I have gotten dizzy trying to keep a grip on the various uses and meaning of the word "covert" in the Plame case. Like you, I’m not an expert. But I don’t think you have to accept the maximal claims of either side to see what happened. The bottom line is that there was some doubt about how covert she was – even within the Bush administration. They knew they were very close to the line, if not over it. Hence the bizarre and convoluted downlow media strategy in leaking the information. All that matters to me is their motive. It seems to me clear that at the very least, Rove, Bush and Cheney knew they were playing with fire when they targeted Plame. They thought the journalists would never testify, and they thought they could get away with it. It seems like recklessness to me. The key question for me is why they were so prepared to be so reckless. Was Cheney just furious at being misrepresented in the media? Or did he see knocking down two-bit Wilson as essential to preventing his bad faith with respect to WMD intelligence being exposed? Maybe he feared that if the media pulled at this string, others might get pulled as well. I don’t know. Either scenario is plausible. And they’re not mutually exclusive. Maybe Cheney was furious and his fury promoted the reckless strategy. And maybe the fury was intensified by knowledge of his own deception.
As time goes by, I’m more inclined to believe that Cheney knew he had deceived the country with respect to WMDs (perhaps with good intentions, fearing the worst, but still knowingly parlaying theories as facts), was alarmed when the military couldn’t find even token stockpiles to justify pre-war intelligence, and over-reacted by outing an agent whose covert status was unclear. That’s why this still matters. It points to the question of bad faith in persuading a country to go to war. Nothing in this case has added to the evidence of good faith on Cheney’s part. And much has pointed in the opposite direction. The charge, if true, is impeachable.