Media still repeating false claim that Armitage role in Plame leak exonerates Libby

››› ››› SARAH PAVLUS

Following President Bush's decision to commute the prison sentence for former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, media figures have continued to repeat the false claim that former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's role as columnist Robert D. Novak's original source for Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative proves Libby was not involved in the leak of her identity. However, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, the fact that Armitage was the original source for Novak's column revealing Plame's identity is not inconsistent with Libby's disclosure of Plame's identity -- specifically, to then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller -- before the publication of Novak's column.

On the July 3 edition of NBC's Today, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol claimed: "Scooter Libby does not deserve to go to jail. I would remind Joe Wilson that Scooter Libby did not leak Valerie Plame's name. Richard Armitage told Robert Novak, we now know, about Valerie Plame's name, so this was an investigation that should never have happened. There was no underlying crime." Kristol was referring to former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, Plame's husband, who reportedly issued a statement saying that "the president's actions send the message that leaking classified information for political purposes is acceptable" and that "Mr. Libby not only endangered Valerie and our family, but also our country's national security."

As Media Matters has previously documented, journalist Murray Waas noted in his book The United States v. I. Lewis Libby (Union Square Press, June 2007), Miller testified on January 30 that Libby had disclosed Plame's CIA employment to her at a July 8, 2003, breakfast meeting at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C., well before Novak publicly revealed it in his July 14, 2003, column. As Media Matters has also noted, it is likely of little significance whether Libby disclosed Plame's name, as opposed to the identity of Joseph Wilson's wife as a CIA employee, to a reporter.

From the edited trial transcript of Miller's January 30 testimony during Libby's trial, included in Waas' book:

Q: Did there come a time following the publication of [Ambassador Joseph] Wilson's op-ed [July 6, 2003] that you met with Mr. Libby again?

A: Yes.

Q: When was that?

A: July 8th.

[...]

Q: Was there discussion at any time about Mr. Wilson's wife [Plame] on this occasion?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you tell us what you recall about that?

A: Yes. Mr. Libby was discussing what he called two streams of reporting on uranium and on efforts by Iraq to acquire sensitive materials and components. He said the first stream was reports like that of Joe Wilson. Then he said the second stream, and at that point he said, once again, as an aside, that Mr. Wilson's wife worked at WINPAC.

Q: Can you tell us what WINPAC is?

A: Yes, WINPAC is, stands for Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation and Arms Control. It's a part of the CIA which is specifically focused on weapons of mass destruction.

On the July 2 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News analyst Kirsten Powers claimed: "This was a complete waste of time. But we knew who leaked -- did leak in the first place. This whole thing has been a charade. It's been a waste of taxpayer money. It's been a waste of time." She continued: "But at the end of the day they knew who did the leak in the first place, and they still spent all this time on this."

From the July 3 edition of NBC's Today:

MEREDITH VIEIRA (co-host): Bill, you described yesterday as a "very good moment" for the president, but he did not grant the pardon that you and many other conservatives were hoping for. So was it a "good moment" for you, or just take what you can get?

KRISTOL: No, it was a good moment. It was an act of justice. Scooter Libby does not deserve to go to jail. I would remind Joe Wilson that Scooter Libby did not leak Valerie Plame's name. Richard Armitage told Robert Novak, we now know, about Valerie Plame's name, so this was an investigation that should never have happened. There was no underlying crime. The jail sentence was way beyond what the appellate -- what the court's own advisory probation committee, which is totally non-political, recommended. The president did the right thing. I would have preferred a pardon, but I think the president did the right thing in commuting his sentence.

From the July 2 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

MALKIN: Thanks for staying with us, I'm Michelle Malkin in for Bill O'Reilly. And in the "Impact Segment" tonight: Late today, President Bush commuted the prison sentence of former White House aide Scooter Libby, sparing him two and a half years behind bars in the CIA leak case. Plus a whole slew of other political stories.

With us now Democratic analysts Laura Schwartz and Kirsten Powers. Both are Fox News analysts. Laura, I'm going to start you on the commutation. What's your reaction?

SCHWARTZ: Oh, it was the right thing for him to do. He had to satisfy his base, and he did that by commuting the sentence, so he gets credit for that. But he didn't do a full-blown pardon, so he's not going to get as much of a hit from the left. And it -- this is during the July 4 recess. It's very good timing for him, politically.

MALKIN: Kirsten, agree?

POWERS: Well, it was -- I mean, setting aside politics, it was just the right thing to do. This was a complete waste of time. The -- we knew who leaked -- did the leak in the first place. This whole thing has been a charade. It's been a waste of taxpayer money. It's been a waste of time.

And you know, I'm sorry to all of the people in the left wing who just have lived and breathed and, you know, are probably hysterically crying right now, but this really was just a complete and utter waste of use of the government.

MALKIN: Right. Some of those far-lefters are still waiting for indictments to come down that are never going to happen.

POWERS: Yes.

MALKIN: But you've got [Sen.] Charles Schumer [D-NY] here now, talking like it's the end of the republic.

POWERS: Right.

MALKIN: Do you think the Democrats, some of these leading Democrats are making a mistake, making a big stink out of it?

POWERS: It's a big political issue. I think that, you know, it does -- it is -- it is just like throwing red meat to the base, and I think it's something that they're very up in arms about, and they believe that this is all really all about the Iraq war.

But at the end of the day, they knew who did the leak in the first place, and they still spent all this time on this, and I have a lot of issues with these type of cases in general, whether it's Scooter Libby or somebody else. This is not -- once you know the truth, you do not spend time, taxpayer money pursuing people to try to get them basically to trick them to lie under oath, and I mean, it's just -- you know, and we've had other cases like this that I had problems with as well.

MALKIN: Right. Well, Laura, one last word on this, so no damage to the GOP on this one?

SCHWARTZ: No, no damage to the GOP. And again, Bush's ratings are going down so low that even his own party, his base is trying to defect from it. And so this is his only chance. He's a lame duck now after immigration. He's got to do something. This is -- was his move.

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