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O'Donnell weighs in on White House woes

Analyst says Rove, Libby will do anything to avoid an indictment
/ Source:

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has his work cut out for him.  Fitzgerald is considering charging key White House officials with perjury, obstruction of justice, and false statement concerning the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame.  

However, these charges have nothing to do directly with the original leak in question.  They are crimes, or alleged, or supposed crimes that took place after the investigation itself got going. 

A New York Times piece published Thursday claims Mr. Fitzgerald knows the identity of the source that originally told columnist Robert Novak about Valerie Plame and her employment at the CIA.  That’s been the question all along:  Who was the original source, the Source Zero in this story?

Lawrence O'Donnell, a former Democratic chief of staff of the Senate Committee on Finance, and Emmy-award winning producer of the “West Wing,” sat down with MSNBC's Tucker Carlson on Thursday's 'Situation' to give his take on what may happen during court proceedings.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, ‘SITUATION’:  Now, you’ve been reporting on this case for a number of months now.  Are you surprised by this news?  Do you believe this story, that the prosecutor is planning to indict on charges not directly related to the leak itself and that he knows the identity of the original leaker? 

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I’ve expected that.  I’ve expected either perjury charges or lying to FBI agents. 

The FBI agents, you have to remember, were in the White House as early as October, this leak publicly having occurred in July.  It doesn’t feel now like that White House was really ready for those FBI agents to come in there. 

And a lot of people aren’t really that aware that lying to an FBI agent is a crime in and of itself.  It’s separate from perjury, and Rove, for example, clearly did not tell the FBI agents the truth.  That’s public information at this point. 

CARLSON: How do we know that?  How do we know that he lied to the FBI? 

O’DONNELL:  Well, we know, for example, that he did not tell the FBI in his first conversation with the FBI that he had a conversation with Matt Cooper about Valerie Plame.  He did not include that. 

He actually told them that he had a conversation with Matt Cooper about welfare.  Matt Cooper, under oath to the grand jury, says they did not discuss welfare. 

CARLSON:  Right, so you have an initial disagreement.  And Rove goes back to the grand jury, as I understand it, corrects himself in one of his four appearances there and says, “Look, actually, I did talk to Matt Cooper about it.” 

Can that be construed as a lie?  Is that misrepresenting the truth to a federal agent? 

O’DONNELL:  Oh, sure. 

CARLSON:  You can indict on that, you think?

O’DONNELL:  Oh, yes.  People get grabbed on that all the time.  You know, they lie to the FBI, or say something that isn’t true to the FBI.  The prosecutors perceive that to be a willful lie. 

That person then comes into the grand jury and, under oath, either does it again or does a variation on it and says, “I didn’t really understand the question that time.”  And usually grand juries and prosecutors don’t believe that. 

They think, if we send an FBI agent into the White House to ask Karl Rove what reporters he might have talked to about Valerie Plame, that he knows exactly who he talked to about Valerie Plame and his memory doesn’t get better.  I mean, generally what prosecutors will say to you is, “Someone’s memory doesn’t get better farther away from the event.” 

CARLSON:  Right. 

O’DONNELL:  And so that’s why the FBI lying is a serious problem. 

CARLSON:  I just have trouble believing the prosecutor can actually do this, that is, indict, bring indictments for crimes, or alleged crimes, that aren’t directly related to the original leak.  I think that’s going to make people even critics of the White House, even people who are not predisposed to like Bush or his White House, are going to say, “Well, hold on a second here.  That wasn’t the original crime.  These are crimes that took place after the investigation.” 

You’ll get a kind of Martha Stewart effect, where people, who don’t necessarily like Martha Stewart, think she was abused by the prosecutor. 

O’DONNELL:  If that’s the charge base that comes out, Tucker, which is to say, lying after the fact of the event, and nothing else, you will see a long list of similar cases recited in the press where this has happened many, many, many times. 

It happens in tax cases.  It happens constantly in the federal court. 

It has been a crime to lie to FBI agents for decades.  Local police departments figured out that that’s actually a pretty good way to get people.  And so that has become pretty much standard law throughout the country.  States and local officials make it a crime to lie to their law enforcement agents.

CARLSON:  What about the kind of overarching irony in this story, which is, here you have an investigation into a leak, or maybe a series of leaks, that itself is leaking? 

O’DONNELL:  I don’t think it’s leaking.  I don’t think so.

CARLSON:  We have this entire “New York Times” piece right here, which just came online less than an hour ago.  And it is filled with information only Patrick Fitzgerald and his staff could know.  Now, either the “Times” made this up, and I doubt it...

O’DONNELL:  No, that’s not true.  That’s not true, Tucker. 

They could be in communication with Bob Luskin, Karl Rove’s lawyer, who has been the single biggest leaker of anyone involved in this case, Bob Luskin.  Almost all leaks lead to Luskin in this case since July, when I first revealed that his client is Matt Cooper’s source.

Luskin has been doing a fantastic job, Tucker, up until recently, of spinning the press away from the idea that Karl Rove would be indicted.  You remember a month ago, six weeks ago no one thought Karl would be indicted. 

CARLSON:  And you were saying, possibly to your credit -- we’ll find out in a week or so -- that he was likely to be indicted. 

O’DONNELL:  No, I’ve never said he’s going to be indicted.  I believe that it is tending that way.  I mean, basically all of the predictors now have basically come to where I’ve been for the last six months. 

CARLSON:  But this story, the breaking news we’re reporting right now from the “New York Times,” what could possibly be the motive of Karl Rove or Scooter Libby’s lawyer to leak this information, which is clearly damaging to their clients?  I just can’t imagine how this information didn’t come from Fitzgerald. 

O’DONNELL:  Well, this discussion is an incentive to do it.  For example, what you’re trying to do, if you’re Luskin and you’re leaking this information, having come to you from the prosecutor, saying, “This is what we’re thinking about doing.  Does Karl want to talk to us some more?”

You know, they put a lot of pressure on all of these witnesses.  As they get down to the line on indictments, they can say to Libby’s lawyer, “This is what we’re thinking about doing to him.  Does he want to give us any more information?”  That’s what this kind of stuff is about. 

Now, if you represent one of those guys, you want to provoke Tucker Carlson in exactly the way you have done.  You want people on TV and in the media saying, “It will be an outrage if this prosecutor charges people only with perjury and only with lying to FBI agents.”   And so he’s trying to get the prosecutor not to do it. 

CARLSON:  If that is actually their strategy, that is so complex, I’m impressed. 

O’DONNELL:  No, it’s not, Tucker.  It’s very simple.  It’s a desperate answer.  I’m just telling you, the worst thing that can possibly happen to Rove or Libby, the worst thing, is getting indicted.  Conviction is secondary to that.  They would do anything they can to stop indictment.