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Context of 'September 16, 2003: Rove Lies to Press Secretary about Role in Plame Wilson Leak'

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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

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

After being asked about the Plame Wilson leak in a press conference (see September 16, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan asks White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove about his involvement in the leak. McClellan has called questions about Rove’s involvement “ridiculous,” and wants to have Rove confirm McClellan’s public denial. McClellan will later write: “I wanted to make sure I hadn’t climbed out on a limb. Rove had known [conservative columnist Robert] Novak (see July 8, 2003 and July 14, 2003) for years and spoke with him from time to time, and of course he was known for playing hardball politics. But surely even he knew that leaking classified national security information would cross a line.” As McClellan recalls, he asks Rove: “A reporter asked me today if you were one of Novak’s sources and ‘burned the cover’ of [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s wife. I said it was totally ridiculous. You weren’t one of Novak’s sources, right?” Rove responds, “Right.” McClellan says, “Just wanted to make sure.” Rove affirms, “You’re right.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 179-180]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Karl C. Rove, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Eleven days after White House political strategist Karl Rove told press secretary Scott McClellan that he had not been one of the sources responsible for outing CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 16, 2003), the Washington Post prepares to print a story that alleges “a senior administration official” is claiming two senior White House officials spoke with at least six reporters about Plame Wilson (see September 28, 2003). The Post reporters do not yet know who those two officials are. In 2008, McClellan will write: “The implication of the Post story was clear: the White House had disclosed Plame’s identity to discredit or even punish Joseph Wilson. The story would put the leak of her identity right at the White House’s doorstep… implying the possibility of concerted effort by the White House to reveal Plame’s role and her involvement in her husband’s trip to Niger.” McClellan learns from his deputy, Claire Buchan, that Rove had indeed spoken to columnist Robert Novak. According to Buchan, Rove admits that Novak called him about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, but says he could not confirm it because he did not know; McClellan checks with Novak, who says the same thing to him as he told Buchan. McClellan will describe himself as “bewilder[ed]” by Rove’s contradictory statements to him and Buchan. He will write, “I felt that Rove should have disclosed this conversation to me previously, so I decided to call him.” He asks Rove, “Were you involved in this in any way?” and later writes: “I was clearly referring to the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity—information that was believed to be classified—to any reporter.” Rove replies: “No. Look, I didn’t even know about his wife.” McClellan will later note that Rove does not mention his phone discussion of Plame’s CIA identity with Time reporter Matt Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). He will write: “Rove’s categorical ‘no’ gave me the assurance I needed to defend a fellow member of the Bush team and fellow Texan I had known for more than a decade, who was invariably a prime target of our most partisan critics.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 180-181]

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The media begins probing as to whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was involved in the Plame Wilson leak. CBS correspondent John Roberts asks White House press secretary Scott McClellan: “You said the other day, emphatically, that you have received assurances from Karl Rove that he had nothing to do with this (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, and September 29, 2003). Have you since received similar assurances from the vice president’s chief of staff?” McClellan attempts to finesse the question, replying, “I’m not going to go down a list of every single member of the staff of the White House.” Roberts retorts, “That’s just one name.” After the gaggle, McClellan runs into Libby, and warns him that his name is beginning to surface in connection with the leak. McClellan reiterates his answer to Roberts, and says: “Now that there’s an investigation under way, I can’t put myself in that position. I want you to know I’m not trying to leave you hanging out there to dry.” Libby says little in response. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 216-217]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, John D. Roberts, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House press secretary Scott McClellan knows that Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff is planning another article detailing what White House official Karl Rove told reporter Matt Cooper (see July 10, 2005). McClellan believes the Isikoff article will reveal that Cooper asked about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, but McClellan has been personally assured by Rove that he told Cooper nothing (see September 16, 2003 and September 27, 2003). President Bush has also assured McClellan that Rove is not the source of the leak (see September 29, 2003). McClellan will later write, “Maybe I did not want to believe that Karl had not been completely forthcoming, or that what he had told me—and the president—was not true.” White House counsel Harriet Miers tells McClellan, “There’s some news that’s likely to come out tomorrow about Karl in the leak investigation that may appear to contradict what you said nearly two years ago” (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003 and July 13, 2005). She warns him not to comment on the investigation. As he will later write, “In effect, she was forbidding me from talking and setting the record straight about my previous comments.” Miers then apologizes and leaves McClellan to mull over the impact of the Rove revelation. He will later disclose the “painful, chilling effect” the revelation has on his “relationships with reporters,” and will reflect: “[I]f some of the highest-ranking officials of the Bush White House hadn’t been forthright with the president’s chief spokesman, how could anyone assume they were honest with the public? The White House had a serious credibility problem, and I was now going to take the heat for it.” He will compare the impact of the Isikoff article to “getting whacked upside the head with a two-by-four. I never saw it coming, given Karl’s personal assurances to me and the president, at least not until the final few days before it became public. And even then I convinced myself not to believe the growing buzz in Washington because of the personal assurances I had received.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 257-260]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Matthew Cooper, Harriet E. Miers, Scott McClellan, Michael Isikoff, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Terry Moran, ABC News’s chief White House correspondent, tells ABC host George Stephanopoulos that he believes White House press secretary Scott McClellan unwittingly lied to reporters when he asserted that White House staffers Karl Rove (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, September 29, 2003, and September 29, 2003) and Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see October 4, 2003 and October 4, 2003) knew nothing of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. “He was telling falsehoods right at us over and over unwittingly,” Moran says. Asked if McClellan knew he was lying, Moran replies: “No. And he signaled he wants to tell us the story,” referring to McClellan’s comments that he would like to be able to discuss his public support of Rove and Libby. Stephanopoulos asks, “[Y]ou say he didn’t know it, so that means Karl Rove lied to him?” “Yes,” Moran answers, “yes.” Moran notes that the White House will most likely do nothing except continue to “stonewall” and deny involvement: “My sense it right now they’ll kick this down the road. They’ll say it’s a continuing case and we’re going to kick it down the road.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 265-266]

Entity Tags: Terry Moran, ABC News, Bush administration (43), George Stephanopoulos, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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