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Context of 'October 2, 2003: Bush Administration Modifies Response, Now Says White House Employee May Have Inadvertently Leaked Plame Wilson’s Identity'

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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

The Bush administration, prodded by polls showing that over 70 percent of Americans believe that someone in the White House leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the press and almost that number is in favor of a special prosecutor to head an investigation, modifies its approach to its denials of involvement. According to the Washington Post, White House officials no longer proclaim the innocence of everyone employed by the executive branch, but now say that it is possible someone disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity without realizing that they were exposing a covert operative, and therefore no crime was committed. The first Congressional Republican to speak out against the administration’s handling of the issue is Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who says that President Bush “needs to get this behind him” by taking a more active role. “He has that main responsibility to see this through and see it through quickly, and that would include, if I was president, sitting down with my vice president and asking what he knows about it,” Hagel says. Meanwhile, administration supporters outside the White House are stepping up their counteroffensive, telling reporters that the White House is fully cooperating with the Justice Department investigation and that the real story is Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, who is making “rash statements” denigrating the administration. Press secretary Scott McClellan is no longer denying a White House effort to discredit Wilson, a critic of the administration, but now tells reporters that the only issue “is whether or not someone leaked classified information.… I’m drawing a line here. I’m not going to play the game of going down other rabbit trails.” The White House has repeatedly insisted that it has no intention of appointing a special counsel to handle the investigation; critics say that Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Justice Department cannot lead an impartial probe. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Bush administration (43), Chuck Hagel, John Ashcroft, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Salon columnist and media observer Eric Boehlert notes that while the White House has specifically, and emphatically, denied Karl Rove leaked the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 29, 2003), it has not yet given such coverage to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Circumstantial evidence that the White House may be leaving Libby to, in Boehlert’s words, “twist in the wind” is mounting. The New York Daily News has reported that “Democratic Congressional sources said they would like to hear from… Lewis Libby.” On MSNBC, an administration critic, former counterterrorism official Larry Johnson, who says he knows who the leaker is, would not deny it was Libby. And Senator Chuck Hagel has implied that the leak originated from the vice president’s office when he said that President Bush needs to sit down with Cheney and “ask… what he knows about it.” A former senior CIA officer says, “Libby is certainly suspect No. 1.” Even Cheney’s own spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, refuses to deny Libby’s involvement, saying only, “This is a serious matter and we shouldn’t be speculating in light of an ongoing investigation.” Boehlert notes that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson in one of his columns (see July 14, 2003), has dropped several hints about his primary source that point (inconclusively) to Libby. Novak’s assertion that his source is “no partisan gunslinger” (see October 1, 2003) is a better characterization of Libby than of Rove. Since Novak has referred to his source as “he,” the source cannot be National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice or any other White House female. Most interestingly, Boehlert notes, Novak was never looking for Plame Wilson’s identity when he spoke with his sources in July 2003. Rather, he wanted to know why former ambassador Joseph Wilson was chosen to go to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The logical place for Novak to begin such an inquiry, Boehlert writes, was Cheney’s office. Wilson believed Cheney was primarily, if indirectly, responsible for sending him to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). Time magazine ran a story that revealed Libby was talking to reporters about Wilson (see July 17, 2003). And Boehlert notes other, less significant clues that add incrementally to the evidence showing that Libby might well have been Novak’s source. Finally, Boehlert comes back to Larry Johnson. Johnson confirmed for PBS that Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent and not merely an “analyst,” as Novak has asserted. He recently said flatly on MSNBC, “I know the name of the person that spoke with Bob Novak,” and that person works “at the White House,” and more specifically, “in the Old Executive Office Buildings.” Cheney’s office is located inside the Old Executive Office Building. Johnson was asked by co-host Pat Buchanan: “Scooter Libby. Now, is Scooter Libby the name you heard?” Johnson replied, “I’m not going to comment on that.” [Salon, 10/3/2003] The day after Boehlert’s column appears, White House press secretary Scott McClellan gives reporters the same assurance about Libby that he gave to Rove (see October 4, 2003).

Entity Tags: Larry C. Johnson, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Chuck Hagel, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Robert Novak, Eric Boehlert, Office of the Vice President, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick Buchanan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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