By Joe Conason
The revelation the Richard Armitage first disclosed Valerie Wilson’s identity as a covert CIA operative doesn’t change the fact that it was Karl Rove and Scooter Libby who used that information in an attempt to punish Ms. Wilson for her husband’s criticism of the Bush administration.
To observe the Washington press corps is to wonder why so many people who don’t remember what happened yesterday and can’t master basic logic are expected to analyze politics and policy. The latest developments in the Valerie Plame Wilson case—as revealed in “Hubris,” a new book by Michael Isikoff and David Corn—proved once more that the simplest analysis of facts is beyond the grasp of many of America’s most celebrated journalists.
What Corn and Isikoff report is that the first official to disclose Valerie Wilson’s covert identity as a CIA operative to columnist Robert Novak in June 2003 was Richard Armitage, who then served as deputy secretary of state. Unlike other Bush administration figures who were involved in leaking Ms. Wilson’s identity, such as Karl Rove and Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Armitage was known to be unenthusiastic about the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
From those two facts, many commentators have deduced that Rove and Libby are guiltless, that there was no White House effort to expose Valerie Wilson, and that the entire leak investigation was a partisan witch hunt and perhaps an abuse of discretion by the special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald. The same pundits now proclaim that Armitage’s minor role somehow proves the White House didn’t seek to punish Ms. Wilson and her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, for his decision to publicly debunk the presidential misuse of dubious intelligence from Niger concerning Iraq’s alleged attempts to purchase yellowcake uranium.
But whatever Armitage did, or says he did, in no way alters what Rove and Libby did in the days that followed, nor does it change their intentions. It’s a simple concept—two people or more can commit a similar act for entirely different reasons—but evidently it has flummoxed the great minds of contemporary journalism.
In this instance, Armitage says he was merely “gossiping” with Novak, who seems to have been primed to question him about the Wilson affair. But both Rove and Libby sought to undermine Joe Wilson’s credibility—and perhaps to victimize him and his wife—by revealing her identity to two reporters. Rove gave that information to Time reporter Matt Cooper, who got confirmation from Libby. And Libby provided the same poisonous tip to New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
Almost from the beginning of his investigation, Fitzgerald has known about the blabby Armitage, who promptly came clean to his boss. But Fitzgerald understood that the Armitage confession was of limited relevance. It didn’t discourage the special counsel from conducting a thorough probe that uncovered the secretive effort, emanating from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, to discredit Joe Wilson and use his wife’s two decades of dangerous devotion to her country as a weapon against him. Indeed, the only reason Armitage knew about Valerie Wilson was that he had read a negative dossier on Joe Wilson prepared at Libby’s behest.
Corn, the Washington editor of The Nation, has responded on his blog to pundits who now exonerate the White House. “Rove’s leak (to Robert Novak and Matt Cooper) and Libby’s leak (to Judith Miller and Cooper) were part of a campaign to discredit former ambassador Joseph Wilson,” he wrote. “That’s no conspiracy theory. The available evidence proves this point.”
In an article published in The Nation on Sept. 5, Corn says the available evidence also proves that Valerie Wilson was not only a genuine CIA undercover officer, but that she was in charge of operations seeking proof of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Specifically, she ran the Joint Task Force on Iraq, part of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division. She worked overseas using a “nonofficial cover.” By disclosing her identity, the Bush officials ruined her career and endangered the sources she had used in the president’s service. “Hubris” also suggests strongly that her alleged role in dispatching her husband to Niger has been exaggerated.
All this is contrary to the dominant right-wing perspective in Washington. So now we will see whether those who were so thrilled by the Armitage scoop are honest enough to confront more significant and embarrassing facts. But the fundamental issues have not changed.
Rather than confront Joe Wilson’s accusations directly, the White House went after him and his wife—and then lied about the involvement of its senior officials in disclosing her identity. The perpetrators of these unpatriotic acts have yet to be punished, and the president has failed to uphold his own professed ethical standards. It is a simple matter, and yet still too challenging for the national press to understand.
To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website, www.creators.com.