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Understanding the Libby-Rove Head Fake

A real contest, or just pretending?
(Image by the brilliant Monk.)

Marcy (a/k/a emptywheel) asked me to do this week's installment of her review of Plame media coverage, but there was so little difference in this morning's batch of stories on the Libby trial opening arguments that I'd rather focus on the shiny object that got everyone's attention.  The Los Angeles Times opened its report with this:

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby feared that White House officials were conspiring to make him the fall guy in the CIA leak scandal to protect political strategist Karl Rove, Libby's lawyer argued Tuesday.

. . . "Karl Rove was President Bush's right-hand person in terms of political strategy. Karl Rove was the person most responsible that the Republican Party stayed in office. His fate was important to the Republican Party. He had to be protected," [Theodore] Wells said.

Hmm, laying it on a little thick there, aren't we, Ted?  The melodrama of Wells' remarks produced a consensus reaction — "Libby is throwing Rove under the bus" — that I think may be unwarranted (as OldCoastie and perris have suggested here in comments).  When you look closely, it doesn't seem like Wells actually accused Rove of doing anything in particular… and I doubt that we'll hear any claims from Team Scooter that Turdblossom had any direct role in the Plame leak besides the conversations we already know about (with Bob Novak and Matt Cooper).

So why the big fuss about Rove?  Part of it may be simply creating a distraction — with Fitz taking dead aim at Dick Cheney in his own opening argument, Libby's side had to do something dramatic to keep Big Dick from being the center of media coverage.  But I also think there's an alternate-reality version of the Plame outing that Scooter's legal team is trying to create, to deflect not only the current charges but the correct impression that Libby was the mastermind at the center of the leak scheme.

I've posted repeatedly about my theory of Ari Fleischer leaking about Plame from Air Force One on July 12, 2003, following orders from Libby that may have originated with Cheney.  Both Fitzgerald and Wells seemed to allude to these leaks during their opening statements, and Fleischer has apparently received immunity for testifying that Scooter made him do it.  To raise doubts about Ari's testimony, Libby has to invent an alternate history in which Fleischer made the calls either on his own or at someone else's behest, and then had a motive to lie to the FBI (and Fitzgerald) about it.  That's where Rove comes in.  It seems like Team Scooter is going to imply that Ari, as a White House employee, would only have leaked because Turdblossom told him to, and that the need to protect Karl led Fleischer to put the blame on Libby.  

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Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (