Adherents of the Judith-Miller-should-be-jailed-for-life school keep insisting they're not motivated by animus against President Bush, and I'd like to believe them, but articles like this one don't make it any easier. The hope out there that federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is closing in on Karl Rove is so strong you can practically taste it with your eyes, and the news over the last few days has clearly given Bush haters new cause for optimism.

For what it's worth, I share that hope, not only because I believe the proper place for all public officials is behind bars, but because as a taxpayer and news consumer I insist on getting my money's worth. At this point, Fitzgerald has piloted his leaky barge so far upstream, spent so much time as a cancer on the public attention span, that there had better be a pretty big reward at the end. If all this fret and foment has been about putting together an airtight report rather than nailing some big game, I'll say Fitzgerald (profiled, in full Blarney mode, here) has been wasting the taxpayers' time and money.

How bad does it look? According to Michael Isikoff's assessment of the leaked Matt Cooper email, pretty bad:

"Subject: Rove/P&C," (for personal and confidential), Cooper began. "Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation …" Cooper proceeded to spell out some guidance on a story that was beginning to roil Washington. He finished, "please don't source this to rove or even WH [White House]" and suggested another reporter check with the CIA…

Cooper wrote that Rove offered him a "big warning" not to "get too far out on Wilson." Rove told Cooper that Wilson's trip had not been authorized by "DCIA"—CIA Director George Tenet—or Vice President Dick Cheney. Rather, "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip."

Rove's lawyer's new argument, that Rove identified Joe Wilson's wife as a CIA agent but did not give her name, recalls Samuel Johnson's argument about intent: "You could shoot a man in the head and say I intended to miss." Factor in that Cooper's email is dated three days before Bob Novak's column appeared, and the case that Rove was the primary Plame leaker becomes quite a bit more believable.

The so-called Intelligence Identities Protection Act, however, leaves enough leeway that Rove will most likely be able to get away with pleading stupidity. He can claim the disclosure was accidental or a slip of the tongue (I don't know what exculpatory weight that would carry), that he didn't know Plame was a covert agent, or that he didn't know the government was "actively concealing" her identity. Further to-be-sure-ism: It is not clear that Rove is in any way a target of Fitzgerald's investigation.

While the more ideological anti-Rovians comically pretend to be motivated by a newfound concern for the CIA's integrity, I just want to see the fur fly. The idea that an incompetent, barely accountable government agency's prerogative to operate in total secrecy is so important that citizens should be jailed just for talking about it is better suited to the Ottoman Porte than the United States. And the claim that motivated the Identities Protection act—that cover-blower Philip Agee got CIA station chief Richard Welch killed—has been pretty well debunked. For some real Havana-sized laffs, check out the grotesque Agee here, contrasting his own (brave, virtuous) whistle-blowing with Rove's (craven, vengeful) outing of Plame. But while we're operating under the 1982 law, it's going to seem like quite a waste if Judith Miller is the only person who sees the inside of a jail cell over the Plame affair. Can Patrick Fitzgerald pull it off, or will we need to call in Gerald Fitzpatrick?