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Context of 'September 10, 2006: Media Apparently Unable to Discern Differences in Motivation between Leakers, Columnist Writes'

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Bloomberg News reports that Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, testified that he first learned of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert. Libby will make this claim a staple of his defense in his upcoming perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007). He is referring to a conversation he had with Russert in July 2003 (see July 10 or 11, 2003). He testified to the claim when he was interviewed by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald as part of the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003). Russert has told FBI investigators that he did not tell Libby of Plame Wilson’s identity (see November 24, 2003 and August 7, 2004). Similarly, White House political strategist Karl Rove has testified that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from columnist Robert Novak (see September 29, 2003, October 8, 2003, and October 15, 2004). Novak has told investigators that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Rove, CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004). Fitzgerald has determined that both Libby and Rove may have deliberately lied to the FBI and to his investigations in making their claims (see October and November 2003). According to Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin, Rove told Fitzgerald’s grand jury that “he had not heard her name before he heard it from Bob Novak.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that the White House should suspend Libby and Rove’s security clearances (see July 13, 2005), and that President Bush should fire anyone involved in the leak, presumably meaning Libby and Rove. [Bloomberg, 7/22/2005; Washington Post, 7/23/2005]

Entity Tags: Richard Armitage, Karl C. Rove, Charles Schumer, Bill Harlow, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Luskin, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Conservative pundits and columnists launch a new barrage of attacks and accusations against former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003) and his wife, outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). The pundits use the recent revelation that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was apparently the first administration official to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see August 22, 2006 and September 7, 2006). They claim that the new information proves that there was never a conspiracy to “out” Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003), but that her status as a covert CIA agent was revealed merely as a result of harmless gossip from Armitage, who is not considered a major part of the neoconservative axis of power within the White House. [Washington Post, 9/1/2006]
Blaming Armitage and the State Department - The Wall Street Journal blames Armitage for allowing the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation to go on while he remained mute, allowing “political opportunism and internal score-settling” to drive the investigation when it never should have taken off. “The White House, in short, was not engaged in any campaign to ‘out’ Ms. Plame [Wilson],” the editorial states. Since the prosecution of Lewis Libby for perjury and obstruction during the investigation is not likely to be dropped, the editorial concludes, President Bush should end it by pardoning Libby. [Wall Street Journal, 8/30/2006] The New York Sun also chastizes Armitage for standing silent “while the president’s critics sullied the good names of Messrs. Cheney, Libby, and Rove.” [National Review, 7/19/2004; New York Sun, 8/30/2006] A similar position is advocated by neoconservative John Podhoretz, writing for the New York Post, who also says that the Armitage revelation should result in special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald dropping all charges against Libby. [New York Post, 8/29/2006] Neoconservative Frank Gaffney, writing for the online political publication TownHall, accuses both Armitage and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as other senior State Department officials, of being “disloyalists” who “wage[d] war” against the Bush administration “from behind enemy lines”—from his position in the State Department, essentially functioning as a saboteur for unnamed liberal interests, and to win ground the State Department lost in conflicts with the White House. Gaffney goes further, accusing other State Department officials of intentionally sabotaging US nuclear negotiation efforts with North Korea (see September 19-20, 2005 and July 15, 2006). He accuses Armitage of “destructive and disloyal behavior” and “appeasement” towards North Korea and other US opponents. [Town Hall (.com), 9/5/2006] San Francisco Chronicle writer Debra Saunders calls the entire affair nothing more than “gossip,” and notes that an admission by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove that he confirmed Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 10, 2005 and October 14, 2005) is virtually meaningless. The only “abuse of power” that has come to light during the investigation, Saunders opines, is the investigation itself. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 9/6/2006]
Libby 'Exonerated' by Armitage Admission - The New Hampshire Union Leader calls the investigation a “non-issue” promulgated by “conspiracy nuts” now proven wrong by the Armitage admission. [New Hampshire Union Leader, 8/30/2006] Syndicated columnist Linda Chavez says the “exculpatory” Armitage revelation exonerates Libby, and calls his prosecution “malicious” and unwarranted. [Creators Syndicate, 8/30/2006]
Wilson, 'Leftists' to Blame - Slate’s Christopher Hitchens goes further, attacking the “Joseph Wilson fantasy” that Iraq had not attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002), calling the idea that the White House deliberately attempted to smear Wilson’s character a “paranoid fantasy” (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006), and concluding that the entire Plame Wilson imbroglio was the result of a “venom[ous] interdepartmental rivalry” between Armitage’s State Department and the White House, blown entirely out of proportion by liberal critics of the Bush administration. [Slate, 8/29/2006] A National Review editorial blames the New York Times editorial board and “shrieking” “leftist adversaries” of the Bush administration for the investigation, and, like Chavez and others, calls for the immediate end of the Libby prosecution. [National Review, 8/30/2006] The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes compiles a “rogues list” of “the Plamegate Hall of Shame,” including Armitage, his former boss Colin Powell, Patrick Fitzgerald, the Justice Department, Joseph Wilson, and the media. “So instead of Cheney or Rove or Libby,” Barnes writes, “the perennial targets of media wrath, the Plamegate Hall of Shame consists of favorites of the Washington elite and the mainstream press.” And like the others, Barnes calls on Fitzgerald to immediately terminate his investigation as well as his prosecution of Libby. [Weekly Standard, 9/2/2006] And the Washington Times’s editor in chief Wesley Pruden rounds off the attacks, rather ghoulishly predicting that the next time Plame Wilson will be mentioned in the press is when “a nice obituary in the Washington and New York newspapers and a few lines of a telegraph dispatch on a page with the truss ads in Topeka” is printed. He calls Plame Wilson, who headed the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (see April 2001 and After), “the queen of the clipping scissors and pastepots at the CIA” (see September 29, 2003), and calls the leak investigation a “fraud.” [Washington Times, 9/5/2006]
Picked Up by Mainstream Media - Many in the mainstream media echo the new line of attack, with the Washington Post’s editorial board joining the other editorials and columnists in demanding that the Libby prosecution be immediately terminated. Echoing a Wall Street Journal guest editorial from almost a year before (see November 3, 2005), the Post editorial claims that because Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, went public with his knowledge of the Bush administration’s false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), he is ultimately responsible for outing his wife. The Post writes: “Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming—falsely, as it turned out—that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.” The allegation that Wilson had “falsely… debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger” is itself false, as Wilson’s report further proved that no such deals ever took place (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002). [Washington Post, 9/1/2006] The New York Times’s conservative columnist, David Brooks, joins in the attacks, calling the exposure of Plame Wilson a “piffle” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006) blown out of proportion by a group of Congressional Democrats and the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry. Like the others, he blames Armitage for “keep[ing] quiet while your comrades are being put through the ringer [sic].” [New York Times, 8/31/2006] Days later, the Post’s David Broder writes that Karl Rove, one of the White House officials who outed Plame (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), had been treated badly by reporters and pundits, and deserved a round of apologies. [Washington Post, 9/7/2006]
'Marvel of Wingnut Logic' - Author Jane Hamsher, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, hammers the Post editorial and its presumed author, op-ed editor Fred Hiatt, writing with some apparent outrage: “[T]o argue that somehow this [Armitage] leak—which played no part in the concerted administration effort to bully, intimidate, and punish Joe Wilson—should somehow excuse Scooter Libby and Karl Rove’s subsequent actions is a true marvel of wingnut logic. Incredibly it is somehow okay to rob the liquor store, shoot the owner, rape the cashier, and spatter the walls with blood because someone else was caught shoplifting there the week before. It is the Sistine Chapel of bad faith editorials.” [Jane Hamsher, 9/1/2006]
Comparisons to Soviet Propaganda - Plame Wilson herself is “furious” at reading the Post editorial and other, similar writings. In her 2007 book Fair Game, she will write, “I suddenly understood what it must have felt like to live in the Soviet Union and have only the state propaganda entity, Pravda, as the source of news about the world.” Plame Wilson calls the allegations that her husband is responsible for outing her “flatly untrue,” and shows the writers’ “ignorance about how our clandestine service functions.” She notes that the FBI had known of the Armitage leak since October 2003, and that since “the FBI didn’t shut down the investigation” this indicated “they had good reason to believe that Libby and Rove were lying to them.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 257-260]

Entity Tags: Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Christopher Hitchens, Valerie Plame Wilson, Colin Powell, Frank Gaffney, Fred Barnes, Debra Saunders, David Brooks, David Broder, US Department of State, Wesley Pruden, New York Times, John Podhoretz, Richard Armitage, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Jane Hamsher, Linda Chavez, New York Sun, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, New Hampshire Union Leader, National Review

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Progressive columnist Joe Conason questions the ability of many mainstream reporters and government observers to understand the underlying reality behind the Plame Wilson identity leak. He writes that “[t]he latest developments in the case… proved once more that the simplest analysis of facts is beyond the grasp of many of America’s most celebrated journalists.” The recently published book Hubris, by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, reveals that the then-Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, was apparently the first White House official to reveal the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson to a reporter (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003). Unlike two other White House leakers, Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) and Lewis Libby (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), Armitage was not sold on the idea of the Iraq invasion. Because of these facts, Conason writes, many journalists and observers have decided that Rove and Libby are both “guiltless” of any criminal or underhanded conduct, “that there was no White House effort to expose Ms. Wilson, and that the entire leak investigation was a partisan witch hunt and perhaps an abuse of discretion by the special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald (see February 6, 2007). The same pundits now proclaim that Mr. Armitage’s minor role somehow proves the White House didn’t seek to punish Valerie 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.” Conason writes that to draw such conclusions is simple-minded. “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.” Armitage let Plame Wilson’s identity slip in what was apparently a gossip session. Rove and Libby, on the other hand, “sought to undermine Joe Wilson’s credibility—and perhaps to victimize him and his wife—by planting information about Valerie Wilson with two reporters.” Fitzgerald understands the difference in motivation between Armitage and Rove/Libby, Conason writes, but many journalists seem not to understand that difference. “It is a simple matter,” Conason concludes, “and yet still too challenging for the national press to understand.” [New York Observer, 9/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Joe Conason, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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