By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Miller’s odd tale

I’m hardly the first person to find something awfully strange about Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s sudden decision to let New York Times reporter Judith Miller testify about whatever conversations they had regarding Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose cover was blown by syndicated columnist Robert Novak in July 2003.

Miller had been in prison for 85 days because of her refusal to reveal the identity of her confidential source. She knew, of course, that Libby, who is Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, had signed a waiver allowing reporters to identify him. But it wasn’t until very recently, according to today’s coverage, that she was personally assured by Libby that he had not been coerced into signing that waiver and that she was therefore free to testify.

In light of that, this section from today’s Washington Post seems especially puzzling:

POST: Joseph Tate, an attorney for Libby, said yesterday that he told Miller attorney Floyd Abrams a year ago that Libby’s waiver was voluntary and that Miller was free to testify. He said last night that he was contacted by Bennett several weeks ago, and was surprised to learn that Miller had not accepted that representation as authorization to speak with prosecutors.

“We told her lawyers it was not coerced,” Tate said. “We are surprised to learn we had anything to do with her incarceration.”

“We are surprised”? This makes it sound like it was all a big misunderstanding. But Miller had been behind bars since June. How is it possible that Libby didn’t know, or that Miller and her lawyers didn’t move heaven and earth to get Libby to step forward before yesterday?

Mickey Kaus picks up on the Times’ own coverage, which includes this tidbit: “Other people involved in the case have said Ms. Miller did not understand that the waiver had been freely given.” Kaus: “That has to be disingenuous. You mean she was sitting in jail all because she never bothered to inquire and find out that the waiver that would free her was genuine?”

Kaus also recommends Arianna Huffington’s latest. It’s totally speculative, but in the absence of any other information, it’s worth reading. Earlier, Huffington wrote another much-blogged-about piece of speculation guessing that the real reason Miller didn’t want to talk was that she was Libby’s source. That, Huffington wrote, would explain why Miller never actually wrote a story about the Plame matter.

Huffington’s theory was that Miller had as much motive to hurt Plame’s husband, former ambassador and Bush critic Joseph Wilson, as anyone in the White House did. After all, it was Miller’s spectacularly wrong pre-war reporting on Iraq’s weapons capabilities and terrorist ties left her looking as bad as the White House itself.

(A little back story: Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for the Times in July 2003 criticizing the administration for ignoring a mission he had undertaken to Niger, a mission that led him to conclude that Saddam Hussein had not sought to obtain uranium from that country. One theory is that Karl Rove and Libby blew Plame’s cover to Novak and other journalists in order to retaliate against Wilson. Then, too, it later turned out that Slick Wilson didn’t tell the whole truth in his op-ed. Search these incomparable archives if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

At this point, I’m in a state of mild despair as to whether we’ll ever know the whole truth about this weird chapter in high-stakes political gamesmanship. Short of a truly revealing final report by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, or a leak from Miller’s grand-jury testimony, this is likely to remain as impenetrable as it has from the beginning.

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