thirdman01.jpgAccording to Josh Marshall, a key sentence was cut out of the Gellman WaPo piece last night, but is sitll available on Nexis:

On July 12, the day Cheney and Libby flew together from Norfolk, the vice president instructed his aide to alert reporters of an attack launched that morning on Wilson’s credibility by Fleischer, according to a well-placed source. Libby talked to Miller and Cooper. That same day, another administration official who has not been identified publicly returned a call from Walter Pincus of The Post. He "veered off the precise matter we were discussing" and told him that Wilson’s trip was a "boondoggle" set up by Plame, Pincus has written in Nieman Reports.

I’ve been saying for a while that I’ve been hearing that there was a third man in all of this apart from Rove and Libby who as spreading shit about Joe Wilson, and speculating that it was Ari who was also Novak’s source.Wow. Why the hell did they put that up then pull that down? Those lawyers are fucking quick.That it would be Ari has always made perfect sense to me. As I wrote back on October 23:

WaPo, 10/23/2005:

A critical early success for Fitzgerald was winning the cooperation of Robert D. Novak, the Chicago Sun-Times columnist who named Plame in a July 2003 story and attributed key information to "two senior administration officials." Legal sources said Novak avoided a fight and quietly helped the special counsel’s inquiry, although neither the columnist nor his attorney have said so publicly.

Assuming the "two senior administration officials" thing is true, that narrows it down. Let’s look back at Time Magazine from July of this year:

Another character in the drama remains unnamed: the original source for columnist Robert Novak, who wrote the first piece naming Plame. Fitzgerald, says a lawyer who’s involved in the case, "knows who it is–”and it’s not someone at the White House."

So. Was a "senior administration official" but is no longer. Who might that be?New York Daily News, July 15, 2005:

Along with Bush political guru Karl Rove, the grand jury is investigating what role, if any, ex-White House mouthpiece Ari Fleischer may have played in the revelation that the former covert operative Plame was married to former Ambassador Joe Wilson. "Ari’s name keeps popping up," said one source familiar with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s probe. Another source close to the probe added there is renewed interest in Fleischer, "based on Fitzgerald’s questions."

And why would Ari’s name keep popping up? Well, according to Bloomberg:

On the same day the memo was prepared, White House phone logs show Novak placed a call to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, according to lawyers familiar with the case and a witness who has testified before the grand jury. Those people say it isn’t clear whether Fleischer returned the call, and Fleischer has refused to comment.

Doesn’t look good for Ari. Especially considering that according to Colin Powell anonymous sources:

On the flight to Africa, Fleischer was seen perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife, according to a former administration official who was also on the trip.

Except — according to the New York Times, that may not have been what Ari told the grand jury:

Mr. Fleischer told the grand jury that he never saw the document, a person familiar with the testimony said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the prosecutor’s admonitions about not disclosing what is said to the grand jury.

Then there’s the fact that Fitzgerald subpoenaed Ari’s 7/12/2003 press conference transcript from Nigeria, and the White House scrubbed it from the website (but later restored it).

That Ari played a big role in the "smear Joe Wilson" campaign was never in doubt. From Wilson’s book:

Within a day, Fleischer was putting a different spin on the situation and downplaying the importance of my report. At one briefing after another, he had something to say about me, and by doing so gave the journalists another news cycle to talk about the sixteen words rather than about the president’s trip. Instead of containing the burgeoning press frenzy, Fleischer kept giving the story legs, so much so that it soon overwhelmed the president’s agenda in Africa.

From the Libby indictments, we know that Ari is now cooperating with Fitzgerald and will be a witness against Scooter if it ever comes to trial. No wonder he has been lying low. He has many, many tales to tell.

Update: Anonymous Liberal suggests that the reason the WaPo pulled the quote is because it inadvertently outs Fleischer as Pincus’ source.