TODAY’S PLAME UPDATE….I’m always amused when some Washington player who’s been around for decades claims that some embarrassing statement or other was, in retrospect, just an off-the-cuff lapse. It always sounds so plausible ? we all make mistakes, don’t we? ? but it’s usually completely bogus. After all, if you had spent your entire life writing about American literature, do you think that one day you would just absentmindedly refer to Mark Twain as a playwright?

Anyway, that was Robert Novak’s excuse for using the word “operative” to describe Valerie Plame in his original July 14 column, and it never really passed the laugh test. As Novak keeps reminding us, he’s been a Washington reporter for 46 years, he’s written about the CIA hundreds of times, and he knows precisely what an “operative” is. There’s no way he would carelessly use the word to refer to a desk analyst.

But just in case you still don’t buy this, Josh Marshall hauls out the heavy artillery: a Nexis search that lists every single time Novak has ever used the word “operative” in connection with the CIA. And every single time it’s referred to a covert agent.

So: Novak knew perfectly well Plame was covert, he described her using the word he always uses to describe covert operators, and he’s just desperately trying to save some face now by pretending he wasn’t paying attention when he first wrote the column. Nice try, Bob.

Josh also read the transcript of today’s White House press briefing and is now pretty convinced that their statement that Rove and Libby “were not involved in leaking classified information” is nothing more than a precisely worded legal dodge. When asked directly if that meant Rove and Libby had ever told a reporter that Plame worked for the CIA, spokesman Scott McClellan refused to answer directly. “They were not involved in this” was as specific as he was willing to get, and when someone asked what “this” referred to, he fell back to “the leaking of classified information.”

There’s a lotta word parsing going on in Washington these days. And we all know that when words start getting hyper-parsed, it usually means something is going on….

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