Wash. Post editorial board quoted one Post story to attack Wilson and Plame, appears not to have read any others

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

Following the disclosure by Newsweek that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was columnist Robert Novak's original source for Valerie Plame's identity, a Washington Post editorial asserted that this revelation proved "untrue" the notion that White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to reporters in an effort to "ruin [Plame's] career" and "punish" her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

A September 1 Washington Post editorial asserted that the revelation that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was columnist Robert D. Novak's original source for former CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity proved "untrue" the notion that White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to reporters in an effort to "ruin [Plame's] career" and "punish" her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. To support its assertion, the editorial quoted from an August 29 Post article by staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith, in which Smith wrote that Armitage disclosed Plame's identity "in an offhand manner, virtually as gossip." However, the assertion that it is "untrue" that White House officials "orchestrated the leak of Plame's identity" is contradicted by many other Post articles published in the three years since Novak's column, as well as by court documents filed by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald -- which the Post acknowledged later in the same editorial.

The revelation that Armitage was Novak's original source was reported by Newsweek investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff in an article for the September 4 issue of Newsweek, posted on the magazine's website on August 27. The article is based on Isikoff's upcoming book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (Crown, September 2006), co-written with The Nation Washington editor David Corn. As Media Matters for America has documented, following the article's posting, numerous media figures have asserted that the fact that Armitage was Novak's original source proves that former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby and White House senior adviser Karl Rove were not involved in the "leak" of Plame's identity. Rove and Libby, however, were original sources of the information for two other reporters -- then-Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper and then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller. The Post editorial also claimed that Wilson's description of the report he filed upon his return from a fact-finding mission to Niger in 2002, to investigate allegations that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from the African nation, was itself false -- an assertion also contradicted by the paper's own reporting. The Post also falsely claimed that Wilson was "guilty of twisting the truth" in describing the results of his report in a previous editorial, as Media Matters also documented.

From the Post's September 1 editorial:

It follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House -- that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame's identity to ruin her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson -- is untrue. The partisan clamor that followed the raising of that allegation by Mr. Wilson in the summer of 2003 led to the appointment of a special prosecutor, a costly and prolonged investigation, and the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury. All of that might have been avoided had Mr. Armitage's identity been known three years ago.

The Post's assertion that it has proved Libby and Rove were not involved in the leak of Plame's identity -- coordinated or otherwise -- because Armitage was Novak's original source has been contradicted on several occasions by the Post's own reporting. In a September 28, 2003, article by staff writers Mike Allen and Dana Priest, the Post reported:

Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife. Wilson had just revealed that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson's account touched off a political fracas over Bush's use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.

"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.

And an April 9 report by Post staff writers Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer on court documents filed by Fitzgerald noted:

As he drew back the curtain this week on the evidence against Vice President Cheney's former top aide, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time described a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" -- using classified information -- to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq.

Bluntly and repeatedly, Fitzgerald placed Cheney at the center of that campaign. Citing grand jury testimony from the vice president's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Fitzgerald fingered Cheney as the first to voice a line of attack that at least three White House officials would soon deploy against former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

[...]

Fitzgerald reported for the first time this week that "multiple officials in the White House"-- not only Libby and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who have previously been identified -- discussed Plame's CIA employment with reporters before and after publication of her name on July 14, 2003, in a column by Robert D. Novak. Fitzgerald said the grand jury has collected so much testimony and so many documents that "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson."

Gellman and Linzer's April 9 report also contradicted a Post editorial from that very same day, as Media Matters noted. According to the April 9 Post editorial: "Mr. Wilson ... claimed that the White House set out to punish him for his supposed whistle-blowing by deliberately blowing the cover of his wife, Valerie Plame ... After more than 2 1/2 years of investigation, Mr. Fitzgerald has reported no evidence to support Mr. Wilson's charge."

As Media Matters has noted , the Post's assertion that the long investigation and Libby's indictment "might have been avoided had Mr. Armitage's identity been known three years ago" is also dubious, because according to a July 12 column by Novak, Fitzgerald knew who Novak's primary source was as early as January 12, 2004. Libby was indicted on October 28, 2005.

Despite claiming that "one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House -- that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame's identity to ruin her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson -- is untrue," the September 1 Post editorial later acknowledged:

That's not to say that Mr. Libby and other White House officials are blameless. ... Mr. Libby ... allegedly disclosed Ms. Plame's identity to journalists and lied to a grand jury when he said he had learned of her identity from one of those reporters. Mr. Libby and his boss, Mr. Cheney, were trying to discredit Mr. Wilson; if Mr. Fitzgerald's account is correct, they were careless about handling information that was classified.

In an August 30 analysis for CNN.com, CNN senior political analyst Jeff Greenfield cited the September 2003 Post article by Allen and Priest, noting, "If that reporting is right, the questions remain" about whether "others were out to punish Wilson and his wife even if Armitage's talk with Novak was wholly innocent."

The Post also wrote in its September 1 editorial:

Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.

Again, the Post ignored years of reporting by its own staff in asserting that Wilson falsely claimed to have debunked the administration's contention that Iraq sought uranium from Niger, as it similarly did in its April 9 editorial when the paper wrote that "Mr. Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth. In fact, his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium."

As Post staff writers Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus reported on October 25, 2005:

Wilson's central assertion -- disputing President Bush's 2003 State of the Union claim that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Niger -- has been validated by postwar weapons inspections. And his charge that the administration exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq has proved potent.

[...]

Wilson also had charged that his report on Niger clearly debunked the claim about Iraqi uranium purchases. He told NBC in 2004: "This government knew that there was nothing to these allegations." But the Senate committee said his findings were ambiguous. Tenet said Wilson's report "did not resolve" the matter.

Further, in an April 10 Post article, Pincus took issue with Libby's claim, detailed in Fitzgerald's court filing, that Wilson had "reported information about an Iraqi delegation visiting Niger in 1999 that was 'understood to be a reference to a desire to obtain uranium.' " The article rebutted this claim as follows: "In fact, Wilson said he was told that a Niger official was contacted at a meeting outside the country by a businessman who said an Iraqi economic delegation wanted to meet with him. The Niger official guessed that the Iraqis might want to talk about uranium because Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger in the mid-1980s. But when they met, no talk of uranium took place." The Post has repeatedly reported that Wilson, during his 2002 trip to Niger, "found no evidence to support allegations that Iraq was seeking uranium" from the African nation.

The Post's September 1 editorial further asserted that Wilson "chose to go public with an explosive charge" and "ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife." Again, the Post ignored its own reporting, this time from a July 27, 2005, article by Pincus and staff writer Jim VandeHei. The article quoted former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, who said unequivocally that Plame was not responsible for sending Wilson to Niger and stated that Harlow warned Novak not to reveal Plame's identity in his column:

Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.

Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.

Finally, in claiming that Wilson's account of his report was false, the Post editorial ignored the reporting of Pincus and Allen, who reported in an October 12, 2003, article that one day after Wilson published his July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed questioning the administration's use of intelligence in building the case for war, "the White House admitted it had been a mistake to include the 16 words about uranium in Bush's State of the Union speech." The October 2003 article also reported, "That same week, two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to [at] least six Washington journalists, an administration official told The Post for an article published Sept. 28. The source elaborated on the conversations last week, saying that officials brought up Plame as part of their broader case against Wilson."

Tellingly, the September 1 Post editorial has been highlighted on the Republican National Committee website under the headline: "Joe Wilson's Last Act."

From the September 1 Washington Post editorial, "End of an Affair":

We're reluctant to return to the subject of former CIA employee Valerie Plame because of our oft-stated belief that far too much attention and debate in Washington has been devoted to her story and that of her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, over the past three years. But all those who have opined on this affair ought to take note of the not-so-surprising disclosure that the primary source of the newspaper column in which Ms. Plame's cover as an agent was purportedly blown in 2003 was former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage.

Mr. Armitage was one of the Bush administration officials who supported the invasion of Iraq only reluctantly. He was a political rival of the White House and Pentagon officials who championed the war and whom Mr. Wilson accused of twisting intelligence about Iraq and then plotting to destroy him. Unaware that Ms. Plame's identity was classified information, Mr. Armitage reportedly passed it along to columnist Robert D. Novak "in an offhand manner, virtually as gossip," according to a story this week by the Post's R. Jeffrey Smith, who quoted a former colleague of Mr. Armitage.

It follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House -- that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame's identity to ruin her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson -- is untrue. The partisan clamor that followed the raising of that allegation by Mr. Wilson in the summer of 2003 led to the appointment of a special prosecutor, a costly and prolonged investigation, and the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury. All of that might have been avoided had Mr. Armitage's identity been known three years ago.

That's not to say that Mr. Libby and other White House officials are blameless. As prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has reported, when Mr. Wilson charged that intelligence about Iraq had been twisted to make a case for war, Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney reacted by inquiring about Ms. Plame's role in recommending Mr. Wilson for a CIA-sponsored trip to Niger, where he investigated reports that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium. Mr. Libby then allegedly disclosed Ms. Plame's identity to journalists and lied to a grand jury when he said he had learned of her identity from one of those reporters. Mr. Libby and his boss, Mr. Cheney, were trying to discredit Mr. Wilson; if Mr. Fitzgerald's account is correct, they were careless about handling information that was classified.

Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.

Posted In
Government, Ethics, National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence
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The Washington Post
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CIA Leak Investigation
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