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All through that week, the Administration was on damage control. On Friday, July 11, CIA Director George Tenet took the heat by declaring that the CIA should not have okayed the uranium claim in the State of the Union address. On that day, Rove took a call from Cooper, who was in his first weeks as a White House correspondent for TIME. "Spoke to Rove on double super secret background," Cooper e-mailed TIME's Washington bureau chief Michael Duffy and his deputy James Carney afterward. "... his big warning....don't get too far out on wilson." Cooper wrote that Rove disparaged Wilson for presenting a "flawed" and "suspect" explanation of the genesis of the trip. What's more, Rove told Cooper, neither Cheney nor the CIA director had authorized Wilson's mission in the first place--a claim Wilson never made, although the former ambassador would imply that the two knew of his trip. Cooper described the conversation with Rove, adding that it was "wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues, who authorized the trip. ... he implied strongly there's still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium from Niger ... don't get too far out front, he warned. then he bolted ..."
What was the point of Rove or anyone else bringing up Plame in the first place? Was he saying Wilson was tainted by his close association with the CIA, WHOSE ANALYSTS HAD GENERALLY BEEN TOO SKEPTICAL OF THE IRAQI THREAT FOR THE Administration's taste? The tensions between the White House and the CIA had been rising steadily in the months before the Iraq invasion, as CIA analysts complained about evidence being distorted or ignored and the White House pushed back with complaints about the quality of the intel they were getting. "I know the analyst who was subjected to withering questioning on the Iraq-- al-Qaeda links by Libby with the Vice President sitting there," says a CIA analyst. "So I think there was an anger at the CIA for not getting it and not being on board. The political side of the Administration was pissed at the CIA. So I can see how they responded to that--and Wilson--by implying he couldn't be trusted because, 'well, just look where his wife works.'"
Or, more personally, was Rove suggesting that Wilson was chosen not for his expertise but because his wife was trying to help him stay in the game? Certainly Rove distorted her role when he claimed she had authorized the trip. "She was not in a position to send Joe Wilson anywhere except to bed without his supper," says Larry Johnson, a Plame classmate at the CIA who later worked on Central American issues for the agency and then moved to the State Department as a counterterrorism officer. According to a declassified July 7, 2004, report from the Senate Intelligence Committee, it was Plame's boss, the deputy chief of the CIA's counterproliferation division, who authorized the trip. He did so after Plame "offered up" her husband's name for the Niger mission, according to the report. In a Feb. 12, 2002, memo to her boss, Plame wrote that "my husband has good relations with both the PM [Prime Minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity."