We now know, courtesy of Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, what Karl Rove told Time's Matt Cooper. On July 11, 2003—three days before a Robert Novak column outed Bush administration critic Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA employee—Rove outed Plame to Cooper. Rove did not mention Plame by name, but that hardly matters (except possibly in a narrow legalistic sense, and I have serious doubts even about that). Merely saying that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA was enough to blow Valerie Plame's cover.
It's possible, even likely, that Rove didn't know Plame was undercover. But that distinction is relevant only to the question of whether Patrick Fitzgerald should prosecute Rove under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, which requires that a covert agent be exposed "intentionally." For a White House official to be so reckless as to reveal, even unknowingly, the identity of an undercover CIA employee is a firing offense. Period. That Rove did so for the purpose of smearing a political enemy makes the whole episode even more distasteful. He's outta there.
Here is what Cooper wrote in an e-mail to his bureau chief after he talked to Rove: "[I]t was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd issues who authorized the trip." This meant that "the genesis of the trip is flawed." It's always been a little mysterious to me precisely how Rove imagined he was smearing Wilson—was the idea that real men don't accept overseas assignments from their wives? (This is not a White House that can afford to take a hard line against nepotism.) But the more relevant point is that what Rove said was (at least as characterized by Cooper) untrue. Plame recommended her husband for the Niger trip, but she was in no position to authorize it.
It's possible (though pretty unlikely, I think) that in his e-mail Cooper garbled slightly what Rove told him. He was passing along a tip for Time's CIA reporter to pursue—not suggesting that this fact be published in the magazine without checking its accuracy. It's also possible (and somewhat more likely) that Rove told Cooper he'd heard that Plame authorized sending Wilson, but that he wasn't certain he had the details right. Most likely of all, I think, is that Rove stated as fact that Plame authorized the trip, either knowing that it was untrue or not especially caring whether it was true. (Bullshitting, I have noted, is the Bush administration's characteristic style of rhetoric.) If this last scenario is the correct one, then Cooper was getting ready to go to jail to protect a source who fed him incorrect information! Cooper's a friend of mine, but even if he weren't, I'd be very glad he didn't take the fall for Rove.
Inside the Bush administration, lying to reporters doesn't even come close to being a firing offense, so neither Rove nor Scott McClellan, who first called the accusation that Rove exposed Plame "totally ridiculous" and then flat-out said "it is simply not true," need fear for his job on that score. But Rove blew the cover of an undercover CIA official. If Dubya doesn't fire the man he nicknamed "Turd Blossom" for this offense, he's an even bigger hack than I think.
[Update, 2:24 p.m.: At today's White House briefing, McClellan refused to answer questions about Rove outing Plame because they were related to "an ongoing criminal investigation." For example:
Q: Does the President continue to have confidence in Mr. Rove?
A: Again, these are all questions coming up in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation. And you've heard my response on this.
Q: So you're not going to respond as to whether or not the President has confidence in his Deputy Chief of Staff?
A: Carl, you're asking this question in the context of an ongoing investigation. And I would not read anything into it other than I'm simply not going to comment on an ongoing --
Q Has there been -- has there been any change --
A: -- investigation.
From this, I gather that Rove is on shaky ground, but that his firing or resignation is not imminent. Traditionally, when a high-ranking White House aide is just about to get canned, the White House spokesman signals this by saying, "The president stands behind [name here] 100 percent."]