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Context of 'February 25, 2004: Novak Testifies before Fitzgerald Grand Jury'

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Syndicated columnist Robert Novak discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s journey to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003). Novak asks Armitage, “Why in the world did [the CIA] send Joe Wilson on this?” and Armitage answers by revealing what he has learned from a State Department intelligence memo (see June 10, 2003) that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent who works with the issue of weapons of mass destruction. “I don’t know,” Armitage says, “but his wife works out there.” Armitage also tells Novak that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the Niger trip. [Fox News, 9/8/2006; Wilson, 2007, pp. 256; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003). Either later this day, or sometime during the next day, Novak also learns of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see July 8 or 9, 2003). Novak will publicly reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status in his next column, apparently as part of an effort to discredit her husband (see July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Government officials, most likely with the CIA, ask conservative columnist Robert Novak not to publish the name of covert agency official Valerie Plame Wilson in an upcoming column (see July 14, 2003). Two government officials will testify in February 2004 that they made the request (see February 2004). The officials warn Novak that by publishing her name and CIA affiliation, he risks jeopardizing her ability to engage in covert work, damaging ongoing intelligence operations, and risking sensitive overseas intelligence assets. According to the officials, Novak is told that Plame Wilson’s work for the CIA “went much further than her being an analyst,” and that publishing her name would be “hurtful,” could stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize her overseas sources. [American Prospect, 2/12/2004] One of the officials will later be identified as CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, will later write: “Lamely attempting to shirk responsibility, Novak [will claim] that the CIA no ‘was a soft no, not a hard no.’ On the wings of that ludicrous defense, he soared to new heights of journalistic irresponsibility.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 347]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Bill Harlow

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Robert Novak.Robert Novak. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]Conservative columnist Robert Novak, after being told by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House political guru Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003), writes a syndicated op-ed column that publicly names her as a CIA officer. The column is an attempt to defend the administration from charges that it deliberately cited forged documents as “evidence” that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). It is also an attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband, who had gone to Niger at the behest of the CIA to find out whether the Iraq-Niger story was true (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Novak characterizes Wilson’s findings—that an Iraqi deal for Nigerien uranium was highly unlikely—as “less than definitive,” and writes that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bush were aware of Wilson’s report before the president’s 2003 State of the Union address where he stated that Iraq had indeed tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Novak writes: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials [Armitage and Rove, though Novak does not name them] told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. ‘I will not answer any question about my wife,’ Wilson told me.” Wilson’s July 6 op-ed challenging the administration’s claims (see July 6, 2003) “ignite[d] the firestorm,” Novak writes. [Town Hall (.com), 7/14/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313] Novak also uses the intelligence term “agency operative,” identifying her as a covert agent and indicating that he is aware of her covert status. Later, though, Novak will claim that he came up with the identifying phrase independently, and did not know of her covert status. [American Prospect, 7/19/2005]
Asked Not to Print Plame Wilson's Name - Novak will later acknowledge being asked by a CIA official not to print Plame Wilson’s name “for security reasons.” Intelligence officials will say they thought Novak understood there were larger reasons than Plame Wilson’s personal security not to publish her name. Novak will say that he did not consider the request strong enough to follow (see September 27, 2003 and October 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] He will later reveal the CIA official as being agency spokesman Bill Harlow, who asked him not to reveal Plame’s identity because while “she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment… exposure of her agency identity might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “This struck Novak as an inadequate reason to withhold relevant information from the public. Novak defended his actions by asserting that Harlow had not suggested that Plame or anybody else would be endangered, and that he learned Plame’s name (though not her undercover identity) from her husband’s entry in the well-known reference book Who’s Who in America.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] McClellan will note, “Whether war, smear job, or PR offensive gone haywire, the CIA took the leak of Plame’s name very seriously.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174]
Plame Wilson Stricken - According to Wilson’s book The Politics of Truth, his wife’s first reaction is disbelief at Novak’s casual destruction of her CIA career. “Twenty years of loyal service down the drain, and for what?” she asks. She then makes a checklist to begin assessing and controlling the damage done to her work. She is even more appalled after totalling up the damage. Not only are the lives of herself and her family now endangered, but so are those of the people with whom she has worked for 20 years (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 5/12/2004] In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter: “[Y]ou can assume that even if 150 people read the Novak article when it appeared, 148 of them would have been the heads of intelligence sections at embassies here in Washington and by noon that day they would have faxing her name or telexing her name back to their home offices and running checks on her: whether she had ever been in the country, who she may have been in contact with, etc.” [Raw Story, 7/13/2005]
Intimidation of Other Whistle-Blowers? - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “The implication from the administration was that the CIA’s selection of Wilson was somehow twisted because his wife was at the CIA. But, more importantly, the administration had put out a message to any and all potential whistle-blowers: if you dare speak out, we will strike back. To that end, the cover of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA operative specializing in WMD, had been blown by a White House that was supposedly orchestrating a worldwide war against terror.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313]
Outing about Iraq, Not Niger, Author Says - In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write: “The leak case was about Iraq, not Niger. The political stakes were high only because the scandal was about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative who posed for Vanity Fair. The real victims were the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprits—the big enchilada, in John Ehrlichman’s Nixon White House lingo—were not the leakers but those who provoked a war in Iraq for their own motives and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from the fight against those who did attack America on 9/11, and had since regrouped to deadly effect.… Without Iraq, there never would have been a smear campaign against an obscure diplomat or the bungled cover-up [that followed]. While the Bush White House’s dirty tricks, like [former President] Nixon’s, were prompted in part by a ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost, this administration had upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 184]
Elevating Profile of Controversy - In 2008, McClellan will write, “By revealing Plame’s status, Novak inadvertently elevated the Niger controversy into a full-blown scandal.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Patrick Fitzgerald.Patrick Fitzgerald. [Source: US Department of Justice]Citing potential conflicts of interest, Attorney General John Ashcroft formally recuses himself from any further involvement in the investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 30, 2003). The Justice Department names Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney for the Chicago region, to handle the investigation. In a letter to Fitzgerald authorizing the position, Deputy Attorney General James Comey writes: “I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the attorney general with respect to the department’s investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity, and I direct you to exercise that authority as special counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department.” Many believe that Ashcroft’s continued involvement has become politically untenable, and that the investigation has reached a point where his potential conflicts of interest can no longer be ignored. The White House steadfastly denies that any of its officials leaked Plame Wilson’s name to conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first outed Plame Wilson in his column (see July 14, 2003), or any other member of the press. The FBI has already spoken to White House political adviser Karl Rove, suspected of being one of Novak’s sources; Rove has close political ties to Ashcroft. Upon Ashcroft’s recusal, the investigation was given over to Comey, who immediately named Fitzgerald to head the investigation. Fitzgerald and Comey, himself a former Manhattan prosecutor, are close friends and colleagues. [Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 12/30/2003 pdf file; Associated Press, 12/30/2003; New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Appearance of Conflict of Interest - Comey tells the press: “The attorney general, in an abundance of caution, believed that his recusal was appropriate based on the totality of the circumstances and the facts and evidence developed at this stage of the investigation. I agree with that judgment. And I also agree that he made it at the appropriate time, the appropriate point in this investigation.” Comey says that while Ashcroft denies an actual conflict of interest exists, “The issue that he was concerned about was one of appearance.” White House officials say that President Bush had no role in the decision; some White House and law enforcement officials were surprised upon learning of Comey’s decision.
Investigation Reaching into White House? - Some Democrats believe that Ashcroft’s recusal is an indication that the investigation is moving into the White House itself. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of Comey’s decision, “This isn’t everything that I asked for, but it’s close.” In regards to Fitzgerald, Schumer says, “I would have preferred to have someone outside the government altogether, but given Fitzgerald’s reputation for integrity and ability—similar to Comey’s—the glass is three-quarters full.” Governor Howard Dean (D-VT), a leading Democratic contender for the presidency, says Ashcroft’s decision “is too little, too late.” For the last three months, the investigation has been run by John Dion, the Justice Department’s chief of counterespionage. Whether Fitzgerald will ask Dion or other Justice Department investigators to remain on the case remains to be seen. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought maybe he ought to keep some or all of the career folks involved,” says Comey. Fitzgerald has the authority to issue subpoenas and grant immunity on his own authority, Comey confirms. “I told him that my mandate to him was very simple. Follow the facts wherever they lead, and do the right thing at all times. And that’s something, if you know this guy, is not something I even needed to tell him.” [New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Fitzgerald's 'Impressive Reputation' - Fitzgerald has earned an “impressive reputation,” in Plame Wilson’s words, as a government prosecutor. In 1993, he won a guilty plea from Mafia capo John Gambino, and a conviction against Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see July 3, 1993). He put together the first criminal indictment against Osama bin Laden. In 2003 he indicted former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan on fraud and conspiracy charges; in 2005, he indicted several aides of Chicago Democratic mayor Richard Daley on mail fraud. He brought charges of criminal fraud against Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black. As Plame Wilson will write, “Fitzgerald was not easily intimidated by wealth, status, or threats.”
'Belated Christmas Present' - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “It was a belated but welcome Christmas present. Ashcroft had clearly given some thought to his extensive financial and personal ties to Karl Rove, who even then was believed to have had a significant role in the leak, and made the right decision.” She will also add that several years after the recusal, she hears secondhand from a friend of Ashcroft’s that Ashcroft was “troubled” and “lost sleep” over the administration’s action. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, US Department of Justice, John Dion, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, James B. Comey Jr., Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Howard Dean, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), is questioned by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see December 30, 2003). Novak has already discussed some of his knowledge of Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status with FBI investigators (see October 7, 2003). As with the FBI session, the Fitzgerald interview takes place at the law offices of Swidler Berlin, the firm representing Novak. Fitzgerald comes to the interview with waivers (see January 2-5, 2004) from Novak’s sources (see January 12, 2004) for his column outing Plame Wilson—White House political strategist Karl Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003), as well as a waiver from CIA official Bill Harlow, who asked Novak not to divulge Plame Wilson’s identity when Novak called him with the information from his other sources that Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see Before July 14, 2003). Novak is uncomfortable in accepting that Fitzgerald’s waivers make it ethically acceptable for him to disclose the three men as his sources, but his lawyer, James Hamilton, says he will almost certainly lose a court challenge as to their propriety. Novak will later write, “I answered questions using the names of Rove, Harlow, and my primary source,” which at the time of his writing had not yet been revealed as Armitage. [Human Events, 7/12/2006] Novak will be questioned again several weeks later (see February 5, 2004).

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Bill Harlow, James Hamilton, Karl C. Rove, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Swidler Berlin, Richard Armitage

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), is questioned for a second time (see January 14, 2004) by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see December 30, 2003). As with the earlier interview, Fitzgerald interviews Novak at the law offices of Swidler Berlin, the firm representing him. In writing about this interview, Novak will not go into the specifics of his interrogation, but will state: “I declined to answer when the questioning touched on matters beyond the CIA leak case. Neither the FBI nor the special prosecutor pressed me.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Swidler Berlin, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), testifies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak. Novak has already spoken to FBI investigators (see December 30, 2003) and to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see January 14, 2004 and February 5, 2004), and disclosed the names of his three sources in the leak (see July 8, 2003 and Before July 14, 2003). Of his four appearances, Novak will later write: “I declined to answer when the questioning touched on matters beyond the CIA leak case. Neither the FBI nor the special prosecutor pressed me.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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