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Context of 'September 16, 2003: White House Press Secretary Fends Off Aggressive Questioning Regarding Rove’s Involvement in Plame Wilson Leak'

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Two White House officials call at least six Washington journalists to tell them that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent. Wilson wrote an op-ed criticizing the administration’s Iraq policies and claiming that the allegations of Iraq’s attempts to buy uranium from Niger are unsubstantiated (see July 6, 2003). In return, administration officials are attempting to discredit Wilson by alleging that his wife, undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, sent him on the journey (see July 17, 2003). Plame Wilson will be outed as a CIA agent by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), who received the tip from two administration officials, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003) and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] One of those journalists is the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus (see June 12, 2003), who later testifies that he learns of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see (July 11, 2003)) on July 12. Pincus will testify that, during a conversation about the Iraq-Niger WMD claim, Fleischer “swerved off and said, in effect, don’t you know his wife works at CIA, is an analyst on WMD, and she arranged the trip, that’s why people weren’t paying attention to it.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Outing 'Clearly ... For Revenge' - On September 27, a senior administration official will confirm that two officials, whom he/she does not name, called Novak and other journalists. “Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge,” the senior official says. A reporter will tell Joseph Wilson that, according to either Armitage or Rove, “The real issue is Wilson and his wife.” Other sources will say that one of the leakers describe Plame Wilson as “fair game” (see July 21, 2003). When the administration official is asked why he/she is discussing the leakers, the response is that the leaks are “wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson’s credibility” (see September 28, 2003). Wilson will state publicly that he believes Rove broke his wife’s cover (see August 21, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
Wilson: Journalists Fear Reprisals - Wilson later writes: “A reporter told me that one of the six newspeople who had received the leak stated flatly that the pressure he had come under from the administration in the past several months to remain silent made him fear that if he did his job and reported on the leak story, he would ‘end up in Guantanamo’—a dark metaphor for the career isolation he would suffer at the hands of the administration. Another confided that she had heard from reporters that ‘with kids in private school and a mortgage on the house,’ they were unwilling to cross the administration.… What does it say for the health of our democracy—or our media—when fear of the administration’s reaction preempts the search for truth?” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 440]

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Walter Pincus, Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage

Timeline Tags: 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

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson’s cover as a CIA agent was blown by two administration officials (see July 14, 2003), says that he believes deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove is responsible for outing his wife. At a public forum in Seattle, Wilson names Rove as the person most likely to have leaked his wife’s covert identity and says he is keenly interested “to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] As Wilson will later recall, the comment is greeted by a storm of boos and catcalls, “followed by applause at the thought of everyone’s favorite ogre being frog-marched.” Wilson’s wife is not pleased by Wilson’s turn of phrase, and later warns him to temper his words. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 372]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Russell Mokhiber.Russell Mokhiber. [Source: Democracy Now!]White House Press secretary Scott McClellan is asked by journalist Russell Mokhiber about the likelihood of White House political chief Karl Rove’s possible involvement in the Plame Wilson leak. McClellan will call Mokhiber “a Ralph Nader associate and liberal White House critic… interested in gotcha reporting, plain and simple, to damage an administration he held in low regard.” Mokhiber notes that Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson believes Rove leaked her name to Robert Novak (see August 21, 2003), and adds, “[T]his is apparently a federal offense, to burn the cover of a CIA operative.” McClellan will write that he has not discussed the matter with Rove as yet, and is somewhat taken aback by Mokhiber’s “emotionally offputting” phrasing. He “confidently” tells Mokhiber, “That’s just ridiculous.” He will continue denying any involvement by Rove, and will later write, “It was the stance I would maintain as the scandal blossomed.” [White House, 9/16/2003; McClellan, 2008, pp. 179]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Russell Mokhiber, Joseph C. Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Justice Department authorizes the FBI to open a criminal investigation into leaks of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity by sources within the Bush administration (see July 14, 2003, July 30, 2003, and September 16, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] The investigation is headed by the Justice Department’s counterespionage chief, John Dion. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]
Questions of Impartiality - Dion is a veteran career prosecutor who has headed the counterespionage section since 2002. He will rely on a team of a half-dozen investigators, many of whom have extensive experience in investigating leaks. However, some administration critics are skeptical of Dion’s ability to run an impartial investigation: he will report to the Justice Department’s Robert McCallum, who is an old friend and Yale classmate of President Bush. Both Bush and McCallum were members of the secret Skull & Bones Society at Yale. Others believe the investigation will be non-partisan. “I believe that the career lawyers in Justice—the people who preceded [Attorney General] John Ashcroft and who will be there after he leaves—will do a nonpolitical investigation, an honest investigation,” says legal ethics specialist Stephen Gillers. “Ashcroft’s sole job is to stay out of it.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2003]
CIA Director Filed Request - The request for an investigation (see September 16, 2003) was filed by CIA Director George Tenet; a CIA official says Tenet “doesn’t like leaks.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he knows of no leaks about Wilson’s wife: “That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing. I don’t have any information beyond an anonymous source in a media report to suggest there is anything to this. If someone has information of this nature, then he or she should report it to the Department of Justice.” McClellan calls Joseph Wilson’s charges that deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove leaked his wife’s name (see August 21, 2003) “a ridiculous suggestion” that is “simply not true.” A White House official says that two administration sources (later revealed to be Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see June 13, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) leaked Plame Wilson’s name to six separate journalists (see Before July 14, 2003). The White House is notoriously intolerant of leaks, and pursues real and supposed leakers with vigor. Wilson says that if the White House did indeed leak his wife’s name, then the leak was part of what he calls “a deliberate attempt on the part of the White House to intimidate others and make them think twice about coming forward.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
White House, Democrats Respond - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that the White House is willing to have the Justice Department investigate the charges. “I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate,” she tells Fox News. “My understanding is that in matters like this, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action and that’s what is going to be done.” However, some Democrats want more. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the charges, since the department has an inherent conflict of interest: “I don’t see how it would be possible for the Justice Department to investigate whether a top administration official broke the law and endangered the life of this agent (see July 21, 2003). Even if the department were to do a thorough and comprehensive investigation, the appearance of a conflict could well mar its conclusions.… Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network of intelligence assets. On top of that, it poses a serious threat to the national security of this nation.” Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says the White House should find out who is responsible for the leak, and Congress should investigate the matter as well. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Fox News, 9/29/2003]
FBI Will Acknowledge Investigation - The FBI officially acknowledges the investigation on September 30 (see September 30, 2003), and informs the White House of the investigation. [New York Times, 2006]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Stephen Gillers, US Department of Justice, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, John Dion, Robert McCallum, George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Joseph Wilson poses with Yearly Kos participant Natasha Chart.Joseph Wilson poses with Yearly Kos participant Natasha Chart. [Source: Pacific Views (.org)]Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who became the target of a White House smear campaign after he publicly criticized the government’s push for war with Iraq (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), receives a standing ovation from the audience at his appearance at the Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas. The convention is a group of bloggers and citizen journalists, mostly liberals and progressives, organized by the Daily Kos Web site. About a thousand convention goers gather to hear Wilson speak during one of the day’s panel discussions. Wilson says he will not be intimidated by what he calls a White House campaign to obscure lies told during the run-up to the war in Iraq. “We must and we can stand up to the schoolyard bullies and insure that these decisions on war and peace and other major issues are undertaken with the consent of the governed,” he says. Wilson goes on to say that the indictment of former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005) and the disclosures about the case that have come in subsequent court filings have vindicated him against critics who claim he lied or misrepresented the facts surrounding his 2002 mission to Africa (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003). “As facts emerge, of course, the dwindling number of those who still believe the thesis of ‘Wilson is a liar, or has been discredited,’ are either victims of the ongoing disinformation campaign or the willful perpetrators of it,” he says. Wilson affirms that neither he nor his wife, exposed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, intend to run for elective office. “I can assure you that neither she [nor] I intend to do anything other than return to our private lives,” he says.
Former CIA Agent Reaffirms Damage Done by Plame Wilson's Exposure - One of Wilson’s panel colleagues, former CIA agent and State Department official Larry Johnson (see September 30, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003), says partisan Republicans have lost sight of the gravity of what he believes was a deliberate campaign to expose Plame Wilson’s status for political reasons. “How it is that conservative Republicans can excuse what is nothing short of treason is beyond me,” he says. Johnson describes himself as “a lifelong conservative.” He reiterates his earlier statements that Plame Wilson was not publicly known as a CIA official before being “outed” by columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). “Valerie Plame, Valerie Wilson was an undercover CIA officer until the day her name appeared in Robert Novak’s column,” Johnson says. Libby’s lawyers have said they have witnesses who will testify that Plame Wilson’s CIA affiliation was known outside the government, but they have not identified those witnesses. Plame Wilson’s exposure did “damage… to the intelligence operations of the Central Intelligence Agency and ultimately to the security of this nation,” Johnson tells the audience. White House political strategist Karl Rove, whom Wilson once said should be “frog marched” out of the White House in handcuffs (see August 21, 2003), should have his security clearance revoked and be fired, Johnson says, regardless of whether he is indicted.
Journalists: Media Did Not Do Its Job in Covering Story - Another panel member, the Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin, says journalists have become so preoccupied by the jailing of fellow reporter Judith Miller (see October 7, 2004) that they have lost sight of the broader story. “The really sad moment for journalism here is, faced with this incredibly important story, reporters didn’t go out and develop sources for this story,” he says. “This is a hell of a story.” Froomkin calls Miller “a humiliated and discredited shill,” presumably for the Bush administration. Fellow panel member Murray Waas of the National Journal says most major news outlets have not adequately covered the story. “There’s no reporter for any major news organization covering it even one or two days a week,” he says. “I don’t know why.” Waas says that perhaps some editors have ignored the story because it involves leaks to reporters at those same news outlets. “Their own role is so comprised that they hope it just goes away,” he says. [New York Sun, 6/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Daily Kos, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Dan Froomkin, Judith Miller, Larry C. Johnson, Robert Novak, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Murray Waas

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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