Sunday, August 27, 2006

Armitage Was Novak's Original Source for Plame Story

Michael Isikoff and David Corn have caused quite a stir in the blogosphere with an article in Newsweek revealing that Richard Armitage was Robert Novak's primary source for his column identifying Valerie Plame as a CIA officer. The Isikoff/Corn piece is based on a soon-to-be-published book called Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War. Apparently, Armitage enjoys dishing, and in a loose moment passed on a juicy tidbit of gossip to Novak, with no intention to harm anyone. He did not tell Novak that Plame was an undercover agent -- only that she was a CIA analyst working on issues around weapons of mass destruction.

Which, of course, still leaves us with the question: Who disclosed Plame's covert status? David Corn suggests that Armitage's motives might have been a bit more complicated than a love for on-dit [emphasis mine].

The Plame leak in Novak's column has long been cited by Bush administration critics as a deliberate act of payback, orchestrated to punish and/or discredit Joe Wilson after he charged that the Bush administration had misled the American public about the prewar intelligence. The Armitage news does not fit neatly into that framework. He and Powell were not the leading advocates of war in the administration (even though Powell became the chief pitchman for the case for war when he delivered a high-profile speech at the UN). They were not the political hitmen of the Bush gang. Armitage might have mentioned Wilson's wife merely as gossip. But--as Hubris notes--he also had a bureaucratic interest in passing this information to Novak.

On July 6--two days before Armitage's meeting with Novak--Wilson published an op-ed in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, that revealed that he had been sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate the charge that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium in that impoverished African nation. Wilson wrote that his mission had been triggered by an inquiry to the CIA from Vice President Dick Cheney, who had read an intelligence report about the Niger allegation, and that he (Wilson) had reported back to the CIA that the charge was highly unlikely. Noting that President George W. Bush had referred to this allegation in his 2003 State of the Union speech, Wilson maintained that the administration had used a phoney claim to lead the country to war. His article ignited a firestorm. That meant that the State Department had good reason (political reason, that is) to distance itself from Wilson, a former State Department official. Armitage may well have referred to Wilson's wife and her CIA connection to make the point that State officials--already suspected by the White House of not being team players--had nothing to do with Wilson and his trip.

Whether he had purposefully mentioned this information to Novak or had slipped up, Armitage got the ball rolling--and abetted a White House campaign under way to undermine Wilson. At the time, top White House aides--including Karl Rove and Scooter Libby--were trying to do in Wilson. And they saw his wife's position at the CIA as a piece of ammunition. As John Dickerson wrote in Slate, senior White House aides that week were encouraging him to investigate who had sent Joe Wilson on his trip. They did not tell him they believed Wilson's wife had been involved. But they clearly were trying to push him toward that information.

Shortly after Novak spoke with Armitage, he told Rove that he had heard that Valerie Wilson had been behind her husband's trip to Niger, and Rove said that he knew that, too. So a leak from Armitage (a war skeptic not bent on revenge against Wilson) was confirmed by Rove (a Bush defender trying to take down Wilson). And days later--before the Novak column came out--Rove told Time magazine's Matt Cooper that Wilson's wife was a CIA employee and involved in his trip.

Needlenose asks the same question I did after reading the Newsweek piece: Did Armitage forget he had talked to Novak in July and only remember that he had on October 1, when he read Novak's second column?

So what possible wrinkles are there? I'd start with the odd claim that Armitage didn't realize his apparently crucial role until reading Novak's October 1, 2003 column.

If it's true that Armitage wanted to distance the State Department from Joseph Wilson after Wilson enraged the White House by publicly discrediting Dick Cheney's claim that Iraq had bought yellowcake from Niger, then maybe Armitage did tell Novak about Plame's CIA job as a way to imply that she -- and not the State Department -- had recommended Wilson for the Niger trip. And if, as Christy Hardin Smith suggests, Armitage did not know at that point that Plame's CIA job was more than just analyzing data, then that would explain why Armitage panicked when he read Novak's October column: he was finding out for the first time about Plame's covert status; that Novak's July column had blown her cover; and that he -- Armitage -- might have had something to do with the chain of events that led to her outing.

Emptywheel has more on this:

... ]H]ere are the most important passages in Isikoff's new article:

Armitage acknowledged that he had passed along to Novak information contained in a classified State Department memo: that Wilson's wife worked on weapons-of-mass-destruction issues at the CIA. (The memo made no reference to her undercover status.)


Fitzgerald found no evidence that Armitage knew of Plame's covert CIA status when he talked to Novak and Woodward.

I'll come back and examine whether this means Armitage's source his leak to Woodward was the first version of the INR memo or not. But this very strong suggests that Armitage only had the information included in the INR memo. That, in turn, strongly suggests he didn't leak Plame's cover identity (remember, he told Woodward Plame was an analyst).

Therefore, whoever else leaked to Novak told him that Plame was an operative.

Naturally, the honest, truthful, and oh-so-filled-with-integrity right-wingers blogging on this story are not mentioning any of these unanswered questions, nuances, or complexities. To them, the story is: Armitage was Novak's source. Period.
No one else was involved. Rove, Libby, Cheney, and Bush played no part in Plame's outing at all. Patrick Fitzgerald is a present-day Cotton Mather; his entire investigation and trial was a political witchhunt.

Here's a sampling:

Captain Ed:

This means that the Department of Justice knew the source of the Plame leak within four months of its occurrence. It also knew that the leak had no malicious intent. Patrick Fitzgerald, who almost certainly knew of it within the first days of his investigation, never attempted to indict the man whom he knew leaked the information. Why, then, has Fitzgerald's mandate continued after the first week of October?

Fitzgerald took the case on September 26. If this book is accurate about its dates, the DoJ and Fitzgerald would have known about Armitage's role as the source of the leak five days later. Instead of either charging Armitage or closing down the investigation, Fitzgerald went on a witch hunt. He didn't even talk to Scooter Libby until two weeks after Armitage's confession. A year later, Fitzgerald had reporters Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper imprisoned for contempt of court for refusing to divulge a source about a leaker from whom Fitzgerald had already received a confession.

Say WHAT? I kinda like Ed; he is one of the more decent bloggers on the right -- but I have to ask: Did he read the Newsweek article past the first paragraph? Here is the second paragraph:

Armitage's admission led to a flurry of anxious phone calls and meetings that day at the State Department. (Days earlier, the Justice Department had launched a criminal investigation into the Plame leak after the CIA informed officials there that she was an undercover officer.) Within hours, William Howard Taft IV, the State Department's legal adviser, notified a senior Justice official that Armitage had information relevant to the case. The next day, a team of FBI agents and Justice prosecutors investigating the leak questioned the deputy secretary. Armitage acknowledged that he had passed along to Novak information contained in a classified State Department memo: that Wilson's wife worked on weapons-of-mass-destruction issues at the CIA. (The memo made no reference to her undercover status.) Armitage had met with Novak in his State Department office on July 8, 2003 -- just days before Novak published his first piece identifying Plame. Powell, Armitage and Taft, the only three officials at the State Department who knew the story, never breathed a word of it publicly and Armitage's role remained secret.

This one paragraph invalidates two of Ed's points: that Armitage leaked Plame's covert status (he only told Novak that she was a CIA analyst working on WMD issues; clearly, somebody else had to have told Novak that Plame was undercover); and that Fitzgerald "had to" have known about Armitage's involvement. Nobody other than Powell, Taft, and Armitage himself knew about it; the text clearly states that!

Sister Toldjah:

I should also point out that Isikoff, and especially Corn, are not known to be 'admin friendly' writers, so it should be mildly amusing to see how all the Bush-haters on the left spin this news into "it was still Rove's fault that Plame's cover was blown!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!", ...

Again, an enormous oversimplification, and a very revealing example of the right's black and white view of the world. Somehow, because Richard Armitage was not a big fan of invading Iraq and is contemptuous of people like Dick "five deferments; I had other priorities" Cheney for thinking they know something about war, that means that Michael Isikoff and David Corn are doing the Bush administration a huge service by reporting that Armitage was the "primary leaker" who told Robert Novak that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA (not that she had covert status). No, it only means that Isikoff and Corn are journalists whose job is to tell the truth. Not to mention that Corn, in his blog post about the Newsweek article and the book he and Isikoff co-authored, makes it clear that Armitage's disclosure (whether Armitage intended that or not) helped the White House in its campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson as revenge for exposing the Niger intelligence as worthless. Corn also writes this:

The Armitage leak was not directly a part of the White House's fierce anti-Wilson crusade. But as Hubris notes, it was, in a way, linked to the White House effort, for Amitage had been sent a key memo about Wilson's trip that referred to his wife and her CIA connection, and this memo had been written, according to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, at the request of I. Lewis Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. Libby had asked for the memo because he was looking to protect his boss from the mounting criticism that Bush and Cheney had misrepresented the WMD intelligence to garner public support for the invasion of Iraq.

The memo included information on Valerie Wilson's role in a meeting at the CIA that led to her husband's trip. This critical memo was--as Hubris discloses--based on notes that were not accurate. (You're going to have to read the book for more on this.) But because of Libby's request, a memo did circulate among State Department officials, including Armitage, that briefly mentioned Wilson's wife.

Armitage's role aside, the public record is without question: senior White House aides wanted to use Valerie Wilson's CIA employment against her husband. Rove leaked the information to Cooper, and Libby confirmed Rove's leak to Cooper. Libby also disclosed information on Wilson's wife to New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

And further on in the same post, Corn has a paragraph about his and Isikoff's upcoming book:

Hubris covers much more than the leak case. It reveals behind-the-scene battles at the White House, the CIA, the State Department, and Capitol Hill that occurred in the year before the invasion of Iraq. It discloses secrets about the CIA's prewar plans for Iraq. It chronicles how Bush and Cheney reacted to the failure to find WMDs in Iraq. It details how Bush and other aides neglected serious planning for the post-invasion period. It recounts how the unproven theories of a little-known academic who was convinced Saddam Hussein was behind all acts of terrorism throughout the world influenced Bush administration officials. It reports what went wrong inside The New York Times regarding its prewar coverage of Iraq's WMDs. It shows precisely how the intelligence agencies screwed up and how the Bush administration misused the faulty and flimsy (and fraudulent) intelligence. The book, a narrative of insider intrigue, also relates episodes in which intelligence analysts and experts made the right calls about Iraq's WMDs but lost the turf battles.

I know that it's very difficult for people on the far right end of the political spectrum to understand the concept of writing honestly and fairly about political and social issues. They are too used to the "Fox News" concept of journalism, in which being "admin friendly" means being a cheerleader for admin policies and doing everything you can to discredit and demonize whatever makes the administration look bad. But in truth, real journalism means writing honestly and fairly about an issue or a person or a policy or an administration or whatever, even when (at first glance) it may seem as though you are contradicting your "admin un-friendly" point of view in doing so.

The irony is, that is the only kind of journalism that can be trusted or believed or taken seriously.

1 comment:

ScurvyOaks said...

There may still be a story here, but it has shrunk considerably and become less clear. The straightforward Evil Vengeance narrative isn't holding up very well.