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Back To Karl And Bob

Dotty Lynch is the Senior Political Editor for CBS News. E-mail your questions and comments to Political Points

The frenzy over who President Bush would nominate for the Supreme Court distracted the media from the Karl Rove/CIA leak story for a few news cycles. Democrats were convinced it was a deliberate strategy on the part of the embattled White House; White House officials greeted the idea that they would play politics with such a momentous issue with "shock." On Wednesday the long confirmation dance began and reporters tucked away all that instant research on Louisiana Judge Edith Clement, who had her three hours of fame before the bubble burst and the president picked John Roberts.

Now it's back to what did Karl and Bob know, when did they know it, and who did they tell. And it' back to trying to figure out what New York Times reporter Judy Miller is doing in jail. July 20 marked Miller's two-week anniversary in the Alexandria Detention Center. Her editor says she is doing OK; her foam mattress has graduated from the floor to a steel cot, but she is having trouble keeping food down.

Her predicament was front and center at a hearing in Congress on Wednesday on the proposed federal shield law that would protect reporters in cases like these. Senators heard from a panel of reporters and First Amendment experts. But, the dramatic moment came from former New York Times columnist William Safire, who made an impassioned statement about the chilling effect of the case, mainly about his anger at the prosecutor and his worry about expressing it:

"I'm seething inside because I cannot tell you what I really think of the unchecked abuse of prosecutorial discretion. I cannot blaze away at the escalating threats of a federal judiciary that is urgently in need of balancing guidance by elected representatives of the people. For the first time, I have to pull my punches. The reason is I'm afraid. I'm afraid of retaliation against federal prisoner 45570083, whose byline in the New York Times is Judith Miller…. I must not anger or upset those who control her incarceration and who repeatedly threaten to pile on with longer punishment as a criminal unless she betrays her principles as a reporter. Because any harsh criticism of them for me might well be taken out on her, I am constrained to speak gently, as if concerned about the treatment of a hostage."

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So far, the tough tactics of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald have had some success in peeling back the layers of this story, although you have to question whether finding out who Judy Miller talked to for her unwritten story really warrants this type of punishment.

Despite the amount of information that has come out in the past week, or possibly because of it, there are a lot of questions still lingering and some contradictions unresolved:
  • 1. We now know a lot about a memo that was circulated on Air Force One regarding Joe Wilson's trip to Niger, but it's not clear that the name Valerie Plame was even in it. And we can guess, but don't really know, who was on the official distribution list. Reports say that it was seen in the hands of Colin Powell and Ari Fleisher on the plane. Who else had this document? And was it the source of information for reporters and administration officials? White House phone logs say that Bob Novak called Fleischer. Did Fleischer return Novak's call?
  • 2. Who was the reporter who was telling people in the administration Plame's name? Karl Rove has apparently said he doesn't remember. Was it Bob Novak? Tim Russert? The New York Times reported on Sunday that it seemed from an NBC statement last summer that Cheney aide Scooter Libby had said that he had heard about Ms. Wilson from Tim Russert. But Russert said he didn't have a clue about her name or the fact that she was a CIA agent until he read it Bob Novak's column So if it is not Tim, who is that masked reporter?
  • 3. Was a crime committed? That seems to be the bar the president has set for dismissal. Merely lying and smearing isn't enough. So far contempt of court is the only crime that has been punished.

    While this went off the radar screen for a while, there is still a lot of interest in getting answers to these questions. According to several polls taken in the past week, the public cares about this story. Fifty-three percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that they were paying attention to it and 39 percent believe Karl Rove should resign. An ABC poll found that 75 percent said that Rove should resign if he "leaked classified information."

    Stay tuned. This story isn't going away. Judy Miller is still in jail and the grand jury meets again this Friday.

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