Let’s cut through all the clutter: Almost two years ago, I wrote that Joe Wilson had himself to blame for the publicity surrounding his wife, Valerie Plame. I was wrong. Look to Valerie Plame herself.
Despite all the hype, it appears that Plame works a desk job at the CIA. That’s an admirable and important line of work. But it doesn’t make her a covert operative, and it didn’t make her a covert operative when Bob Novak mentioned her in his July 14, 2003, column, or the five years preceding the column’s publication, during which time she hadn’t served overseas as a spy, either. And even if Plame had been a covert operative, as I read the statute, Karl Rove or anyone revealing her identity, would: 1) have had to secure the information from classified information; and 2) intended to use the information to expose her identity. There’s no information on the public record to support this, either.
The New York Times now reports that a State Department memorandum identifying Plame was circulated on Air Force One and perhaps other places. Ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell was reportedly seen on the plane with the memo in his hand. (Of course, like so much the Times publishes, this had already been reported long ago by both the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.) Perhaps the document was classified. Who knows at this point? But if Plame wasn’t a covert operative who met the five-year foreign-service requirement, identifying her based on the memo should be of no legal consequence. And there are other reasons to conclude that revealing Plame’s identity would not be a crime. In a devastating piece about the media’s unconscionable hypocrisy, Andy McCarthy explains that the same media that are speculating about Rove’s guilt filed papers in federal court insisting that there can be no underlying crime as Plame’s identity was already known thanks to revelations having nothing to do with Rove or anyone else at the White House.
At this point, I have to wonder: What, exactly, is being investigated? The Left acts as if it doesn’t much care as long as someone in this administration is made to look like a criminal. The goal is to damage the president. Indeed, even before the investigation’s end, Charles Schumer, Harry Reid, and Joe Wilson himself are demanding Rove’s head. And to think it all started with Valerie Plame herself.
That’s right. Plame started this phony scandal. And so far, she’s gotten away with it. What do I mean? Plame has shown herself to be an extremely capable bureaucratic insider. In fact, we know she’s accomplished–she accomplished getting her husband, Joe Wilson, an assignment he desperately wanted: a trip to Niger to investigate a “crazy” report that Saddam Hussein sought yellowcake uranium from Niger (her word, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, not mine). And she was dogged. She asked not once but twice (the second time in a memo) that her husband get the job. And there’s more. The Senate Intelligence Committee investigation also found that a CIA “analyst’s notes indicate that a meeting was ‘apparently convened by [the former ambassador’s] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger issues.”
Now, Wilson didn’t have an intelligence background. Indeed, the committee revealed that Wilson didn’t have a “formal” security clearance, but the CIA gave him an “operational clearance.” The fact is that there was little to recommend Wilson for the role, other than his wife’s persistence.
Indeed, the committee reported further that some at the CIA “believed that the embassy in Niger had good contacts and would be able to get to the truth of the uranium issue, suggesting a visit from the former ambassador would be redundant….”
This is the real scandal. Plame lobbied repeatedly for her husband, and she knew full well that he was hostile to the war in Iraq and the administration’s foreign policy. She had to know his politics–and there can no longer be any pretense about him being a nonpartisan diplomat who was merely doing his job. By experience and temperament, Wilson was the wrong man to send to Niger. Plame affirmatively stepped into what she knew might become a very public political controversy, given her husband’s predilections (and her own) about that “crazy” report of yellowcake uranium.
In fact, Wilson was so concerned that his wife’s aggressive and clandestine efforts in securing his assignment would become known that he lied about who sent him to Niger to cover her (and his) tracks. So, in his July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed, he lied to the American people, writing: “It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the effort to verify information about Africa’s suspected link to Iraq’s nonconventional weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me. In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney’s office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake–a form of lightly processed ore–by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990’s. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president’s office.”
And in his book, Wilson wrote: “Valerie had nothing to do with the matter. She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip.” Lie upon lie intended to conceal his wife’s role and perpetuate the myth to the American people that he was a mere diplomat approached by the CIA because of his supposed expertise and professionalism. Wilson didn’t want his and his wife’s motivations to spoil the firestorm he was about to unleash against the president–with the help of the New York Times (which, to this day, has not run a correction and, therefore, stands by Wilson’s demonstrable lies).
When Wilson returned from Niger, he never got around to filing a written report. After all, why produce a written report that would be circulated to real professionals and policymakers, who would subject it to serious scrutiny. However, Wilson was debriefed by the CIA and his debriefers did take notes. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the debriefers’ didn’t share Wilson’s information with, among others, the White House because they concluded Wilson didn’t come up with much.
And remember, the crux of Wilson’s op-ed was that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein sought yellowcake uranium from Niger, that he had communicated that fact to the administration, that the administration ignored or rejected his findings, and that President Bush lied to the nation to justify the war when, during his January 2003 State of the Union address, he said that “the British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
Also remember that a year later, an independent British commission, which reviewed the intelligence behind the Iraq-Niger uranium claim, concluded that the president’s statement was “well founded,” and the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “a number of intelligence reports” contained similar information.
Significantly, the Senate Intelligence Committee learned that the debriefers’ conclusions differed in several important ways from Wilson’s, including respecting yellowcake uranium.
The committee wrote:
First, the former ambassador described his findings to Committee staff as more directly related to Iraq and, specifically, as refuting both the possibility that Niger could have sold uranium to Iraq and that Iraq approached Niger to purchase uranium. The intelligence report described how the structure of Niger’s uranium mines would make it difficult, if not impossible, for Niger to sell uranium to rogue nations, and noted that Nigerian officials denied knowledge of any deals to sell uranium to any rogue states, but did not refuse the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium.
Second, the former ambassador said that he discussed with his CIA contacts which names and signatures should have appeared on any documentation of a legitimate uranium transaction. In fact, the intelligence report made no mention of the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal or signatures that should have appeared on any documentation of such a deal. The only mention of Iraq in the report pertained to the meeting between the Iraqi delegation and former [Niger] Prime Minister Mayaki.
Third, the former ambassador noted that his CIA contacts told him there were documents pertaining to the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium transaction and that the source of the information was the [blacked out] intelligence service.” In fact, the CIA did not provide Wilson with “any information about the source or details of the original reporting as it would have required sharing classified information and noted that there were no ‘documents’ circulating … at the time of the former ambassador’s trip, only intelligence reports from [blacked out] intelligence regarding an alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal. …[N]one of the meeting participants recall telling the former ambassador the source of the report …
So, Wilson lied about what he found (or didn’t find) in Niger, he lied about discussing with his CIA debriefers certain documentation and signatures he never saw, and he lied about the CIA telling him of certain classified documents and sources. His New York Times op-ed was fiction, as was information he later leaked to the Washington Post, information he gave to other media outlets, and significant aspects of his book.
To this day, despite all this evidence, the media embrace Wilson’s story, evidence be damned. The media outlets that were used by Wilson, and published or repeated his lies, are very forgiving. They portray Wilson as he demands to be portrayed, not as he is. And they regurgitate the rhetoric about poor Valerie Plame–a patriot and victim endangered and ruined by politically motivated leaks and a powerful White House bent on discrediting her husband. Even Meet the Press’s Tim Russert, who fancies himself a hard-nosed interrogator, could not have a done a better job of misinforming the public and smearing the White House–cutting and pasting statements and video clips, and throwing softballs to, of all people, Bill Clinton’s (and now George Soros’s) hatchetman, John Podesta. Plame’s central and aggressive role in promoting her husband, who in turn hoped to damage the credibility of the president in the midst of a war–from her CIA perch–doesn’t even merit a mention. (Also, see Cliff May’s excellent reporting about the Plame/Wilson/David Corn connections.)
And in an Alice In Wonderland-like storyline, the same media that demand confidentiality for their sources as a First Amendment right, also demand the identity of Bob Novak’s sources and the names of administration officials who’ve spoken to the media. They cheer the very criminal investigation they once claimed endangered their profession. Meanwhile, who’s under investigation? Not Plame and Wilson, who appear to have hatched this scandal, but those truly victimized by it–administration officials who, it appears, sought to correct Wilson’s lies. Their phone conversations with reporters and e-mails to colleagues are now scrutinized by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and his grand jury as if they’re war criminals. No wonder Plame is the toast of the Washington establishment and appears in publicity shots in Vanity Fair with a big grin. Look what she’s wrought.
–Mark R. Levin is author of the bestselling Men In Black, president of Landmark Legal Foundation, and a radio talk-show host on WABC in New York.