Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund and Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Ken Mehlman repeated the Associated Press' false assertion, since corrected, that former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV acknowledged in a recent TV interview that his wife, Valerie Plame, was not a clandestine CIA operative when syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak first publicly exposed her identity. In fact, Wilson's statement during a July 14 interview on CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports merely emphasized that his wife's cover was blown the moment Novak revealed her identity in a July 2003 column. The New York Post and CNN have also echoed the false AP report.
Appearing on the July 18 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Fund predicted the scandal will ultimately "be viewed as a tempest in a teapot dome" and told viewers, "We know from Joe Wilson himself, who said on television, 'My wife was not a clandestine agent the day that Bob Novak revealed her identity.' "
Fund's claim closely echoes the AP's July 15 report that Wilson "acknowledged his wife was no longer in an undercover job at the time Novak's column first identified her." But the context of the Blitzer interview clearly indicates that Wilson believes Novak's column was the definitive cause of his wife losing her undercover status. Later on July 15, the AP corrected its error. The revised version of the AP article read:
In an interview on CNN earlier Thursday before the latest revelation, Wilson kept up his criticism of the White House, saying Rove's conduct was an "outrageous abuse of power ... certainly worthy of frog-marching out of the White House."
Wilson also said "my wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity."
In an interview Friday, Wilson said his comment was meant to reflect that his wife lost her ability to be a covert agent because of the leak, not that she had stopped working for the CIA beforehand.
Mehlman also echoed this false claim on the July 18 broadcast of PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Mehlman told interviewer Gwen Ifill, "You know, Joe Wilson the other day had a press conference, said that his wife wasn't an undercover agent at the time [when Novak revealed her identity]." Though Wilson did give a press conference with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) on July 14 (video available at the weblog Crooks and Liars here), he did not say anything like the quote Mehlman attributed to him. Ifill did not challenge Mehlman's false assertion and did not inform viewers that Wilson had already clarified this misrepresentation of his interview on CNN.
Other media sources also continue to falsely claim that Wilson has said his wife was no longer a covert agent.
Fox News chief White House correspondent Carl Cameron reported on the July 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume that "we should point out that the covert agent would have had to have been operating overseas within the preceding five years. And Wilson himself has said that his wife had not been covert since 1997."
Cameron's report, though vague, appears to be based on a July 14 USA Today article that used "little-noticed details" in Wilson's book, The Politics of Truth, to suggest that the outing of Plame did not violate the relevant criminal statute, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA). The IIPA defines a "covert agent'' in part as someone "who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States." USA Today cited two of IIPAA's authors, Victoria Toensing and Bruce W. Sanford, who claimed that because Wilson's book indicated that Plame has lived in the United States since 1997, it is unlikely that she was covert under the law's definition. This argument is debatable, since the statute does not explicitly state that a covert agent must be stationed abroad. What is not debatable, however, is that nowhere in Wilson's book does he claim that that his wife has not been a covert operative since 1997.
Similarly, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Steyn appears to have conflated the false accounts of both Wilson's book and his CNN interview, suggesting that Wilson stated that his wife had not been a clandestine operative since 1997. In a July 17 column, Steyn wrote, "As her [Plame's] weirdly self-obsessed husband Joseph C. Wilson IV conceded on CNN the other day, she wasn't a 'clandestine officer' and, indeed, hadn't been one for six years."
From the July 18 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
FUND: This has been a political firestorm. And the White House has mishandled it on several occasions.
But I have to tell you, the facts are going to come out and, I think, ultimately, this is going to be viewed as a tempest in a teapot dome, because we know three facts from the last week. We know from Joe Wilson himself, who said on television, "My wife was not a clandestine agent the day that Bob Novak revealed her identity."
From the July 18 broadcast of PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer:
IFILL: Do you think this investigation and this debate is all political?
MEHLMAN: It shouldn't be. I think this is an important issue. We need to get to the bottom of it. There are a lot of questions involved. You know, Joe Wilson the other day had a press conference, said that his wife wasn't an undercover agent at the time. So does the statute apply to her?
From the July 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
CAMERON: That classified State Department memo may prove key, because in order to prove a crime under the 1982 law, government employees must have official knowledge of a covert agent's identity and then knowingly disclose it.
But Wilson's own wife has said -- and in addition, we should point out that the covert agent would have had to have been operating overseas within the preceding five years. And Wilson himself has said that his wife had not been covert since 1997. So even if there was a leak from this White House, technically it may not have been illegal. Despite all of that, Democrats still think heads should roll.
From Steyn's July 17 column in the Chicago Sun-Times:
But even if I was with the rest of the navel-gazers inside the Beltway I wouldn't be interested in who ''leaked'' the name of CIA employee Valerie Plame to the press. As her weirdly self-obsesssed husband Joseph C. Wilson IV conceded on CNN the other day, she wasn't a ''clandestine officer'' and, indeed, hadn't been one for six years. So one can only ''leak'' her name in the sense that one can ''leak'' the name of the checkout clerk at Home Depot.