Valerie Plame #3: Novak Clears Things Up

Robert Novak has now for the first time definitively identified someone in the Bush administration as his source…

“During a long conversation with a senior administration official, I asked why Wilson was assigned the mission to Niger. He said Wilson had been sent by the CIA’s counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife. 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.” The published report that somebody in the White House failed to plant this story with six reporters and finally found me as a willing pawn is simply untrue.”

First off, even though this looks as if it is far from the malicious leak that it was originally portrayed as, the “senior administration official” who let this drop should be fired. There is simply no excuse for putting the identity of a covert agent into the hands of the press.

Next, although there was another “official” involved, it doesn’t appear that he did anything legally or ethically wrong. In fact, he apparently gave Novak far less info than the CIA itself did about Plame.

“At the CIA, the official designated to talk to me denied that Wilson’s wife had inspired his selection but said she was delegated to request his help. He asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause “difficulties” if she travels abroad. He never suggested to me that Wilson’s wife or anybody else would be endangered. If he had, I would not have used her name. I used it in the sixth paragraph of my column because it looked like the missing explanation of an otherwise incredible choice by the CIA for its mission.”

However, there is another issue here. It’s very difficult to reconcile Novak’s account with the stories of the WAPO’s anonymous aide & anonymous journalist. Both sources claim that administration officials were actively calling reporters and trying to get this story out there prior to Novak breaking the story. That opens up a whole different can of worms: Was Novak’s source calling other people? If so, then his “casual aside” was likely not so casual. Then there’s the possibility that the person Novak talked to WAS DIFFERENT than the one calling reporters. Of course, there’s also the possibility that someone at the WAPO is making these anon sources up Jayson Blair style. Some people might also point out the possibility that Novak’s lying about how he got the story and the anons are telling the truth. But if Novak’s willing to go on record and they’re not, you certainly have to give the benefit of the doubt to Novak.

Last but not least, there is a side story here that I find interesting. Joe Wilson originally got the ball rolling on this and he even made what could fairly be called slanderous charges against Karl Rove given that he has now said he has no “specific information” about who leaked this story. Now that it has been revealed that Joe Wilson gave $2,000 to John Kerry’s Campaign & met several times with “advisers to Mr. Kerry”, that raises some intriguing questions as well. For example, was this incident discussed with them? Did anyone in the Kerry camp suggest going public with this or trotting out Rove’s name as the source of the leak? Like I said, this is a side issue, but a lot of people would be interested in knowing if Wilson is engaged in partisan mud slinging at the behest of the Kerry campaign.

***Update #1***: Here’s a little more meat for that “side story” I mentioned. Joseph Wilson is quoted in the WAPO editorial as saying,

“Neo-conservatives and religious conservatives have hijacked this administration, and I consider myself on a personal mission to destroy both.”

It sounds like someone is grinding a James Carville sized partisan axe here doesn’t it?

***Update #2***: Ah, the twists and turns just keep on coming with this one. Now the whole “covert operative or desk jockey” issue is being raised again. That’s important because if she’s a covert operative, leaking her name is a crime, but if she’s not it’s just business as usual in Washington. Here’s WAPO military reporter Vernon Loeb on the subject…

Vernon Loeb: I don’t think the national security has been compromised at all by this leak. Plame was not an overseas operative, but a Washington-based analyst who maybe would have worked overseas in the future.

&

Vernon Loeb: I could be wrong, but I think she was basically an analyst. I know she is not now based overseas. And if the CIA is going to be sending people like her overseas to build clandestine networks of agents, we’re all in trouble, because a lot of people in Washington know she works for the CIA, and I doubt it would have been very hard for people overseas to figure it out.

If what Loeb is saying is true, this whole scandal is just a big bag of nothing that no one even deserves to be fired for. But I guess we’ll find out as this continues to unfold…

***Update #3***: Wow, this is a refreshing change from how the Clinton administration handled scandals….

“The president has made it very clear that anybody that has information related to this investigation should report it to the Department of Justice. And that means anybody inside the administration or outside the administration. No one wants to get to the bottom of this more than the president,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.”

***Update #3***: Loeb added this in the same chat yesterday about Plame’s covert status…

Vernon Loeb: I’ve already acknowledged my mistake. Goodman is right, Plame is in the clandestine service.

That’s a bit confusing since I’m not sure I see where Loeb “acknowledged (his) mistake” elsewhere in the transcript. His statement actually just appears to a 180% shift from what he said earlier in the same chat with no explanation.

Thanks to Mark Kleiman for pointing this out to me.

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