Touting four dubious "witnesses," NewsMax, Limbaugh asserted Fitzgerald's investigation "coming unraveled"

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

On November 9, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh touted a story published by the right-wing website NewsMax that purported to show that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the alleged leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity "is coming unraveled." According to the November 9 NewsMax article that Limbaugh read on the air, "witness after witness" is stepping forward to claim that Plame's CIA employment was not a "deep dark secret" before syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak wrote about it in his July 14, 2003, column. But while NewsMax claimed that four such "witnesses" have emerged, there are significant questions surrounding each of their accounts.

On October 28, a federal grand jury indicted former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements in connection with the leak investigation. The indictment states: "At all relevant times from January 1. 2002 through July 2003, Valerie [Plame] Wilson was employed by the CIA, and her employment status was classified. Prior to July 14, 2003, Valerie Wilson's affiliation with the CIA was not common knowledge outside the intelligence community." In an October 28 press conference, Fitzgerald stated: "In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community. Valerie Wilson's friends, neighbors, college classmates had no idea she had another life."

In addition to the accounts of its four dubious "witnesses," NewsMax further alleged -- with no sourcing or supporting evidence -- that "rumors now swirl around Washington that Plame used to take her friends to lunch at the CIA's cafeteria."

"Witness" #1: Wayne Simmons

According to NewsMax, former CIA operative Wayne Simmons told Fox News Radio on November 9 that Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, repeatedly disclosed Plame's CIA employment before Novak did. NewsMax quoted Simmons as saying, "As most people now know, [Plame] was traipsed all over Washington many years ago by Joe Wilson and introduced at embassies and other parties as 'my CIA wife.' " Despite NewsMax's assertion that Simmons was one of "four witnesses on the record saying they knew" about Plame's CIA employment, the quote NewsMax used provides no indication that Simmons's claim was a first-hand account. Nor did NewsMax explain how Simmons supposedly knows this.

As Media Matters for America has noted, Simmons made a similar claim on the October 28 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson several hours after Libby was indicted. According to Simmons, Wilson "used to waltz her [Plame] all over Washington and introduce her as 'my CIA wife.' " Simmons was one of several Fox News commentators who made that claim on October 28 but offered no supporting evidence. On the October 31 broadcast of Fox News' The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, guest host Andrew P. Napolitano -- who serves as Fox News' senior judicial analyst -- claimed to have an anonymous colleague at Fox News who "told me that he was present at a party where she was introduced as 'my CIA operative wife.' "

"Witness" #2: retired Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely

As NewsMax noted: "Last week [November 3], Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely told WABC Radio's John Batchelor that during a 2002 conversation with Wilson while the two waited to appear on a TV show, Wilson casually mentioned that his wife worked at 'the Agency.' " But as Media Matters for America has documented, Vallely has told contradictory stories about the supposed encounter (or, in some versions, encounters). WorldNetDaily, the right-wing news website that first published Vallely's claims after his appearance on The John Batchelor Show, reported on November 5 that, according to Vallely, Wilson revealed his wife's CIA employment "over the course of at least three, possibly five, conversations" that, "according to his recollection," occurred "in the spring of 2002."

In another article posted later that day, WorldNetDaily reported that Vallely and WorldNetDaily received an email from Christopher Wolf, Wilson's attorney, demanding a retraction and stating that "the claim that Ambassador Wilson revealed to you or to anyone that his wife worked for the CIA is patently false." Wolf's email also, according to WorldNetDaily, inadvertently contained a message Wilson had sent to Wolf challenging the plausibility of Vallely's claim:

"This is slanderous," Wilson wrote. "I never appeared on tv before at least July 2002 and only saw him maybe twice in the green room at FOX. Vallely is a retired general and this is a bald faced lie. Can we sue? This is not he said/he said, since I never laid eyes on him till several months after he alleges I spoke to him about my wife."

[...]

In a subsequent e-mail, Wolf explained that he had not intended to append an e-mail from Wilson.

"The earlier version appended additional e-mails that were not intended for you and I would ask you to discard them, please," he wrote.

In subsequent interviews, including a November 7 appearance on The Sean Hannity Show, Vallely changed his story, claiming that Wilson discussed his wife's job "only on one occasion," which "[p]robably was in that summer, early fall timeframe." On November 8, WorldNetDaily acknowledged that Vallely had "clarified" his story: "After recalling further over the weekend his contacts with Wilson, Vallely says now it was on just one occasion -- the first of several conversations -- that the ambassador revealed his wife's employment with the CIA and that it likely occurred some time in the late summer or early fall of 2002."

As Media Matters has noted, Vallely's allegations have come nearly two years after the beginning of Fitzgerald's high-profile investigation. Despite widespread reporting about the seriousness of Fitzgerald's investigation, Vallely apparently did not feel compelled to share his story until more than a week after Libby's indictment. In an interview on the November 8 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Alan Colmes asked Vallely: "Did you talk to the FBI, or do you plan to talk to the FBI?" Vallely responded, "Well, no, I haven't talked to them."

"Witness" #3: Andrea Mitchell

As NewsMax reported in its November 9 article, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell appeared to assert on the October 3, 2003, edition of CNBC's Capital Report that she and other reporters investigating Wilson's trip knew about Wilson's CIA employment prior to Novak's column:

In Oct. 2003, NBC's diplomatic correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, told CNBC that Plame's occupation "was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community and who were actively engaged in trying to track down who among the foreign service community was the envoy to Niger."

Mitchell added: "So a number of us began to pick up on that."

But a day after NewsMax published its article, Mitchell retracted her claim. As NewsMax noted on November 10, Mitchell said on the November 10 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning that she "may have misspoken in October of '03 in that interview." Referring to Plame's CIA employment, Mitchell told host Don Imus: "The fact is that I did not know -- did not know before, did not know before the Novak column. And it was very clear, because I had interviewed Joe Wilson several times, including on Meet the Press. And in none of those interviews did any of this come up, on or off camera, I have to tell you." Later in the interview, again apparently referring to Plame's CIA employment, Mitchell stated, "I found it out from Novak."

A transcript from Mitchell's Imus in the Morning interview is below.

"Witness" #4: Clifford May

In its November 9 article, NewsMax noted that Foundation for the Defense of Democracies president and former Republican National Committee communications director Clifford D. May claimed in September 2003 that he had learned about Plame's CIA employment "in an offhand manner" before Novak published it:

And in Sept. [29] 2003, NationalReviewOnline's Cliff May wrote that when Plame's CIA connection was mentioned in Novak's column -- "That wasn't news to me."

"I had been told that [Plame was CIA] - but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of."

The day his report appeared, May told the Fox News Channel's John Gibson: "I knew this, and a lot of other people knew it."

On the September 29, 2003, edition of The Big Story with John Gibson that NewsMax referenced, May also claimed: "Somebody else told it to me with a different spin. He said, Cliff, you've been too tough on Joe Wilson, accusing him of being a Bush-basher and a left-winger, because, you know, his wife works for the CIA. I mean, he's really not quite that bad." May repeated his claim on the September 30 edition of CNN's American Morning:

MAY: Look, I think there should be zero tolerance for anybody who outs a covert CIA operative. That's simply inexcusable behavior. That said, we don't know that's what happened at all. There's no evidence that's the case. I was the first to criticize Joe Wilson in print. In the research I did, I did know that his wife worked for the CIA. I didn't know what she was covert or whether she was merely an analyst. But that was -- it seemed like it was sort of an open secret.

However, a Media Matters search* of May's subsequent television appearances did not turn up any additional references to this claim. That absence is particularly striking given that May has used his frequent appearances on CNN to question whether Plame was a covert agent when her identity was allegedly leaked and to suggest that her CIA employment may not have been a secret.

For example, May appeared on the July 18, 2005, edition of CNN's American Morning -- shortly after Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper revealed that White House senior adviser Karl Rove and Libby told him before Novak's column that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. May suggested that Valerie Plame's CIA employment may have been a "rumor" among reporters and that Rove and Libby simply confirmed it. May did not reference his 2003 claim that he was told about Plame's employment prior to Novak's column, despite the fact that such a claim would likely have supported his argument.

From the July 18 edition of CNN's American Morning:

CAROL COSTELLO (anchor): So in addition to details about Karl Rove's possible involvement in this, now it's Dick Cheney's chief of staff that may have also given the story to Mr. Cooper. I seem to remember the White House saying neither had been involved.

MAY: Yes. But the involvement we're talking about is whether the identity of a covert agent, a secret agent, a top-secret operative was revealed. It doesn't appear that Rove, or that Matt Cooper, as he says at this point, or Libby or any of them, understood that Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife, was a covert agent. And in fact, she wasn't at that time. She probably hadn't been for five years. That's according to Wilson himself. The reporters went to these guys and said, "I hear a rumor that the reason Wilson was sent to Africa was because his wife works at the CIA, may have sent him." That happens to be true, and that was established by a bipartisan committee. They said, yes, we've heard that rumor, too, and that rumor was true. So what you have here are officials telling the truth to reporters. That's unusual behavior, but probably not criminal behavior.

Moreover, on August 8 -- nearly two years after claiming to have known about Plame's employment before Novak's column -- May wrote in National Review: "In fact, the public still knows very little about Plame. Perhaps Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, has by now learned the relevant facts. Most of us first saw her name in Bob Novak's July 14, 2003, column."

From the November 10 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:

IMUS: There has been some speculation that you might be called as a defense witness for Scooter Libby because, on apparently October 3, 2003, you said -- and you can correct me if I'm wrong here -- that it was widely known that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

MITCHELL: Well, it was out of context.

IMUS: Oh, it was?

MITCHELL: It was out of context.

IMUS: Isn't that always the case when you have to testify?

MITCHELL: Don't you hate it when that happens? The fact is that I did not know -- did not know before, did not know before the Novak column. And it was very clear, because I had interviewed Joe Wilson several times, including on Meet the Press. And in none of those interviews did any of this come up, on or off camera, I have to tell you.

IMUS: Hmmm.

MITCHELL: The fact -- what I was trying to express was that it was widely known that there was an envoy, that I was tasking my producers and researchers and myself to find out who was this secret envoy. I did not know. We only knew because of an article in The Washington Post by Walter Pincus and a column by [New York Times columnist] Nicholas Kristof that someone had gone. So in that period --

IMUS: So you didn't say that it was widely know that his wife worked at the CIA?

MITCHELL: I said it was widely known that an envoy had gone -- let me try to find the quote -- but the fact is what I was trying to say, in the rest of that sentence, I said we did not know who the envoy was until the Novak column.

IMUS: Did you mention Wilson or his wife or the CIA?

MITCHELL: Yes. In a long interview on CNBC.

IMUS: No. I understand that. But at any point, in any context, did you say that it was either widely known, not known, or that it was speculated that his wife worked for the CIA?

MITCHELL: I said that it was widely known that -- [inaudible] the exact quote here -- but I said that it was widely known that Wilson was an envoy and that his wife worked at the CIA, but I was talking about --

IMUS: OK, so you did say that. Why did it take me a minute to get that out of you?

MITCHELL: No, I was talking about after the Novak column.

IMUS: Oh.

MITCHELL: And that's what was not clear. I may have misspoken in October of '03 in that interview.

IMUS: When was the Novak column?

MITCHELL: The Novak column was on the 14th of July, I believe. July 12 or 14.

IMUS: Of what year?

MITCHELL: Of '03.

IMUS: Oh, so this is well after that.

MITCHELL: This is well after that. That's why the confusion.

IMUS: Oh.

MITCHELL: I was trying to express what I knew before the Novak column, and I think there was some confusion in that one interview.

IMUS: Well, who did you find it out from, [NBC News senior vice president and Washington bureau chief and Meet the Press host Tim] Russert?

MITCHELL: I found it out from Novak.

IMUS: Maybe Russert's lying.

MITCHELL: You know Tim Russert better than that.

IMUS: Which would break little [Don's son] Wyatt Imus's heart, by the way.

MITCHELL: Well, it would just not happen.

IMUS: OK.

MITCHELL: But this is one of those cases -- I mean we've got, you know, we've got a whole new world of journalism out there where there are people writing blogs who grab one thing and not everything else that I've written and said about this and go to town with it. And if it, you know, supports their political point of view, then --

IMUS: Bingo.

MITCHELL: Bingo, exactly.

From the November 9 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:


LIMBAUGH: Grab cut eight; let's do that, because that goes with this story. Our buddies at NewsMax are back again:

"Fitzgerald Ignored Witnesses Who Contradicted Wilson. Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's Leakgate investigation is coming unraveled, as witness after witness steps forward to challenge a key premise of his controversial investigation. Was the identity of Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, really a deep dark secret before she was 'outed' by columnist Robert Novak in July 2003? The number of witnesses now saying 'No' has climbed to four -- and none of those witnesses have apparently been interviewed by the investigators for Patrick Fitzgerald. On Tuesday, Wayne Simmons, a 27-year veteran at the CIA, told Fox News: 'As most people now know now, Valerie Plame was traipsed all over Washington many years ago by Joe Wilson and introduced at embassies and other parties as, quote, 'my CIA wife,' unquote. Last week, Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely -- Vallely, sorry -- Paul Valllely told ABC Radio's John Batchelor that during a 2002 conversation with Wilson while the two waited to appear on a TV show, Wilson casually mentioned that his wife worked at 'the Agency.' In October 2003, NBC's diplomatic correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, told CNBC that Plame's occupation, quote, 'was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community and who were actively engaged in trying to track down who among the foreign service community was the envoy to Niger.' Andrea Mitchell said: 'So a number of us began to pick up on that.' And in September of 2003, National Review Online's Cliff May wrote that when Plame's CIA connection was mentioned in Novak's column - 'This wasn't news to me. I had been told that Plame was CIA -- but not by anyone working in the White House. I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of.' The day his report appeared, May told the Fox News Channel's John Gibson: 'I knew this, a lot of other people knew it.' In fact, rumors now swirl around Washington that Plame used to take her friends to lunch at the CIA's cafeteria. So what has Mr. Fitzgerald done with the avalanche of testimony that contradicts his stated claim that Plame's job 'was not widely known'? Well, apparently nothing. In the six days since he's gone public, Gen. Vallely says prosecutors have yet to contact him."

He was on Hannity & Colmes last night [November 8], and [Alan] Colmes said to him, "Did Ambassador Joe Wilson expose his wife himself? That's exactly what our next guest says. Joining us now in an exclusive interview that you're not going to see anyplace else, Fox News military analyst and retired Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, who says that Wilson told him that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent in 2002. General, where did this happen?"

VALLELY [audio clip]: Joe Wilson and I met in Washington in the green room of the bureau there for Fox. Met several times in 2002, and as we talked about our families, he did not say that she was an agent, only that she was employed by the agency, and as we since learned, she is in fact and has been an analyst in Washington for a number of years. So that basically is how we met and how we discussed that.

LIMBAUGH: So Joe Wilson is telling people. Cliff May didn't reveal his source, but he said, "I knew who she was. I knew she was CIA when I saw Novak's column." Andrea Mitchell said she knew who it was, and Wayne Simmons, the new guy on the scene here, 27-year veteran at the CIA, said to Fox News: "As most people now know, Plame was traipsed all over Washington many years ago by her husband and introduced at embassies and other parties as, quote unquote, 'my CIA wife.' "

* Nexis "transcripts" search from 9/29/03 to 11/11/05 for Clif! pre/2 May and May w/100 (Wilson or Plame)

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