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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Interview With Matt Cooper; Interview With Bob Woodward
Aired July 17, 2005 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Secret sources. Matt Cooper breaks his silence in the Valerie Plame investigation. Why did he agree to testify at the last minute, avoiding a jail sentence? Why was he protecting Karl Rove? And has Time Inc.'s decision to surrender his confidential notes in the case hurt the magazine?
Plus, Bob Woodward on the CIA leak investigation, the ethics of dealing with anonymous sources, and his 33-year relationship with Deep Throat. Why did Mark Felt risk his FBI career to keep meeting Woodward in a parking garage?
KURTZ: Welcome to this special one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on how high a price journalists should pay for protecting confidential informants.
I'm Howard Kurtz. Ahead, a special interview on the subject with Bob Woodward.
But first, Judith Miller of "The New York Times" remains behind bars for refusing to testify in the CIA leak case involving Valerie Plame. And my first guest came within hours of joining her in jail.
The disclosure that White House adviser Karl Rove served as a source for "Time" magazine's Matt Cooper, as well as for columnist and CNN commentator Robert Novak, has boosted the story into the media stratosphere this week, with Rove on the covers of both "Time" and "Newsweek" just out this morning.
And the disclosure forced White House spokesman Scott McClellan to abandon his earlier denials that Rove was in any way involved. Let's look at McClellan then and now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is totally ridiculous. I've known Karl -- I've known -- I've known Karl for a long time, and I didn't even need to go ask Karl, because I know the kind of person that he is.
Our policy continues to be that we're not going to get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation from this podium.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And joining me now in his first cable news interview since testifying before a grand jury in the Plame case on Wednesday is Matthew Cooper, "Time's" White House correspondent. Welcome.
MATT COOPER, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Hey, thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: You laid it all out in this week's issue of "Time" magazine. "Time," of course, owned by CNN's parent company, Time Warner.
Now, I want to go back to last week. Hours before you were expecting to go to jail -- you'd left home, you've said good-bye to your 6-year-old son -- you got a last-minute waiver from Karl Rove of your pledge of confidentiality about your conversation. How did you feel when that news came through?
COOPER: Well, I felt a good deal of relief. I didn't -- you know, I was never looking forward to going to jail, and I think, you know, I felt comfortable that the source can -- had released me from the pledge.
You know, my principle throughout this two-year court battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, and even after "Time" magazine, over my objections, handed over my notes and e-mails and outed my source, my principle had always been, only the source can relieve me of this obligation.
KURTZ: ... the so-called blanket waiver, where Rove and other White House officials say, any reporter who dealt with me on this can go ahead and testify. But you say that's not voluntary? Is it any more voluntary to get a last-minute waiver negotiated through lawyers when you're about to go off and be in jail?
COOPER: Well, I think things have changed significantly, Howie. For two years, under the advice of my lawyers and also "Time" editors, I didn't approach Rove about any kind of waiver. They thought it was inappropriate, and might be, you know, lead to legal issues. In any event...
KURTZ: You might have to testify about any conversations you had with him?
COOPER: Yes, exactly.
COOPER: Now, that morning in "The Wall Street Journal," the same morning I thought I was going off to jail, my lawyer saw a quote from Mr. Rove's lawyer that said, Karl waives all confidentiality about these conversations. If Matt Cooper's going to jail, he's not going to jail for Karl Rove.
We took that as a kind of invitation. My lawyer contacted his lawyer, and over the next couple of hours, they worked out an agreement, which is, you know, specific to me, it was run by Karl Rove, it has signatures. And it gives me a specific waiver for conversations with me in July 2003. That had a degree of specificity and personalness to me that I was comfortable enough accepting.
KURTZ: Can you understand why there seems to be relatively little public sympathy for the journalists involved in this case -- you, Judith Miller -- because you are seen -- you were seen as protecting not whistle-blowing sources, not sources uncovering wrongdoing, but sources who appeared to be doing partisan work, trying to spread the word about Joe Wilson, a prominent administration critic, and saying that his wife, Valerie Plame, had been a covert operative for the CIA?
COOPER: Yeah. I can understand that, I'd say a couple of things to that. First, I don't think we as journalists can sort of pick and choose which sources and which obligations we're going to honor, and say, well, this source doesn't seem to have good motives, I'm not going to take his. I think even as we saw in Deep Throat, Mark Felt, who emerged as Deep Throat, had his own motives, and he had been involved in things that were not so great too. But you know, I think you have to honor your pledge. And my principle all along had been that no court, no corporation could break that pledge from me, but you know, if the source wanted it waived, I would testify.
KURTZ: Turning now to your grand jury testimony on Wednesday. You recalled that conversation back in 2003 with Karl Rove. You were new to the beat as a White House correspondent. He gave you kind of a terse warning about Wilson. What did he say to you?
COOPER: Yeah. Well, in fact, to just put it in context, there was a big hullabaloo that week about the president's State of the Union address and in it, which he had...
KURTZ: The 16 words about...
COOPER: Right, the 16 words...
KURTZ: ... about uranium...
COOPER: ... about Saddam Hussein trying to get uranium in Africa to make nuclear weapons. The White House that week said it may be true, but it was not checked out well enough to merit it being in the State of the Union address. So there was a big controversy on that. And I called Rove with that on my mind.
And he did indeed give me a warning, saying don't get too far out on Wilson, which I took to mean don't lionize Wilson, don't believe everything you hear about Wilson.
KURTZ: Now, you also say, let's read from the article, put it up on the screen -- "This was the first time I had heard anything about Wilson's wife. Rove never once indicated to me that she had any kind of covert status."
What was his tone? Did you have the impression he was trying to disparage or undermine Joe Wilson, to influence the tone of your article?
COOPER: I thought it was disparaging towards Wilson. I thought it was sort of guiding and spoken with great confidence. And as I said, before the -- in "Time" this week, as I said -- and I told the grand jury -- before that conversation, I had never heard about anything about Joe Wilson's wife. After that conversation, I knew that she worked at the CIA, and worked on WMD issues. But as I made clear to the grand jury, I'm certain Rove never used her exact name and certainly never indicated she had a covert status.
KURTZ: But at the end of that conversation, he said something that was a little bit cryptic. What was that?
COOPER: Well, he said, "I've already said too much."
KURTZ: What do you think he meant?
COOPER: Well, at the time I thought, well, maybe he meant he had been indiscrete and had said something important. Later I thought, well, maybe it was actually more benign, like "I've said too much, I've got to get to a meeting."
So I don't really know what he meant, but I do know the memory of that line has stayed with me for a couple of years now.
KURTZ: A lot of people have picked up on your description in the memos to your bureau chief of that conversation -- "It was on double super secret background." What did that mean?
COOPER: Well, Howie, I can now reveal that it was a joke. Karl Rove, when we had the conversation, wanted it to be on deep background, which I took to mean I could use the material but not quote it directly, and certainly not attribute it, that I had to protect the identity of my source. When I wrote the note to my bureau chief, just moments after the conversation with Rove, in a slightly playful way, I echoed the line in the movie "Animal House," where John Belushi's wild fraternity is put on double secret probation. So it was a little bit of humor, and...
KURTZ: You also testified -- actually, you testified last year about your conversation with Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff. You had repeated what you heard from Rove about Wilson's wife working for the CIA, and what did Libby say?
COOPER: He said words to the effect of, yeah, I've heard that, too.
KURTZ: OK. I am told you had a third administration source, a policy person on Africa. Did the grand jury ask you about anyone else you talked to on this?
COOPER: Well, I don't want to get into all the sources for this article. I'll just say that what I told the grand jury is in "Time" this week, and anything I talked about in the grand jury I had a waiver for.
KURTZ: OK. Now, turning now to just days before you got this last-minute waiver...
COOPER: Yeah, sure.
KURTZ: ... we just talked about, from Karl Rove, and as you referenced earlier, Time, Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine made the decision to turn over your notes and e-mails -- or at least your e-mails -- after trying to get the Supreme Court to hear the case, and he says that journalists are not above the law.
You objected to that decision. Did you feel that Time, Inc. -- you've been fighting for two years, risking jail -- had just pulled the rug out from under you?
COOPER: Well, I thought Time, Inc. had made the wrong decision. I thought Norm Pearlstine, the head of all the "Time" magazines, had done it in a thoughtful and honorable way, but I really disagreed with it, because I thought we were fighting for an important principle and I thought there would be a lot of fallout from handing over the notes. And I think events have borne that out.
KURTZ: You must have been upset.
COOPER: Well, I was, absolutely. And, you know, but I also, you know, respected the way he made the decision. But I was upset. I disagreed with it, and I've been saying so ever since.
KURTZ: Now, at that point, before this waiver from Rove, your wife, Mandy Grunwald, told me that your friends and even your lawyers said, you would now be crazy to go to jail, because they've got the notes. Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, knows who your sources are, and even was threatening through your lawyer to charge you with criminal contempt, which meant you could have spent up to a year in jail or even more. Why at that point were you still willing to go to jail, after "Time" had surrendered basically your sources?
COOPER: Well, you're exactly right, Howie. A lot of people, including a lot of journalists, said to me, look, the confidence has been broken. You can't protect a source who has been outed essentially by your employer, by the handing over of these notes and e-mails.
I considered that, but I thought, in the end, that only the source could release me from my obligation, that a court couldn't do it, a corporation couldn't do it, that really I needed to get it personally from the source. And frankly, the idea of getting it from the source was not on my mind until that morning. I mean, I just assumed I was going to jail and I had resigned myself to that.
KURTZ: So even though Pat Fitzgerald knew at this point you talked to Rove, you talked to Libby, he had the notes, he had the e- mails, you still felt that you needed a personal reassurance in this case from Karl Rove, otherwise you were going to spend some time behind bars?
COOPER: Yeah. I mean, I wasn't even looking for the personal reassurance until that morning, when my lawyer called me, reading this quote from Rove's lawyer, essentially inviting us to go and, you know, seek a waiver. But you know, until then, I had basically resigned myself that I was going to have to do some time.
KURTZ: Now, unlike "Time," "The New York Times" has stood firm in this case. Judith Miller now finishing her second week in an Alexandria jail. I asked "The Times" executive editor Bill Keller about the impact of what "Time" did and what "The New York Times" was doing. Let's take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL KELLER, "NEW YORK TIMES" EXECUTIVE EDITOR: I imagine, you know, that the next occasion that Matt Cooper is in talking to a confidential source of his and promises to, you know, not to betray a person's identity, I can imagine that source saying, sure, I trust Matt Cooper, but do I trust "Time" magazine?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Are you worried about that?
COOPER: Well, let me just correct the way you set that up a little bit, because the situations aren't entirely analogous. Judith Miller was under subpoena, but "The New York Times" was never under subpoena, too. So they, you know, they...
KURTZ: They didn't face the same decision as a corporation.
COOPER: They didn't face the same decision as "Time."
KURTZ: But Keller's point is that next time you've got a source, look, I'll protect you, you've got to tell me this sensitive information, they may trust you but they may not trust "Time."
COOPER: Well, you know, that's possible as a fallout from this decision. I think, you know, if you look at the record that "Time" did take it all the way to the Supreme Court, that this was, you know, kind of an anomalous case, to say the least...
KURTZ: But two other "Time" correspondents, as you know, brought some e-mails from their sources to a meeting with Norm Pearlstine, the sources saying we don't know if we can cooperate with "Time" in the future.
COOPER: Well, this is one of the things I was concerned about when I argued for, you know, holding out, because I thought that there might be fallout like this. But you know, I think, you know, I think "Time" reporters themselves will take it upon themselves to put less in e-mail, you know, to put less in electronic form that the company owns and protect things better. And I think, you know, "Time" will continue to rely on confidential sources. And I think their wariness will ease with time, at least I hope so.
KURTZ: Matt Cooper, you have had a two-year battle on this. I'm sure it's been very draining. You've testified now before the grand jury. You've avoided going to jail, which looked like a very real prospect. How do you cover the White House now? Can you talk to Karl Rove? Can you talk to Lewis Libby? Can you have conversations with them that aren't on the record?
COOPER: Well, I've got to step back and see about all that after all this. It's been a weird two years. You know, I'm used to being a reporter and not in front of microphones and such, and I'd like to get back to that. And that's why this week, after talking to the grand jury, I felt very comfortable getting back into the role of reporter, and simply, since grand jury rules don't prohibit me from telling my story, I just told the readers of "Time" what I told the grand jury, and hopefully that will put this chapter behind me.
KURTZ: Well, we appreciate you talking to us, and not on double super secret background.
COOPER: Never for you, Howie.
KURTZ: Matt Cooper, thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, did "Time" and Cooper do the right thing? We'll ask our panel of journalists.
And ahead, Bob Woodward weighs in on the Valerie Plame case and his long relationship with another confidential source, Deep Throat.
KURTZ: Welcome back to this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. We're talking about Matt Cooper and the CIA leak investigation.
Joining us now here in the studio, "USA Today" Washington bureau chief Susan Page. Ken Herman, White House correspondent for Cox newspapers. And in New York, John Fund, a contributor to "The Wall Street Journal" and a columnist for OpinionJournal.com.
Susan Page, did Time, Inc., facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, by the way, cave in by handing over Matt Cooper's notes?
SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: I think it must have been a tough decision. And I guess I would agree with Matt Cooper, that the obligation to protect a source is a pretty serious one. On the other hand, they had two years to think about it. So it's hard for me to second-guess it, but I do agree that reporters have a very grave responsibility to protect sources when they have made that promise.
KURTZ: John Fund, do you want to second-guess Time, Inc.'s decision?
JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: Karl Rove gave a blanket waiver for all confidentiality back in January to all the reporters he talked to. Whenever lawyers get involved in something like this, Howie, there's corporate liability, so I literally remain confused.
KURTZ: Ken Herman, has this whole struggle made your life more difficult as a White House correspondent? Have sources been more reluctant to tell you anything sensitive or background, double background, triple background, whatever?
KEN HERMAN, COX NEWSPAPERS: Yes, and I'm hearing that from my colleagues not only at the White House, but who cover other things, that the rules have changed in the past couple of weeks. And it's -- it does not help. You have to respect Matt for protecting his sources. In the real world now, where many news outlets are owned by corporate interests, those are different interests, as I think Matt pointed out in one of his now many press conferences outside the courthouse there, that corporate responsibility is different than a journalist's responsibility. Is this a healthy thing for journalism? I'll let other people make their calls on that, but it raises some issues.
KURTZ: Especially for journalists who work for big corporations.
Now, it has been a tense few days in the White House press briefing room with spokesman Scott McClellan. Let's take a look at some of what's transpired there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CBS NEWS: Can I just ask, when did you change your mind to say that it was OK to comment during the course of an investigation before, but now it's not?
MCCLELLAN: Would you let me finish...
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: No, you're not finishing, you're not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved.
MCCLELLAN: We can continue to go round and round on this.
APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO: No, no, no, no, this has nothing to do with the investigation. This is about the leak.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Susan Page, "The San Francisco Chronicle" has called on Scott McClellan to resign. But isn't he just the pinata here, carrying out president's policies?
PAGE: Well, definitely a tough job to be the White House press secretary. I'm sure Scott McClellan realizes that.
This was a difficult week for him on two fronts. Either he intentionally misled reporters about Karl Rove's involvement. That hurts his credibility. Or he didn't know what the truth was, and that also hurts his credibility. That's all a press secretary has in dealing with reporters.
KURTZ: Why all this anger, Ken Herman, in the White House press room? I mean, the reporters look really ticked off. This is not just the usual back and forth.
HERMAN: No, as Susan said, there's nothing more -- the only thing a press secretary has is credibility. I've known Scott McClellan for a long time in Texas, written about his mother, who is a politician, and Scott understands this. Scott is an affable human being. I think most of the people in the press corps like him, which makes this outrage, maybe too strong a word, but even more significant. Because I don't think anyone relished that this, you know, this is a bad guy and here's our change to go after him.
And the problem he faces, Martha Kumar, who is a Towson University professor, studies White House communications, probably commits academic heresy by actually showing up at the White House to do her research, points out that a press secretary has three constituencies -- the president, the White House staff and the press corps -- but only one boss, the president. And I think this week you saw a problem of having three constituencies and one boss.
KURTZ: John Fund, is the White House press corps and maybe the media in general instinctively taking the side of Matt Cooper and Judith Miller and just assuming the administration must be stonewalling here?
FUND: Well, the administration certainly has made lots of mistakes in this story, and also putting out misleading facts. However, Karl Rove is really explains most of what this is all about. The White House press corps has been obsessed with Karl Rove for a long time, and when there's an opportunity to put him to the front of the story, and sometimes I think ignore the facts and ignore the fact that Ambassador Wilson has serious credibility problems, I think the temptation was irresistible.
KURTZ: But you say, John Fund, that Karl Rove has explained most of what he did, and certainly Matt Cooper's article in "Time" magazine makes clear there are no bombshells there about what Rove said, but he explained it only because the e-mail from Cooper was leaked, appeared in "Newsweek" magazine. In other words, the White House wasn't exactly volunteering this until it had to be dragged out of the relevant officials.
FUND: Well, I think there was some failure on the part of the media to look at some relevant facts. If you'd read the law carefully, there was no way that Valerie Plame was covered as a covert agent under the 1982 statue. You can interview the authors of the law, you look at the law which requires her to have had an overseas assignment over the last five years. You also look at Ambassador Wilson's...
KURTZ: But that's a legality question. I'm talking about the political handling of the media. Let me turn to Susan Page.
FUND: But you see, the scandal wouldn't have been big enough if there had been no legal issue at all, and there shouldn't have been.
KURTZ: Well, there is a special prosecution investigation.
Is there an obsession with Karl Rove?
PAGE: Well, not just among the press corps, among Washington. Karl Rove, the architect, as President Bush called him.
You know, the Bush White House set a high standard for itself in the 2000 campaign. They ridiculed the Clinton White House for legal parsing and trying to weasel out of things, the what is the meaning of "is." You see some characteristics like that now with the defense that Karl Rove did not use Valerie Plame's name, only identified her as...
KURTZ: Wilson's wife.
PAGE: ... Wilson's wife.
KURTZ: Seems pretty close to me.
PAGE: So I think the White House has set itself a standard that they're now being called to account for.
KURTZ: Depends on the meaning of the word "covert."
More with our panel in a moment, and at the bottom of the hour, Bob Woodward, on the ethics of dealing with anonymous sources, from Deep Throat to Karl Rove. Stay with us.
KURTZ: Welcome back to this expanded edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
John Fund, as you noted earlier, Karl Rove, whatever he did and said about Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, may not be illegal, but certainly many journalists believe he was doing something underhanded. "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page says that Rove deserves a prize and is the real whistle-blower here. Would you give Rove a prize?
FUND: Joe Wilson has some of the most serious credibility problems I've ever seen in a Washington source. And that's just not my opinion. That's the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation's conclusion.
KURTZ: But even if that is true -- and I'm not disputing it -- does that let Rove off the hook for bringing into a conversation with a couple of reporters the fact that his wife worked for the CIA?
FUND: I think the media should have done a better job explaining how in the world the CIA messed up and incorrectly continued to list Valerie Plame as a covert agent when she wasn't. That triggered the special prosecutor. That triggered all of this investigation. We're probably into a perjury investigation of somebody now, Howie, but we're not into a covert investigation of whether or not her cover was blown.
And that's the issue. I think the media, unfortunately, has confused the American people on this subject. There is an investigation, but it's not what people think it is. KURTZ: Well, I would just note that she worked for a CIA front company, and most people didn't know she worked for the agency, although she was an international swashbuckling agent.
FUND: But many people did, and she wasn't covered.
KURTZ: Let me move on, John -- let me move on, John. Susan Page, Karl Rove was also a source for Bob Novak, the columnist and CNN commentator, who, by the way, continues to refuse to comment on this whole thing. He says he'll do it when the case is over.
So it sounds like Rove was kind of, sort of using the press to get Plame's name out there.
PAGE: It does seem that way in what we know. What we know with the...
KURTZ: Well, we now know a lot more than we knew last week.
PAGE: That's right. We do know a lot more. And we don't know that he was the first and primary source, but we know he was a source for Matt Cooper, that's right. And John Fund said that we are not into an investigation over breaking the law on identifying a covert agent.
I don't think we know that yet. We know that Patrick Fitzgerald is having a very robust investigation. And until he reports back, I don't think we know exactly what it is he's looking at.
KURTZ: Ken Herman, if Karl Rove or Lewis Libby did not do anything wrong, and Valerie Plame was not a covert agent, or they didn't know it, how do you explain to your readers why Judy Miller is sitting in jail, at least until October and possibly longer?
HERMAN: Unfortunately, at this point, it's one of the many things I'm afraid I cannot explain to my readers, is the way this -- much more we don't know about this than we do know at this point. And I have some readers who are upset even that we're writing about it, and that we are speculating about what might be going on, and that there's no conclusion, who would want us to wait for a conclusion to report on it. Clearly, something worthy of scrutiny has happened.
KURTZ: Well, daily journalists are not in a position to wait for a conclusion, but we appreciate your conclusions. Ken Herman, Susan Page, John Fund, thanks very much for joining us.
Coming up, more RELIABLE SOURCES, including my interview with Bob Woodward on the CIA leak investigation, the Watergate source he protected for 33 years, and getting inside the Supreme Court. That after a check of the hour's top stories from Atlanta, just ahead.
GERRI WILLIS, CNN ANCHOR: From the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Gerri Willis. RELIABLE SOURCES continues in a moment, but first, a check of the headlines now in the news. Saddam Hussein is now facing formal charges. The head of the Iraqi special tribunal announced them this morning. The charges stem from the 1982 executions of Shiite villagers following an assassination attempt. The trial could start in September. Saddam Hussein's lawyer, Giovanni di Stefano, will talk to John King in our next hour on "LATE EDITION." Stay tuned for that.
And already, violent weekend in Iraq takes another turn for the worse. Four suicide car bombings today have killed nine people in and around Baghdad. And in a town about 45 miles south of the Iraqi capital, the death toll from the suicide bombing yesterday has climbed to at least 90. Dozens of other people were injured in the blast. The bomber detonated the device near a fuel tanker.
More news coming up in 30 minutes. Now, back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ (voice-over): Journalists, sources and jail. A conversation with Bob Woodward about the CIA leak investigation, Judith Miller, Karl Rove, his long and tortured relationship with Deep Throat, and trying to crack the secrecy surrounding the Supreme Court.
KURTZ: Welcome back to this one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. With Judith Miller in jail and Washington in an uproar over journalists protecting Karl Rove and other high-level administration sources in the Valerie Plame investigation, who better to check in with than Bob Woodward, the author most recently of "The Secret Man," a new book about his relationship with the famous Watergate source, Deep Throat? Here is my conversation with "The Washington Post" assistant managing editor.
KURTZ: Judith Miller in jail for protecting her sources, an act of conscience, paying a heavy price, but isn't there a minimal public sympathy for her because these sources were not exposing wrongdoing as Deep Throat did, but were outing a CIA operative?
BOB WOODWARD, "WASHINGTON POST": Yeah. Apparently. Again, I'm not sure there's any crime in all of this. The special prosecutor has been working 18 months. Eighteen months into Watergate we knew about the tapes. People were in jail. People had pled guilty. In other words, there was a solid evidentiary trail. I don't see it here.
KURTZ: Well, crime or not, it looks like a bit of political dirty work.
WOODWARD: Well, it may just be politics as usually. I mean, Rove's defenders say, look, the evidence is, and the evidence is, that he was saying Joe Wilson, who was criticizing the administration on weapons of mass destruction really had an ax to grind and got his job because his wife had worked at the CIA and recommended him so there's fuzziness to this.
Now it may turn out to be worse than Watergate, but it doesn't look that way now.
KURTZ: All right. I asked the "New York Times" editor Bill Keller this past week about whether the newspaper and Judy Miller were acting above the law after losing in the courts. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLER: The above the law thing is a little gratuitous, I think. I mean, the law presented Judy Miller with a choice. She could betray her trust or she could go to jail and she took what I believe is the brave and honorable choice. She went to jail. We ran out of law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Could you have been subpoenaed and threatened with jail during Watergate, or was the climate toward the press so much different then?
WOODWARD: Well, I don't know whether it's different. Sure we could have -- Carl Bernstein and I could have been subpoenaed ...
KURTZ: Did you worry about it?
WOODWARD: Sure. A little bit. But you know what happened, there were so many specifics in our stories about money and high level people in the White House, in the Nixon campaign that the prosecutors could subpoena them and get them to talk, which eventually they did. And there was Senate hearings when everyone testified in public. So you had very, very different circumstances.
But you know, I agree with the editor of the "New York Times" that this is not a perfect case, Judy Miller, but the idea of the government and special prosecutors monkeying around with the relationship that reporters have with sources is a very, very bad thing. I mean, look at the Matt Cooper business and not to spend a lot of time on the details, pull a camera back, what's going on here?
And you know better than anyone. There is an informal network of reporters and government people on both sides, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives who talk to reporters and I may talk to somebody and we'll talk about 90 or 100 subjects. What is going on? What do you hear? What does this look like? Where is that going? What don't we know?
KURTZ: Well, then something comes up like this where suddenly you are dealing with a covert operative. Maybe you didn't expect the person to say that, but you have given your word, you have given your pledge you are going to protect these people.
WOODWARD: Yes, but I don't think people, when we learn all about this, I think very few people knew she was a covert operative in the CIA. That she worked in the CIA as a weapons of mass destruction analyst. So this is the kind of banter that goes on that helps the public and us figure out what the stories are, what's being hidden, what games are being played and so forth.
KURTZ: In other words, don't underestimate the importance of these background or off the record conversations?
WOODWARD: Exactly. It sounds kind of like a B.S. session and some of it is and it's a vital lifeline to the underbelly of government. For the special prosecutor to come roaring in here with a tank and say, I'm going to destroy that and look at Judy Miller. She never wrote a story about this.
WOODWARD: This is totally ridiculous.
KURTZ: You mentioned Karl Rove. "Newsweek" reports that he discussed Plame, and we have the e-mail now, with Matt Cooper. "New York Times" reports that Karl Rove discussed Plame with Bob Novak. Does any of this reporting make you uncomfortable, given all the books and articles written about who Deep Throat was, that reporters are now going after other reporters' sources in this story?
WOODWARD: Yeah. Sure. And I think the prosecutor is making a mistake, and I think the judge in the case should have been much more rigorous in making the government really show they have evidence of a crime and they need this testimony. All these discussions -- now it may turn out in the end to be very different -- but all the discussions that Rove had with these two reporters, Bob Novak and Matt Cooper that we know about, and there may have been others, were not about Valerie Plame as a covert, undercover CIA operative whose identity had to be protected like the crown jewel ...
WOODWARD: It was about somebody in the CIA who was an analyst who got her husband this job to go to Africa to see if they could find evidence ...
KURTZ: But her husband being a prominent White House critic who clearly the administration was angry at and wanted to discredit, but ...
WOODWARD: Yeah, sure. But welcome to, you know, welcome to ...
KURTZ: You're saying it's hardball politics?
WOODWARD: ... Washington and politics. Now, the question is -- and sorry I won't answer -- you -- does this go beyond the boundaries of the normal interchange of information? Based on what I've seen, it doesn't, and they're cutting into it, and I think it's a mistake.
KURTZ: I wanted to ask you about Scott McClellan who, as you know, has been just eviscerated by reporters at the White House this week. Let's take a look at Monday's briefing and some of the questions about Rove. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Scott, I mean, just -- I mean, this is ridiculous. The notion that you're going to stand before us, after having commented with that level of detail and tell people watching this that somehow you decided not to talk?
TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS: Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Does McClellan's role here remind you at all of the old Nixon spokesman Ron Ziegler calling Watergate a third-rate burglary and stonewalling, to use the Watergate terms? Is the administration stonewalling there?
WOODWARD: Scott McClellan is stonewalling in saying I'm not going to answer. But he's not denying things.
KURTZ: Earlier he said, "totally ridiculous."
WOODWARD: Yes. That they were involved in what? Involved in criminal disclosure of this woman's identity or involved in this free interchange? I admit, no one knows the answer to this. I don't even think the special prosecutor knows the answer to this. So let's wait and see, but here's the lesson. Be careful what you say, particularly early in an inquiry and what's the main lesson of Watergate in these sort of scandals? You know better than anyone, get the full story out completely at the start so they don't have to drag it out of you.
And that's what we're in. We're in the dragging out phase.
KURTZ: All right. Turning now to "The Secret Man" and your relationship with Deep Throat, Mark Felt, then the number two official in the FBI. You grappled with the question of why did he do it? Why did he risk his career to meet you in that parking garage? You're still not sure?
WOODWARD: No. I am -- I lay out the reasons, but it's layered. Like most human motivation, there are many reasons and they're occurring simultaneously -- and you say in your question, you have an assumption. Did he risk his career? You see ...
KURTZ: Wasn't it dangerous?
WOODWARD: It was dangerous, but we set up these clandestine meetings and clandestine signals so he didn't have to risk his career. I was pledged to tell no one. He set up this system so no one would know that we were talking and so as far as he was concerned, yes there's always risk in something like this, but he had taken such extreme care that there was minimal risk.
KURTZ: Let's take a look at how most people think -- who most people think of when they think of Deep Throat. They think of Hal Holbrook in the movie "All the President's Men." Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT REDFORD, ACTOR: The story has stalled on us.
HAL HOLBROOK, ACTOR: And you thought I'd help?
REDFORD: I'll never quote you. I wouldn't quote you even as an anonymous source. You'd be on deep background.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But of course, in your book with Carl Bernstein and the movie, you do describe a Deep Throat character. Did you have any reservations about that? Were you betraying that agreement we just saw?
WOODWARD: No, I really wasn't, because he also said that in the agreement was no disclosure, but like all complicated relationships, he said, push me. I've been a street agent in the FBI and you don't get anywhere unless you push people like hell. So go ahead.
So there are two tracks. Absolute confidentiality, but push as much to get as much information confirmed, as much new information as possible. And when we wrote the book, "All the President's Men," Carl and I felt, now how do you leave Deep Throat out? It would have been dishonest. We concealed his identity in a way that it remained confidential for more than 30 years after that book came out, and it only was disclosed because Mark Felt, his lawyer and family decided to disclose it.
KURTZ: How did you feel when more recently you saw that FBI memo that he had signed that Woodward and Bernstein were reporting half truths and fiction and we need to find the leakers. This at the very time when he was meeting privately and secretly with you.
KURTZ: Kind of duplicitous.
WOODWARD: It is very duplicitous, but it is also very careful, because it was addressing a specific story that he was not a source on. And in the memo, he says, yes, clearly they have access to FBI or Justice Department sources. And then in the process of this leak investigation, which he is running, he finds the leakers. Somebody in the White House and presumably one of the assistant prosecutors, he alleges, so it's perfect. And he sends this memo to the acting FBI director, Patrick Gray, and then they sent a message to the attorney general, saying case closed, we found out who did it.
It's perfect counterintelligence. It's very sophisticated. It's what somebody would do who was a Soviet spy or a spy in the Kremlin for us.
KURTZ: Now in 1978, Felt was convicted, later pardoned, of authorizing black bag jobs against Weathermen, underground radicals. Did that change your view of him? Here supposedly he had been outraged by Nixon White House corruption in dealing with you, and yet he engaged in some of it himself.
WOODWARD: Yes, that's right. And his justification was that there was a security threat, but there is always a security threat. But it is different because what Nixon was doing was for political purposes, political intelligence.
The Weathermen were violent, there is no question about it. I don't think they posed a threat to the republic, but clearly at this moment Mark Felt and some other people in the FBI has thought.
KURTZ: You write here, Bob Woodward, that "the portrait of me is not all that admirable," and you say you lied to Richard Cohen, the "Washington Post" columnist and your colleague, who wanted to write a column -- this is 20 years ago -- about saying he thought Felt was Deep Throat. Why? Why didn't you just say, I'm not going to talk about it, as you did with most journalists?
WOODWARD: Because he had the initials on the memo which were M.F., Mark Felt. And he knew Carl Bernstein's wife. And he was going to assert it with the kind of authority that is rare, not rare for Richard as a columnist, but that this was a fact. And this was a sensitive time. This was when Felt was on trial. This is either before or right after he was pardoned by Ronald Reagan. I had to protect the source, and Cohen was persistent. I couldn't stop him without lying. I lied. I regret doing that. I've apologized to him since, and he said, well, of course you lied. You had to protect the source. It was just one column.
KURTZ: All right. Need to take a break. When we come back, was Mark Felt capable of informed consent in releasing his long-held secret to the world? We'll ask Bob Woodward that question, next.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. We're talking with Bob Woodward about his new book on Deep Throat. For years you were tempted to call Mark Felt and to renew and perhaps repair your relationship with him. You say you were gutless and you didn't do it. Why?
WOODWARD: Yeah. I was gutless. Because he had gone through this trial. It looked like 10 years in jail. He was devastated and ...
KURTZ: And he had been cold toward you ...
WOODWARD: Yeah, he was not happy with the book and the movie, but the main thing is, this was a guy whose liberty was in jeopardy for about three or four years. He was pardoned by Reagan, and I felt he had dodged a bullet. His wife was ill. She died, I think, in 1984, and then he went out to live with his daughter. And I felt, look, his life is fine, he is happy. I have got other things to do. I know what happened. He knows what happened, what's the loop to close, and then very belatedly, five years ago I went to see him and his memory is gone, but there is still that wonderful kind of human connection that is almost primal. He recognized who I was ...
KURTZ: Apparently he remembered you, yes.
WOODWARD: Yeah, yeah, very emotional.
KURTZ: But when you talk about his memory -- he didn't even remember -- this is five years ago, or barely remembered that Richard Nixon had resigned. I mean, it looms large in all of our memories.
WOODWARD: Yes, that's right.
KURTZ: Was it surprising, shocking, disappointing, frustrating that he knew so little?
WOODWARD: Yeah. It's sad. And my regret is I didn't get out there sooner and sit down with him and say, look, we need to talk about this. What more is there to it, how did these signals work, what were some of the things you were thinking. At the same time, I think I know a lot about his motive, of frustration and reckless lawbreaking going on in the Nixon White House, the level of lawbreaking which we have not seen since, and I hope we never see again. And he saw it, and he was willing to help, but he was willing to help in a way -- he didn't look at himself as a leaker, I think in a sense he didn't look at himself as the Deep Throat who was kind of this person who came forward ...
KURTZ: Swashbuckling source?
KURTZ: He was guiding you but he often wouldn't volunteer information?
WOODWARD: He was careful, and that this was a J. Edgar Hoover man, and I think we may found out some day and I hope we do, that he studied at the feet of the master, Hoover, who did things like this a lot.
KURTZ: But was he capable now at the age of 91 of giving informed consent to go public, or did you decide you were just not going to push him even if it meant that "Vanity Fair" or somebody else got that story first?
WOODWARD: Well, I consulted Ben Bradlee, the former editor of the "Post" and he said, you really can't get informed consent. I consulted the best lawyer in town, Bob Barnett, and he went through and said you need voluntary, absolute and competent declaration on his part that you were released from this agreement, and there was no way to get it given Mark Felt's state of mind. So I backed off.
KURTZ: All right. Bob Woodward, stay put. When we come back, didn't everyone in the press say that William Rehnquist was about to retire as chief justice? We'll ask Woodward about that in a moment.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: Welcome back to our conversation with Bob Woodward. Speculation about the chief justice of the United States got out of control this past week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many believe it's just a matter of time before Chief Justice William Rehnquist steps down.
ROBERT NOVAK, CNN COMMENTATOR: My source tells me that he is going to retire, and the time of retiring is going to be as soon as the president is back in the country, as soon as Air Force One lands in the country.
BILL KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD: What everyone believes, and I guess I do agree with this, is that the chief justice will now step down, this week, that there will be two vacancies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Rehnquist of course now saying he has no plans to step down. Wasn't this the press at its speculative worst?
WOODWARD: Yes, it was. And kind of stupidly so. I mean, there is a way to say, look, he's ill. People are claiming they have inside information. But I thought Rehnquist said it best when somebody asked him recently, and said it's for me to know and you to find out.
I remember hearing that phrase first in third grade.
KURTZ: That occurred to me as well.
Now, you wrote a book about the Supreme Court, "The Brethren." At the time, Rehnquist was on the Supreme Court. Five justices cooperated with you, you've said. Rehnquist was one of them?
WOODWARD: I'm not saying. We don't disclose our sources.
KURTZ: So there are still Deep Throats on the court?
WOODWARD: That's right. And you know, we still protect sources who were justices or are justices, perhaps.
KURTZ: But you have said that the late Lewis Powell was one of your sources.
WOODWARD: Yes. Yes.
KURTZ: Because he's passed away.
WOODWARD: Yes. He's deceased. And it's very interesting, having a Supreme Court justice who is a confidential source. Someday when my notes on this are released, you will see Supreme Court justices saying "Come in the back door." "Don't quote a justice, because somebody will say, 'Which son of a bitch talked?'" KURTZ: Why don't justices talk on the record? I mean, it's kind of a secretive, shadowy institution. Should they give more interviews to people like you and others?
WOODWARD: Oh, of course. Oh, yes. I think we need more sunlight on all institutions, and that's why Scott Armstrong and I did the book on the Supreme Court. People now realize that once the justices' papers are available, how incredibly accurately and carefully that book was done.
KURTZ: All right. Well, I love the idea of justices spinning you on background, or at least trying to get their version of the truth out.
Just briefly, Mark Felt -- we were talking about he's made his own book and movie deal. Can you see Tom Hanks playing Deep Throat in the next movie?
WOODWARD: Anything's possible. Maybe he'll be playing Karl Rove in the next movie. Who knows? Funny things happen, but I think Felt's lawyer and family can do something that's going to add to the record on all of this.
KURTZ: We'll wait and see. Bob Woodward, thanks very much for joining us.
WOODWARD: Thank you.
KURTZ: We'll be right back.
KURTZ: Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Be sure to join us next Sunday morning, 11:30 Eastern, for another critical look at the media. "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer.
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