that is an open question.

KINGSTON:  He did not do it maliciously, Barney.  How can you say that?

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  All right. 

FRANK:  Because he did it to discredit the guy. 

KINGSTON:  And he did not break the law.  Real important.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  To be continued. 

Thanks to both of you very much, Congressman Barney Frank and Congressman Jack Kingston.  Appreciate it. 

When we return, more on the special investigation into the CIA leak with reporters who cover the White House. 

I‘m Campbell Brown.  And you‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Coming up, our HARDBALL special investigation into the CIA leak case continues with three reporters who cover the White House.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

When then Governor George W. Bush was running for the White House in 2000, he promised to restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office, a not-so-subtle reference to the ethical cloud hanging over the Clinton administration.  Well, five years later, as the president finds himself having to defend his most trusted aide, Karl Rove, from a grand jury investigation, what, if any, political fallout will he suffer? 

John Dickerson is the senior political reporter for the online magazine “Slate.”  John Fund reports for “The Wall Street Journal”‘s OpinionJournal.com.

And we‘re going to begin with Anne Kornblut, who is a Washington reporter for “The New York Times.” 

So, give me your take on President Bush‘s comments today.

ANNE KORNBLUT, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Well, I mean, what we saw today was clearly the president sending the signal that he is not going to fire Karl Rove, at least not based on what we immediately know right now. 

What I thought was interesting is that the president actually took the question.  For about a week, we haven‘t heard him say anything.  Scott McClellan has said, I‘m not going to talk about an ongoing investigation.  The president saying that no one who has done anything illegal is going to stay on my staff I think is him addressing it, in the hopes of actually moving on now. 

BROWN:  But was he backpedaling?  I mean, was this a conscious decision that what he had said earlier, that whoever was involved in this is out of here, is not going to hold water anymore?

KORNBLUT:  I think he certainly opened himself up to the accusations that Democrats immediately began launching, that this was some kind of parsing, that he had said he wouldn‘t parse and he was parsing.  The White House is not going to acknowledge any backpedaling. 

BROWN:  So, John, you actually said this, that the worst thing possible is happening to Bush because of what he said when he initially campaigned in 2000, that he is becoming Clintonesque. 

JOHN DICKERSON, “SLATE”:  Right. 

Well, you remember, in the South Carolina primary, John McCain suggested that Governor—then Governor Bush was like Bill Clinton.  And the campaign went nuts.  And they put an ad up right away that ended up hurting McCain.  This is not something President Bush takes lightly. 

And what has happened is, now, today, we saw him moving the goal posts a little bit.  It has got to be a crime now.  It just can‘t be somebody who was involved.  And so they‘re splitting hairs at the White House.  They don‘t like doing this.  And it gives people some ammunition to charge that it reminds them of the Clinton administration. 

BROWN:  Hey, John Fund, I know you‘re out there.  I‘m going to throw up some poll numbers on the screen I want to ask you to—you about.  These are ABC News polls—ABC News poll numbers that just came out.  And I want to read them to you right now.

Should Rove be fired if he leaked classified information?  Seventy-five percent said yes.  And then look at this number, which is pretty difficult for the president, if we can get it up there.  If the White House is fully cooperating—is the White House, rather, fully cooperating with the leak investigation?  Only 25 percent said yes.  What do you make of those, John? 

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  This has been a political firestorm.  And the White House has mishandled it on several occasions. 

But I have to tell you, the facts are going to come out and I think, ultimately, this is going to be viewed as a tempest in a teapot dome, because we know three facts from the last week.  We know from Joe Wilson himself, who said on television, my wife was not a clandestine agent the day that Bob Novak revealed her identity.  We know from Valerie Plame‘s supervisor at the CIA, we know from him that she was not a covert agent at the time.  We also know from various people at the CIA that she was probably misidentified as a covert agent at the time. 

We also know that no law was broken, perhaps other than perjury, by anyone in this case.  So, this case is completely mischaracterized.  Maybe someone in the administration is in trouble.  But it‘s about perjury.  It‘s not about a covert agent.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  That‘s a tempest in a tea—a high-ranking administration official committing perjury is no big deal? 

FUND:  But that‘s a different scandal than this one. 

And it may well be someone in the State Department.  It may be someone in the CIA.  It may have nothing to do with the White House.  I think there‘s lots of scandals in Washington, including the fact that we have the intelligence failure about the weapons of mass destruction.  But this scandal is a proxy for I think a lot of people‘s obsession with Karl Rove.  It may be a scandal, but it is not the one people are reading or hearing about. 

BROWN:  Do you agree with that, either of you?  John?

DICKERSON:  Well, it is partially a proxy.  I mean, people make a living by trying to find ways to attack Karl Rove. 

And the problem is, Karl Rove is very close and very central to this White House.  But the bigger problem is the one we were talking about a little bit earlier, is, while there may be the legal technicalities that may in fact find no one at fault, the president came into office setting a new standard. 

He talked about ushering in the responsibility era.  He is the one who has said, in my White House, it is going to be different and people are going to be held to account.  Now what we have now is that, while the administration was willing to talk in the initial stages of the investigation about how Karl Rove was not involved at all, suddenly now they won‘t talk.  This is just the kind of behavior that the president kind of ran against in 2000. 

It‘s by his own standard that he has some problems here. 

BROWN:  OK, Anne, real quick? 

KORNBLUT:  Well, I was going to say, you know, what I think it is really interesting is that, for Democrats and liberals, who already have this preconceived notion of Karl Rove as running the world, this just feeds into that conception to begin with. 

And it gives Democrats and liberals another reason to distrust George Bush, to say he misled them about Iraq and that he‘s willing to parse and not tell the truth.

BROWN:  All right.  We‘ve got to take a quick break.  Hold that thought. 

More with Anne Kornblut, John Dickerson and John Fund when we return.

This is a HARDBALL special investigation into the CIA leak.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  And we‘re back with Anne Kornblut of “The New York Times,” “Slate”‘s John Dickerson and “The Wall Street Journal”‘s John Fund. 

And, John Fund, I want to start with you. 

I want to you expand a little bit on sort of a tempest in a teapot, the idea you put forward, because isn‘t it just sort of the drip-drop of a story and a little bit of new information coming out every day that has got to be hurting the White House, this president politically in terms of the big picture? 

FUND:  I think this has been a terrible distraction for them.  I think it has hurt them. 

I also think the story will tend to dissipate as soon as the president nominates a Supreme Courter appointee, because that will change the focus away in Washington.  But I have to tell you, you know, I think this summer scandal really shows the shortcomings of the media, because there are two stories here.  What did someone at the White House do or not do? 

But there‘s another story, what in the world are the motivations and the credibility of the accusers?  And I have to tell you, one of the most astonishing things here is, we have a bipartisan, unanimous Senate Intelligence Committee report which looked at what Joe Wilson‘s accusations were and what his credibility was and found them wanting in every possible respect. 

So, yes, of course, investigate people at the White House.  But where‘s the media covering the rest of the story, which they were able to do in the Clinton years, which is, what is the motivations and the credibility of the accuser?  And Joe Wilson fails on all those counts. 

KORNBLUT:  Well, I think—I think what is so tough for the media covering this story is that it is a lot to do with the media.  And we get very sort of nervous writing about ourselves, talking about ourselves.  We have a reporter sitting in jail. 

I mean, I think—and I think that we often worry that the public isn‘t all that interested in watching us do the navel-gazing of reporting on the media.  I think that‘s been a really interesting complicating...

BROWN:  But is this an inside-the-beltway story or is it playing and doing damage or not outside the beltway? 

(CROSSTALK)

KORNBLUT:  I have to say, I thought those numbers were pretty surprising.  And, often, when we think inside the beltway think it‘s a big deal, it‘s not outside the beltway.  Maybe the reverse is true here and we didn‘t realize that it was having an effect. 

DICKERSON:  That‘s right. 

The NBC poll last week looked like it might be taking a little toll on the president‘s trust numbers.  But one thing about inside the beltway is, what Karl Rove apparently did, judging from the e-mails and everything, is kind of garden variety.  The Clinton people did it all the time.  He was trying to knock down a story.  It doesn‘t really look like—Karl Rove knows how to put out a story.  It doesn‘t look like he dialed that many reporters.

In fact, some of them called him.  So, it kind of falls apart when you get into the details.  Where the White House is in trouble is that the bigger notion that you brought up earlier is just, somebody from the White House outed somebody at the CIA.  That‘s an easy narrative.  The White House is in the uncomfortable position of having to get into the nitty-gritty details, which sometimes loses people out there in the country. 

KORNBLUT:  I also think, though, that, as inside-the-beltway stories go, that‘s important for somebody like Karl Rove, who really operates inside the beltway. 

So, to the extent that it has any impact on his ability to function at the White House or to work with the Hill, I mean, for his purposes, that actually sort of matters for once. 

BROWN:  John Fund, let me ask you to comment on—on this idea. 

In terms of how Bush ran in 2004, and the Republican Party, as the party of patriotism, because I‘ve heard a number of Democrats say this, that—that, basically, what Rove is accused of is doing the most unpatriotic thing, which is possibly revealing the name of a CIA agent, somebody who is working for the government, fighting the war on terror. 

FUND:  If that had happened, it would have been serious. 

But I have to tell you, we know one thing now.  She was not a covert agent.  Ask Ambassador Joe Wilson.  He says that.  Ask all of the authors of the 1982 law, whether it‘s Bruce Sanford or Victoria Toensing, who wrote the law.  They say she isn‘t covered.  So, if it had happened, it might have been serious.  But this investigation is off somewhere in a different direction that we don‘t know about, because it is all under grand jury seal.  But it is not being a covert agent anymore.  We actually know that now. 

BROWN:  John. 

DICKERSON:  Talk about, again, President Bush‘s standard for these things.

There is no life form for the president lower than the leaker.  We‘ve heard him say it many times, when he talks about frustrated lower-level people who are leaking and they don‘t really know what‘s going on.  In this instance, it is somebody right next to him.  Now, John is right.  By the letter of the law, Karl Rove may be in fine shape. 

But, again, by the standard the president has set up about leakers and how they really thwart the business of government, this is a contradiction in what has happened right now. 

BROWN:  So, is this a game of semantics?  And is that the worst possible thing for this president, given how he laid himself out in his presidency early on? 

KORNBLUT:  Well... 

FUND:  Campbell, here is the mistake the Bush administration made.  There is hypocrisy.  They say to all of their lower-level people, don‘t leak.  We‘ll fire you if you leak. 

BROWN:  Right. 

FUND:  But at the top, they all leak. 

So, ultimately, it is hoisted by their own hypocrisy. 

BROWN:  OK, Anne, last word.

KORNBLUT:  I think they—I think they also recognize, though, that you simply have to talk to reporters to get your side of the story out. 

FUND:  You have to.

KORNBLUT:  I don‘t think the—I don‘t think that—it is hard for me to imagine the president would issue a blanket ban to all of his top aides, don‘t speak to reporters.  So, yes, I think that‘s interesting about that...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  All right.  We‘ve got to go. 

Our thanks to Anne Kornblut, John Dickerson, and John Fund.

And tomorrow on HARDBALL, an in-depth report on the special prosecutor in the CIA leak investigation, Patrick Fitzgerald. 

Right now, it‘s time for “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN.”

END

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