At Nathans’ community lunch, MATT COOPER discusses Plamegate
SOLD-OUT Q&A CAFÉ AT NATHANS
CJ: When was the last time you had to testify?
MC: I only testified that one time before the grand jury, a year before I gave a deposition about Scooter Libby. CJ: Was this the first time that you’ve ever been involved in something like this? MC: I’ve had traffic tickets and very extensive library fines. I’m a nice boy, really.
CJ: Without giving anything away, walk us
through the experience of going before a grand
MC: Like many things in life, it’s a little anticlimactic. You get in there and the grand jury looks like a shabby classroom. The grand jurors, about twenty of them, sit at small desks that are stacked up in rows at an angle. They were predominately African-American, mostly women, and they seem quite engaged. The prosecutor interviews you and has an overhead projector which he [uses] and points to some quotations. It was very tedious as he went through every excruciating detail in my case about my very brief phone call with Karl Rove. If you’ve ever seen Law and Order, you know the old adage that a jury will indict a ham sandwich. We usually think they are passive, they’re asleep and will do whatever the prosecutor says. The thing that struck me was that this grand jury was quite engaged, I would say they asked about a third of the questions.
CJ: A lot of people ask this question: what about
Robert Novak? It all started with him. Are we to
assume that he went into that same room, said
what he had to say and then went to ground?
MC: It’s been one of the great mysteries of this case because of course he was the one [who] outed Valerie Plame, revealing her identity in that July 14, 2003 column. For a long time people wondered about Novak because unlike the other reporters who have testified in the case, Tim Russert, myself, Judith Miller, the two reporters from The Washington Post, Novak would never say if he’s testified or not. At this point, I don’t think there’s any other plausible explanation other than he did testify. The only question that remains is if he did so with the acquiescence of his confidential sources or if he testified without their consent.
CJ: Have you talked to him?
MC: I’ve run into him, but we really haven’t chatted.
CJ: Go back to your experiences at Time
magazine with Mr. Pearlstine, who is your editorin-
chief. He said that your notes would be made
available. Was that in consultation with you?
MC: Yes, it was. We had determined that my notes were really the property of Time magazine because I had taken them on a company computer, which is clearly the property of the company and that Time magazine was a party [to] this case… After we fought this thing all the way to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court decided not to take the case and then comes judgment day, July 29, 2005 and the judge said Time had to comply. Norman Pearlstine had to make a decision about whether or not to turn over my notes and the emails I had written. We had made the decision that we wouldn’t and would keep fighting. Finally, he made a difficult and different decision, one that I respect, which was to comply with the Supreme Court of the United States and turn over my notes. Many people in journalism screamed and yelled about it [but] I think it was a principled decision. It’s one that, at the time, I disagreed with, but he did consult with me. I think he made a hard choice, on balance I think that he would have been better off fighting longer.
CJ: Was the decision you made in concert with his?
MC: I faced a very interesting position after my notes were turned over by Time Inc. because it leaked out this now famous email that I wrote to my bosses about my conversation with Karl Rove on “double super secret background.” One of the funniest things about this was to watch the journalistic elite, the political analysts, and all the cable show pundits analyze what I meant by double super secret background. They would say, “Cooper’s statements were on double super secret background,” as if this were a widely acknowledged journalistic term. Those of you who have seen Animal House know if [refers] to John Belushi’s fraternity hoiuse being put on probation. If anything is a lesson, your emails are not safe. So they turned over my email, and my source was known, and a lot of people said to me now that my source is known, what’s left to protect, why don’t you just go testify? Even though Time had complied, I didn’t think I could just go ahead without the source giving me his acquiescence. On the very day that I was supposed to, Karl Rove through his attorney and my attorney, did give me that permission to go testify.
CJ: What is your relationship with Karl Rove?
MC: It’s a little closer than my relationship with Nicole Kidman. At the time I just started covering the White House, so I didn’t have a relationship with him. In the intervening time I’ve spoken with him, but no special relationship.
CJ: When was the last time you talked with him?
MC: It was before my testimony. I did speak during the time after Scott Mclellan said it was ludicrous to think Karl Rove was involved.
CJ: There is a lot of shout and frown going on
around the city right now about Judith Miller.
What has it been like for you when there were
originally reports the two of you would go to jail,
then it was only Judy going to jail, then there
were reports she had a $1.2 million book contract,
and then the next thing you know, Judy is getting
eaten alive by everyone.
MC: It’s the strangest thing. I’ve never seen anything like it. I wasn’t surprised when she went off to jail. I think she made a number of defiant statements. We talked a lot together because our court cases starting in October 2004 were joined. I talked to her from timeto- time. I visited her in jail. I am sorry she had the misfortune of being there. This is not a pretty place, and this is not a minimal security place. It’s very, very grim over there. I can’t explain what’s happened in the weeks since she’s gotten out.
CJ: Do you think her going to jail made any
MC: This whole case has raised an interesting question for the press about the use and misuse of anonymous sources. When do we go off the record with somebody and how do we handle it? If you do have a conversation with some degree of anonymity that’s really a form of binding contract not only between you and your sources but also your corporation and the source. I hope that if any good comes out of this, it will be the passage of a national shield law. In most states, in 49 states, there is some protection for journalists and their confidential sources giving journalists privileges similar to the relationship between doctor/patient, priest/ parishioner, and lawyer/client. Basically all the states have decided to give journalists this type of protection because that this is the type of confidential relationship we want to preserve. What I so painfully discovered is that this does not exist at the Federal level. Now there is a bipartisan effort in Congress to create this law.
CJ: When did you find out that you were a part
of this criminal investigation?
MC: It’s so much less interesting in real life, I got a call from the FBI one day, they wanted to talk to me, I refused and I talked to Time Inc.’s counsel about it. Later they eventually sent a subpoena, which went by fax to my lawyers. I’ve had a number of the best lawyers in the country, Floyd Abrams, the famous first amendment lawyer, as well as Ted Olson, who did my appeal to the Supreme Court along with Miguel Estrada who was appointed and ultimately not appointed to the court. So it has been an interesting group.
CJ: How many lawyers do you have
working on this case right now?
MC: No, it’s not like Michael Jackson. For a while there were a fair number between the Time lawyers, and I have been greatly helped by my friend and local attorney, Richard Sauber, a partner at Fried Frank, who was my personal attorney throughout this whole thing. Now it’s just down to him.
CJ: What’s the mood like at the White House?
MC: I think it’s like the rest of Washington. There is an enormous sort of buzz in the anticipation of what is going to happen. You do sense more tension. It’s very distracting and very consuming. It’s also the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about since that could lead to more subpoenas, and even though it’s topic number one, people are not actually talking about it.
CJ: Have you had eye contact with the President
since all this transpired?
MC: I don’t think I have since I testified. In December 2004, while I was in the midst of testifying for this whole thing, I went with a couple of colleagues of mine to interview the President because he was Time’s person of the year. The first words he said to me were, “Cooper, I thought you would be in jail by now,” which I took in good natured spirit.
CJ: Have you met Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame?
MC: After I was subpoenaed, I ran into them at a party. I run into them periodically. He’s a colorful guy. I know there’s some controversy about some of the things he said. The underlying thing is that the CIA said that a crime has been committed, which led to an FBI investigation.
CJ: Who would be your pick to play you in the
MC: George Clooney, it’s obvious, I get it all the time!
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