A new book by Michael Isikoff, an investigative reporter for Newsweek, and David Corn, who writes for the far left wing magazine The Nation, casts many powerful people in Washington in an unflattering light, but not the people who Isikoff and Corn wish to besmirch.
A brief review for those of you who have lives, and who consequently haven't been following closely the details of the Plame Name Game: In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
First in leaks to reporters, and then in his own op-ed in The New York Times, a retired diplomat, Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, said the president was lying. His claim to speak with authority was that in the spring of 2002, the CIA had sent him to Niger to see if Saddam had tried to buy uranium there.
Wilson's charge was important because it marked the beginning of the "Bush lied" meme about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But investigations by the Senate Intelligence Committee; the Robb-Silberman commission on prewar intelligence, and the British Butler commission all concluded it was Wilson who was not telling the truth. Saddam had indeed tried to buy uranium in Africa, as even Wilson himself had acknowledged to the CIA officers who debriefed him after his Niger trip.
One of the false claims Wilson made was that he had been sent to Niger at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney. In his July 14, 2003 column, Robert Novak disclosed that he had been sent instead at the insistence of his wife, Valerie Plame, who worked at the CIA.
Plame had once been an undercover operative. Concern was expressed that the leaker had violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
Wilson blamed the leak on White House political guru Karl Rove, claiming it was payback for his "whistle-blowing." A special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, was appointed to investigate the charge. Fitzgerald eventually indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then the chief of staff to the vice president, on a charge of having lied to a grand jury about from whom he had learned of Plame's occupation. He is awaiting trial.
No indictments have been brought on the charge Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate, because it is clear there was no violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. The act applies only to those who are operating under cover overseas, or who have done so within five years of the disclosure of their identities. Plame had been manning a desk at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. for longer than that.
Isikoff and Corn disclose that it was then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage who disclosed Ms. Plame's identity to Bob Novak, which is not exactly news to those who have been following the case. But Isikoff and Corn provide details which reflect poorly on Armitage, Fitzgerald and the journalists who knew the truth at the time.
Armitage disclosed to his boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and to Justice Department officials his role in the case in October, 2003, after a second Novak column, Isikoff and Corn say.
For more than three years, Rove and Libby have been accused, falsely, of being the source of the leak. Armitage, Powell, and Justice department officials knew the truth, but said nothing. Clarice Feldman, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, described Armitage's silence as "inexplicable and perfidious."
"Had he spoken out publicly immediately, could there have been a reason for the press to have demanded the appointment of the feckless special prosecutor?" she asked.
Fitzgerald knew in his first few days on the job that Armitage was the leaker; that the leak was inadvertent and that the Intelligence Identities Act hadn't been violated. Yet he has persisted in a sham prosecution.
Isikoff and Corn write: "The Plame leak in Novak's column has long been cited by Bush administration critics as a deliberate act of payback, orchestrated to punish and/or discredit Joe Wilson after he charged that the Bush administration had misled the American public about prewar intelligence."
They add, lamely, that: "The Armitage news does not fit neatly into that framework."
They don't mention that Isikoff and (especially) Corn have been among the journalists flogging this meme, and the time that it takes to research and write a book indicates they've known for quite some time that it isn't true. They're only willing to tell the truth, now, for money.