Will the media ask McCain about Armitage and the Plame leak?

››› ››› SIMON MALOY & RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Sen. John McCain has taken on former deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage -- who was recently revealed to be syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak's primary source for the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame -- as one of the foreign policy advisers for McCain's potential 2008 presidential candidacy. Will the media ask McCain any of the numerous questions raised by the recent disclosures about Armitage's role in the Plame leak?

The New York Times reported on August 21 that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "is locking up a cast of top-shelf Republican strategists, policy experts, fund-raisers and donors, in a methodical effort to build a 2008 presidential campaign machine," and that one of his foreign policy advisers is former deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage. It was recently revealed that Armitage was syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak's primary source for the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame, whom Novak outed as a CIA employee in his July 14, 2003, column. McCain himself was quoted in a September 30, 2003, Boston Globe article saying of the leak: "If that happened, that is a very wrong thing to happen."

Armitage has apologized for disclosing Plame's identity and has claimed that the leak was inadvertent. However, Armitage's role in the controversy is disputed and, as yet, unclear. In a September 7 interview with CBS News, Armitage claimed that his disclosure to Novak of Plame's identity was offhand and that he "didn't put any big import on it," denying that he had deliberately outed Plame in an effort to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the Bush administration's use of pre-Iraq war intelligence. According to the Associated Press, Armitage has also claimed that he did not know Plame was covert, and that "he assumed Plame's job was not a secret because it was included in a State Department memo." In his CBS News interview, Armitage acknowledged that the document was classified. According to a CBS News online article about the interview: "Armitage adds that while the document was classified, 'it doesn't mean that every sentence in the document is classified. I had never seen a covered agent's name in any memo in, I think, 28 years of government,' he says." As Media Matters for America has noted, however, the paragraph from that 2003 memo mentioning Plame and her status as a CIA operative was reportedly marked "S" for secret. According to the New York Sun, a declassified copy of the memo, obtained by that newspaper, showed that she was identified specifically as a "CIA WMD manager." David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation and co-author of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, the book that originally identified Armitage as Novak's source, revealed in a September 6 article for The Nation Plame's role at the CIA -- she was director of operations for the Joint Task Force on Iraq, a unit within the CIA's clandestine service responsible for investigating pre-war claims regarding Iraq's alleged WMD programs.

Given Plame's status within the CIA, Armitage's presumed sophistication on matters of intelligence and foreign policy, and Armitage's acknowledgment that he read the memo in which her identity is contained within a paragraph marked secret, it seems highly implausible that Armitage was not aware that Plame's identity was sensitive information. Plame and Wilson made this case in the civil suit they filed against White House senior adviser Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, which has since been updated to include Armitage.

In light of recent disclosures about Armitage's role in the leak, why haven't the media asked McCain a number of questions, including the following:

  • Have you gotten to the bottom of what exactly Armitage knew?
  • Have you inquired of Armitage how he could not have been aware that Plame's identity was sensitive, and its disclosure potentially damaging?
  • Given the implausibility of Armitage's claim not to have known the information was sensitive, do you not have concerns about whether Armitage has been honest in his disclosure of what happened?
  • Can you trust your campaign foreign policy adviser with sensitive information?
  • Given the implausibility of Armitage's claim that he was not aware of the sensitivity of the information he reportedly disclosed, have you asked him further about allegations that he was part of a coordinated effort to expose Plame, as alleged by Wilson and Plame?
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