The “welfare reform” element of PlameGate seemingly died a quiet death with the release of Matt Cooper’s Time article this weekend.
To refresh, Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin told the National Review last week that “Cooper originally called Rove — not the other way around — and said he was working on a story on welfare reform. After some conversation about that issue, Luskin said, Cooper changed the subject to the weapons of mass destruction issue, and that was when the two had the brief talk that became the subject of so much legal wrangling.”
Conservative talking heads took this story and twisted it even further. Suddenly Rove’s discussion of Plame with Cooper was “an ‘Oh, by the way’ moment at the end of that conversation,” according to Rove defender Ed Rogers during a 7/13/05 PBS appearance. Fox News host Sean Hannity went even further — in his version, Cooper actually tricked Rove into talking about Plame.
You know what’s amazing about this…is, you know, here Karl Rove tells a reporter who wanted to talk about welfare reform. He tells the reporter, [who] then sneaks in this other question, [and Rove replies] “Hey, you don’t want to go too far out on a limb here.” [7/13/05]
In his new Time article, Matt Cooper offers a very different explanation:
I was transferred to [Rove]. I recall saying something like, “I’m writing about Wilson,” before he interjected. “Don’t get too far out on Wilson,” he told me. …
[E]arlier in the week, I may have left a message with his office asking if I could talk to him about welfare reform. But I can’t find any record of talking about it with him on July 11, and I don’t recall doing so.
To be clear, it’s not just that Rove and Cooper apparently didn’t talk at all about welfare reform, despite claims by Rove’s lawyer. It’s that Cooper couldn’t get a single sentence out of his mouth before Rove interrupted to start talking about Plame.
So, could this be a barb that catches Rove on perjury charges? Cooper’s piece offers some tea leaves: “A surprising line of questioning had to do with, of all things, welfare reform,” he writes. “The prosecutor asked if I had ever called Mr. Rove about the topic of welfare reform. … To me this suggested that Rove may have testified that we had talked about welfare reform.” And now we know what Cooper had to say about that.