Valerie Plame 2: Novak Did Not Say The White House Gave Him Plame’s Name

I’m going to post about the Plame leak again, because what I said yesterday cuts to the heart of the matter and yet still doesn’t seem to be sinking in.

Therefore, let me say it again…Robert Novak did not identify who told him Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent and who gave him her name.

Let me repeat that…Robert Novak did not identify who told him Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent and who gave him her name.

I am repeating this because so many people are getting it so wrong. Josh Marshall? He has it wrong. Calpundit? He’s wrong too. Howard Kurtz from the WAPO? He’s just as factually incorrect as the other two. CNN? Just as bad as the other three.

As I pointed out yesterday, Robert Novak said in his original column that he talked to two administration officials, but he DID NOT claim that they were the source of the leak

“Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. “I will not answer any question about my wife,” Wilson told me.”

Also, if you read Novak’s comments from yesterday on the Drudge Report about the issue, you will notice that he again DOES NOT source the leak…

“Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson’s report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing. As a professional journalist with 46 years experience in Washington I do not reveal confidential sources. When I called the CIA in July to confirm Mrs. Wilson’s involvement in the mission for her husband — he is a former Clinton administration official — they asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operator, and not in charge of undercover operatives’…”

You’ll notice that Novak DOES NOT say the White House originally gave him the information in either column and that makes all the difference in the world. Why you ask? Because of the difference between these two conversations…

Robert Novak: So tell me a little bit about Joe Wilson.

Administration Official: His wife is a CIA agent named Valerie Plame. She had him sent to Niger.

If that was how it happened, a crime was committed. However, Novak DOES NOT say that is how it happened. In fact, it could have gone like this….

Robert Novak: A source told me that Joe Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA agent and that she might have been wrapped up in this somehow.

Administration Official: That’s true, she had him sent to Niger.

See that conversation? It’s NOT a crime. If you read Novak’s words carefully, you’ll notice that there’s NO WAY to determine which way the conversation actually went.

So why is Novak being so careful with his words? Could it be because his actual source is in the CIA and he’s trying to protect them? As I mentioned last night, Wilson says Novak ORIGINALLY told him his source for his information on Plame’s identity was in the CIA…

“Bob Novak called me before he went to print with the report. And he said, a CIA source had told him that my wife was an operative. He was trying to get a second source. He couldn’t get a second source. Could I confirm that? I said no.

After the article appeared, I called him and I said: “You told me it was a CIA source. You wrote senior administration officials. What was it, CIA or senior admiration?” He said to me, “I misspoke the first time I spoke to you.” That makes it senior administration sources.”

Wilson’s credibility is shot at this point, but let’s take what he said at face value. Is it not entirely possible that Novak truthfully told Wilson that his source was from the CIA, but changed his story after realizing he gave him too much information? It could even be that Novak only has a limited number of sources in the CIA and feared Plame might find out who his source actually was. Heck, maybe when Novak said he misspoke because he meant that Clifford May or one of the many other people who probably knew her real identity had already told him. In any case, at NO TIME has Novak identified the White House as the source of the leak.

So the ONLY THING we have so far that points back to the White House (since Wilson has now recanted his original claim that Rove or someone else in the White House leaked the story) is the WAPO’s anonymous aide who appears to have gotten his story wrong. The article in the post says…

“Novak attributed his account to “two senior administration officials.” An administration aide told The Post on Saturday that the two White House officials had cold-called at least six Washington journalists and identified Wilson’s wife.

She is a case officer in the CIA’s clandestine service and works as an analyst on weapons of mass destruction. Novak published her maiden name, Plame, which she had used overseas and has not been using publicly.”

Actually Novak DIDN’T attribute his account to “two senior administration officials,” but that’s beside the point for the moment. Novak also expressly said that “(n)obody in the Bush administration called me to leak this” which doesn’t fit with the account of the WAPO’s anonymous source.

Given all of this, isn’t just a wee bit early to start making wild charges about the White House breaking the law on little more than the word of anonymous source who already looks to have been wrong about part of the information he gave?

***Update***: The WAPO now has a second anonymous source that is pointing the finger at the White House…

Another journalist yesterday confirmed receiving a call from an administration official providing the same information about Wilson’s wife before the Novak column appeared on July 14 in The Post and other newspapers.

The journalist, who asked not to be identified because of possible legal ramifications, said that the information was provided as part of an effort to discredit Wilson, but that the CIA information was not treated as especially sensitive. “The official I spoke with thought this was a part of Wilson’s story that wasn’t known and cast doubt on his whole mission,” the person said, declining to identify the official he spoke with. “They thought Wilson was having a good ride and this was part of Wilson’s story.”

If this is true — and I do mean to say “if” given that this is another anonymous source — whoever leaked this in the White House is toast. If this reporter will leak it to the Washington Post, they’ll probably talk about it to the DOJ as well.

***Update #2*** However, some of the details given in the anon’s account (“the CIA information was not treated as especially sensitive”) could help avoid a trip to prison for whoever did this if it ever gets that far according to this WAPO story.

“The law enacted to stop Agee and others imposes maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and $50,000 in fines for the unauthorized disclosure of covert agents’ identities by government employees who have access to classified information.

The statute includes three other elements necessary to obtain a conviction: that the disclosure was intentional, the accused knew the person being identified was a covert agent and the accused also knew that “the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent’s intelligence relationship to the United States.”

The law says no person other than the one accused of leaking the information can be prosecuted, a provision that would protect journalists who report leaked classified information identifying a covert agent. But there is one exception to that protection.

The measure says people who engage in a “pattern of activities” intended to identify covert agents and who have “reason to believe that such activities would impair or impede the foreign intelligence activities of the United States” can be prosecuted. Smith said that language was aimed at the publishers of the Covert Action Information Bulletin and others who made it a practice to identify undercover CIA agents.”

It seems to me that whoever leaked this information, in the Bush administration or otherwise, probably wouldn’t meet this part of the standard…

“The measure says people who engage in a “pattern of activities” intended to identify covert agents and who have “reason to believe that such activities would impair or impede the foreign intelligence activities of the United States” can be prosecuted.”.

Pulling a pattern of activities out of this, given what we know so far, seems to be a bit of a stretch. But I’m sure the lawyers will haggle that out before this is all over if they ever pin it on someone…

***Update #3***: Novak has now definitively sourced it to a Bush official, although it certainly doesn’t appear to be the sort of malicious leak it’s being portrayed as…

“‘It Was An Offhand Revelation From This Official, Who Is No Partisan Gunslinger. When I Called Another Official For Confirmation, He Said: “Oh, You Know About It.”

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