Pincus and Leiby continue: “Bush talked forebodingly in his 2003 State of the Union speech of a British intelligence report about Hussein seeking ‘significant quantities of uranium from Africa.’ On July 6, 2003, with the war underway, a furious Wilson went public, penning a New York Times op-ed, appearing on ‘Meet the Press’ and going on the attack in The Washington Post.”
They add that Wilson’s “claim was explosive: the administration had twisted intelligence as a pretext for the invasion.” But the truth is that Wilson either did not know — or did not care — that the administration was relying on separate intelligence including, but not limited to, that provided by the British. Nor were intelligence reports the only factors considered before a decision was taken — with bipartisan Congressional authorization — to send troops to topple Saddam.
Pincus and Leiby go on to assert that the White House responded to Wilson “through its senior officials, disclosing the identity of his CIA operative wife to at least five journalists as a way to discredit Wilson, pushing the story to reporters that Valerie sent her husband on the trip to Niger to help his career as a business consultant.”
Here’s what actually happened: I believe I was the first to raise serious questions about why the CIA sent Wilson — rather than a trained, experienced CIA agent — to investigate such an important matter. (This was in NRO on July 11, 2003. In the book version of Fair Game, Plame calls me “mean-spirited.” Wilson denounces me in his memoir as well.) Syndicated columnist Robert Novak was the first to come up with an answer. In a column published on July 14, Novak wrote that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA and that she was the one who “suggested sending him to Niger.” As the public learned only much later, Novak’s information did not come from the White House; it came from State Department official Richard Armitage.
Neither Novak nor Armitage favored using military force to overthrow Saddam. Neither had any reason to “discredit” Wilson, and if you read Novak’s column you’ll see he does not do so. On the contrary, he praises Wilson.
And no Washington insider — I emphatically include Pincus and Leiby in that category — can possibly believe that the White House could have persuaded Armitage or Novak to “respond” to Wilson by ratting out a secret agent. If Pincus and Leiby do believe that, I would ask them to say so.
It’s also important to point out that Novak did not report that Plame had ever worked in a covert capacity. He later told me and others that he had assumed she was merely a desk-bound analyst and, had he been aware she was more than that, he would have steered clear. I believe he was telling the truth. Do Pincus and Leiby think he was lying? I’d ask them to make that clear as well.
So how did the public learn that Plame had been undercover? David Corn revealed that in a story in the leftwing magazine The Nation. I remain convinced that Corn’s unnamed source was Joe Wilson, who had received an award from a group associated with The Nation for — can you guess? — “truth-telling.” Wilson also had written for The Nation, accusing President Bush of having “imperial ambitions.”
If you’ve followed me this far, you understand that the true story of Joe and Valerie is not simple. Nor is it convenient for those suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome, those who daydreamed of frog-marching Karl Rove from the White House and sending Scooter Libby to the deepest dungeon.