On July 8, the Chicago Sun-Times published an excerpt of conservative columnist Robert D. Novak's forthcoming memoir, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington (Crown Forum, July 2007), in which Novak offers an account of a July 8, 2003, meeting he had with then-deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Novak writes that, in that meeting, Armitage revealed the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame, contending that the exchange over Plame's identity "lasted no more than sixty seconds." Novak also writes that Armitage described the information as "real Evans and Novak," adding: "I believe he meant that was the kind of inside information that my late partner, Rowland Evans, and I had featured in our column for so long. I interpreted that as meaning Armitage expected to see the item published in my column." While Novak has previously claimed that Armitage believed that the revelation about Plame "fit the style of the old Evans-Novak column" and that this "impl[ied] to me it continued reporting Washington inside information," he has also at times characterized the Armitage disclosure of Plame's identity very differently, claiming that it was "offhand" or "inadvertent."
Plame is the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was sent to Niger in 2002 by the CIA to investigate whether Iraq had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium from the African country. Wilson's investigation, which was prompted by questions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, turned up no evidence that any sale had taken place and found that "it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq." After President Bush referred to Iraq's purported attempt to obtain uranium from Africa in his 2003 State of the Union address as justification for invading Iraq (the notorious "16 words"), Wilson detailed the findings of his trip in a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed. Eight days later, in his July 14, 2003, column, Novak identified Plame as "an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction" and wrote: "Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger." Armitage was later revealed to be Novak's initial source in Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (Crown, September 2006), by Newsweek investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff and The Nation Washington editor David Corn. The resulting Justice Department investigation by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald led to the conviction of former Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements regarding whether he had leaked Plame's identity to reporters other than Novak. Libby's 30-month prison sentence was commuted by Bush on July 2.
Novak's accounts of how Plame's identity was conveyed to him have varied widely:
- As Media Matters for America has documented, shortly after the publication of his July 14, 2003, column identifying Plame's CIA employment, a July 22, 2003, Newsday article quoted Novak as saying, "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," adding that his then-unnamed sources for Plame's identity "thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."
- In his October 1, 2003, column, however, Novak wrote that he learned Plame's identity through "an offhand revelation" from his primary source within the White House, suggesting that he came by the information almost by accident.
- On the October 5, 2003, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, Novak again claimed that Plame's identity "was given to me as an offhand manner" and that the information "came up almost offhandedly in the course of a very long conversation with a senior official about many things." When host Tim Russert asked Novak to "explain" the discrepancy between this claim and his quotes in Newsday, Novak simply said his statements to Newsday were not "very artfully put" and insisted that there existed "no inconsistency between those two."
- In his July 12, 2006, column, Novak wrote that his source "told me through a third party that the disclosure was inadvertent on his part" and suggested that it was he who recognized the importance of Plame's identity in reporting on the story, writing: "I considered his wife's role in initiating Wilson's mission, later confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, to be a previously undisclosed part of an important news story. I reported it on that basis."
- On the July 13, 2006, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Novak accused Newsday reporters Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce, authors of the July 22, 2003 article, of misquoting him, saying: "[S]ome of the things that they said that quoted me that are not in quotes are paraphrases, and they're incorrect, such as the whole idea that they planted this story with me. I never told that to the Newsday reporters." On the October 5, 2003, broadcast of Meet the Press, however, Novak had simply claimed that his comments to Newsday were "not artfully put."
- After Armitage was identified as Novak's source, he told CBS News on September 7, 2006: "At the end of a wide-ranging interview he asked me, 'Why did the CIA send Ambassador (Wilson) to Africa?' I said I didn't know, but that she worked out at the agency." According to Armitage: "I didn't put any big import on it and I just answered and it was the last question we had."
Novak responded to Armitage in a September 14, 2006, column and contradicted his earlier claims that the revelation was "offhand," writing: "First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he 'thought' might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked, and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson. Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column." Novak further wrote: "As for [Armitage's] current implications that he never expected this to be published, he noted that the story of Mrs. Wilson's role fit the style of the old Evans-Novak column -- implying to me it continued reporting Washington inside information."
The excerpted passage from The Prince of Darkness published by the Sun-Times did not mention any of the contradictory descriptions Novak has previously given regarding Armitage's disclosure.