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Context of 'September 30, 2003: Bush: ‘I Want to Know Who the Leakers Are’'

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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

White House political strategist Karl Rove returns a telephone call from conservative columnist Robert Novak. Rove has prepared for the call, assembling talking points and briefing materials (see July 7-8, 2003), some drawn from classified government personnel files provided by White House political director Matt Schlapp and other staffers. None of the materials directly involve Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent who Novak will “out” in a soon-to-be-published column (see July 14, 2003). Instead, Rove is preparing to discuss Frances Fragos Townsend, the newly appointed deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. It is unclear whether Rove speaks with Novak on the evening of July 8 or during the day of July 9. [National Journal, 12/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Combating 'Rearguard' Effort to Undermine Townsend - President Bush has asked Rove to counter what he believes to be a “rearguard” effort within his own administration—led by senior members of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff—to discredit Townsend and derail her appointment, perhaps because she was once a senior attorney in the Justice Department under then-President Clinton. Novak has been calling other White House officials about Townsend, and Rove intends to give him the White House slant on her: that President Bush, CIA Director George Tenet, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice all have full confidence in her. Part of the conversation is completely off the record, while other parts are on background, freeing Novak to quote Rove as a “senior administration official.” Novak will write his material on Townsend much as Rove lays it out for him. Reporter Murray Waas will later learn that opposition to Townsend within Cheney’s office is so intense that Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, contemplates leaking damaging material about her to the press in an attempt to disrupt her appointment. Waas will write, “Libby’s tactics against Townsend appear to have paralleled those he took around the same period of time in attempting to blunt [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s criticism of the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.” Libby will indeed leak information on Townsend to selected Republicans in Congress, and they in turn will use that information to criticize her appointment. [National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Novak Broaches Subject of Plame Wilson - It is after they finish discussing Townsend that the submect of Valerie Plame Wilson comes up. Novak and Rove will both tell federal prosecutors that it is Novak who broaches the subject of Plame Wilson, saying he had heard that “Wilson’s wife” had been responsible for sending her husband on a CIA mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). According to later published accounts, Rove replies, “I heard that too.” Novak’s version of events will be slightly different, with him claiming Rove says, “Oh, you know about it.” Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003) and from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003). Novak tells Rove that he is still going to write a negative column on Townsend, but implies that he will also write about Wilson and his wife. “I think that you are going to be unhappy with something that I write,” he tells Rove, “and I think you are very much going to like something that I am about to write.” Novak’s July 10 column will attack Townsend as an “enemy within,” a Democratic partisan who will likely not be loyal to the Bush administration. Four days later, he will write his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent as part of his attack on Wilson’s credibility as a war critic. Investigators will be unable to independently verify that Novak, not Rove, first brought up the subject of Plame Wilson during their conversation; for his part, Rove will deny leaking Plame Wilson’s name to any reporter, and will deny even knowing who she is. [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005; National Journal, 12/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Murray Waas, Joseph C. Wilson, Frances Townsend, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Matt Schlapp, Robert Novak, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House political adviser Karl Rove, leading the White House’s damage control operation to recoup the losses from Joseph Wilson’s recent op-ed about the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents (see July 6, 2003), speaks to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove has already discussed Wilson with columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003).
Cooper Digging for White House Smear Details - According to Cooper’s notes, an e-mail from Cooper to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, and Cooper’s later testimony (see July 13, 2005), Cooper is interested in the White House’s apparent smear attempts against Wilson (see March 9, 2003 and After and May 2003). “I’m writing about Wilson,” Cooper says, and Rove interjects, “Don’t get too far out on Wilson.” Rove insists that their conversation be on “deep background,” wherein Cooper cannot quote him directly, nor can he disclose his identity. Rove tells Cooper that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor Vice President Dick Cheney sent Wilson to Niger, and that, Cooper will later write, “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Rove says that it is Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson “who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on wmd issues who authorized the trip… not only [sic] the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. [Rove] implied strongly there’s still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger.” Rove does not identify Plame Wilson, only calling her “Wilson’s wife,” but Cooper has no trouble learning her name. Rove ends the call with a cryptic teaser, saying, “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper will recall these words two years later when he testifies to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 2004). [Cooper, 7/11/2003 pdf file; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Later, Cooper will write: “I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, ‘I’ve already said too much.’ This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don’t know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.” [Time, 7/17/2005] Cooper will later testify that Rove never told him about Plame Wilson’s covert status. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
Call Not Logged - Rove asks his personal assistant, Susan Cooper, to ensure that Cooper’s call does not appear on the White House telephone logs. [CounterPunch, 12/9/2005]
Cooper E-mails Editor - After hanging up, Cooper sends an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
Conversation with Deputy National Security Adviser - After the conversation with Cooper, Rove sends an e-mail to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, saying he “didn’t take the bait” when Cooper suggested that Wilson’s criticisms had been damaging to the administration (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
White House Getting Message Across - Author Craig Unger later notes that while the conversation is on background, the White House is getting across its message that something about Wilson’s trip is questionable, and it has something to do with his wife. Unger writes, “And a White House press corps that relied heavily on access to high level administration officials was listening intently and was holding its fire.” [Cooper, 7/11/2003 pdf file; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; National Journal, 10/7/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Rove later testifies that his references to “Niger,” “damaging,” and Bush being “hurt” all referred to the potential political fallout from Wilson’s allegations. As for the statement that “If I were him I wouldn’t get that far out in front of this,” Rove will say he merely wanted to urge Cooper to use caution in relying on Wilson as a potential source. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Bush administration (43), Michael Duffy, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Craig Unger, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 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

At an afternoon press briefing at the University of Chicago, President Bush is questioned about the Plame Wilson leak investigation (see September 26, 2003). Bush says that there are “too many leaks of classified information in Washington. There’s leaks at the executive branch; there’s leaks in the legislative branch. There’s just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.” He is “absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job” in the investigation. “I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business.” Asked whether White House political strategist Karl Rove might be the source of the leak (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Busn replies: “Listen, I know of nobody—I don’t know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I’d like to know it, and we’ll take the appropriate action.” He remarks that “Washington is a town where there’s all kinds of allegations,” and again asks that if anyone has any “solid information, please come forward with it. And that would be people inside the information who are the so-called anonymous sources, or people outside the information—outside the administration. And we can clarify this thing very quickly if people who have got solid evidence would come forward and speak out. And I would hope they would. And then we’ll get to the bottom of this and move on.… I want to know who the leakers are.” [White House, 9/30/2003; CBS News, 9/30/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, US Department of Justice, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, sends a letter to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney asking about recent revelations that Cheney authorized the leak of classified information to reporters (see January 23, 2006 and February 2, 2006). Conyers writes that such an authorization, if true, would constitute “an abuse of power at best, and may be outright unlawful at worst.… [I]t would appear that neither classified nuclear information nor Valerie Plame’s status as a covert agent or the name of her employer warranted declassification.” Conyers asks whether the report is true, and whether Bush, Cheney, or any of their staff members authorized former Cheney aide Lewis Libby or anyone else “to declassify and leak information to the media relating to the Iraq war and the use of pre-war intelligence on any occasions,” and if so, what the legal basis for such declassifications would be. He also asks if Bush intends to stand by his promise to “take the appropriate action” against anyone who leaked classified information” (see September 30, 2003). [Jeralyn Merritt, 2/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, House Judiciary Committee, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Conyers

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

James Knodell.James Knodell. [Source: CommonDreams (.org)]White House Director of Security James Knodell testifies to the House Oversight Committee that the White House never investigated the possible involvement of White House officials in exposing Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity. [Think Progress, 3/16/2007; Editor & Publisher, 3/18/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007] Knodell says he is aware of no such internal investigation or report from anyone in the White House: “I have no knowledge of any investigation in my office.” The White House Office of Security would be the lawful body to conduct such an investigation. Knodell testifies only after the White House dropped its resistance to his appearing before the committee, which had threatened to subpoena the White House for Knodell’s testimony. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says that President Bush had promised a full internal probe (see September 30, 2003 and September 30, 2003), and Knodell again states he knows of no such probe. He adds that he has never talked to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, political strategist Karl Rove, or anyone in the White House about the Plame Wilson leak. His knowledge of the affair, he says, comes from “the press.” He tells the committee that those who had participated in the leaking of classified information are required by law to own up to this, but he is not aware that anyone, including Rove, had done that. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) calls the failure of the White House to mount an internal investigation “shocking,” and says that Knodell’s office’s failure to mount such a probe constitutes a “breach within a breach.” Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) calls it a “dereliction of duty.” Knodell promises to “review this with senior management.” He attempts to assert that since a criminal investigation was launched, no such internal probe was needed, but committee Democrats challenge his statement, saying that the criminal probe is narrowly focused, began only after months of inaction and stonewalling by the White House, and is required by law regardless of whatever other investigations are underway. Waxman asks, “[T]here was an obligation for the White House to investigate whether classified information was being leaked inappropriately, wasn’t there?” to which Knodell replies, “If that was the case, yes.” Committee Democrats also note that anyone who leaked information about classified information is required by law to have their security clearances denied, and ask Knodell why Rove still has such clearance. [Think Progress, 3/16/2007; Editor & Publisher, 3/18/2007]

Entity Tags: House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Bush administration (43), Elijah Cummings, Henry A. Waxman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, White House Office of Security, Karl C. Rove, Valerie Plame Wilson, James Knodell, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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