Transcript: Robert Novak Breaks His Silence About the CIA Leak Investigation

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from July 12, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

BRIT HUME, HOST: I'm joined now by the syndicated columnist and FOX News contributor Robert Novak whose original column three years ago sparked the whole so-called Valerie Plame leak investigation. Bob, welcome.


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HUME: Characterize as best you can the conversation you had with the person who told you that Valerie Plame was CIA. How did you come to be talking to this person, what were you principally talking about and what was said?

NOVAK: It was an interview with a senior administration official who wasn't an easy guy to get to see ...

HUME: In person?

NOVAK: In person. He gave me an interview. An hour-long interview, nobody else present. There is countervailing rule that you know is not to be attributed to me. We didn't sit down and sign a contract, but you knew it was because he was very candid. We talked about a lot of things including Joe Wilson's mission to Niger, which he was making a great deal of — paying a lot of attention to as a reason why the president misstated the need to go intervene in Iraq.

And in the course of that interview he I said, "Why would they send Joe Wilson to Niger? Why would the CIA send him there? He's not a CIA agent, he is not anybody who knows Niger that well; he served there a long time ago."

He said his wife worked in the Office of Nuclear Proliferation in the CIA and she suggested he go.

HUME: That was it.

NOVAK: That was it. I wrote a column about his mission to Niger, which was not very critical of Wilson, it was more of a reporting column.

HUME: Now, when you first heard that did you think some real nugget had just dropped in your lap?

NOVAK: It was a nice nugget. It isn't anything I would lead the column with but in the middle of the column.

HUME: Now, you subsequently said that was confirmed to you by Karl Rove.

NOVAK: That's right.

HUME: Did you call Rove or did he ...

NOVAK: I called Rove.

HUME: And did you call for the purpose of getting this confirmed or did this come up in passing?

NOVAK: I called him for several reasons. I wanted to talk about the column I was writing about the mission to Niger. Almost all of my conversations with Rove were not for attribution and in the course of that I told him. I asked him about Wilson's wife at the CIA, working with the CIA and initiating this visit and as I remember the conversation very distinctly, Karl said to me, "Yes, I know that, too."

HUME: "I know that too?"


HUME: He didn't say, "You know that, too?"

NOVAK: No. He said, "Oh, you know that, too?"

HUME: And what did you take that to mean? Did you take that to mean he talked to other journalists who knew that?

NOVAK: No, I took that as a confirmation that she worked with the CIA and initiated it. He said, "Oh, you know that, too?"

Now Karl, the reason I'm using Karl's name is he talked to his lawyer about the conversation. As he remembered, he said to me, "Oh, you heard that, too?" I really distinctly remember him saying, "you know that too." There is a difference there.

HUME: You said you talked to Bill Harlow at the CIA, the public information officer. A lot of this has been out for a long time around town. What was the nature of this? You called him expressly to confirm this?

NOVAK: I called him, he said, "I'll get back to you" and he talked to somebody — I just guessed he talked to the CIA director, George Tenet, I had no idea if that's true. He came back to me and he told me yes, she worked for the CIA in the Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction and he told me that Mrs. Wilson did not suggest the mission by her husband, but she was asked to get him to do it by other people in the CIA.

That subsequently was repudiated by a report by the Senate
Intelligence Committee, which...

HUME: Which said she suggested it.

NOVAK: Said she suggested it and there were no Democratic dissenters.

Bill Harlow said to me that she would likely never have another assignment abroad. He said it might be embarrassing if her CIA connection was written about and he asked me not to write it.

HUME: Did he say her status was classified?

NOVAK: No, he did not.

HUME: He did not. But he encouraged you not to write it?

NOVAK: He asked me not to write it; a lot of people asked me not to write it. I didn't think it was a pro forma request. He says it was very strong. I believe he was not.

HUME: Let's go back just a moment to the original source. Everyone in town wants to know who it is. I know you're not prepared to divulge that, but what can we know about this person or I assume from what you just said in the conversation that you're talking to this official and the conversation was primarily about other things. Is that a fair statement?

NOVAK: I think the conversation started about other things. About general foreign policy and administration policy and this was just a few days after the Joe Wilson column had appeared and I started to ask him about the Joe Wilson column, asked some questions about it, which he
answered to me and which I assumed was a background basis and then he volunteered this information about Mrs. Wilson.

HUME: And you have said that you don't think that there was a leak involved. Why do you say that?

NOVAK: I don't believe there was a conscious effort ...

HUME: That's what I mean.

NOVAK: I don't believe there was a conscious effort to manipulate me. As I said in the column that ran today, subsequent to the announcement of the federal investigation of this, a third party who is close to the source called me up and said that this source believes that he inadvertently gave me information that was classified about Mrs. Wilson.

Whether it was inadvertent or not, I don't believe that it was a conscious leak. He always said a couple times in the column, I said, this is not a political gunslinger, this official was not known as somebody who did a lot of political manipulations. He is more of a substantive person.

HUME: More of a policy person?


HUME: Why is Mr. X, your source, still unwilling to become publicly known? Known to the prosecutor, known to obviously other key players in the case, why not publicly now?

NOVAK: Because he has never come forward. I think an important factor in this is that there was nobody indicted for the violation of the U.S. Intelligence Identity Act for uncovering a secret agent. Because if you want to get into that, she wasn't a very secret agent, that's the main reason. But there was no indictment made on that at all so Mr. X, the first source, has decided, apparently in his own mind, that he doesn't want to reveal himself as the source.

HUME: May we know if this is still someone in the government?

NOVAK: I'm not going to do any identification on that, whether he is in the government or not. I really do believe that he has to come forward. How could you testify before his name to the special prosecutor and to the grand jury, because they know who he was, they knew exactly who it was.

HUME: Until he releases you you're not going to say.

NOVAK: Exactly.

HUME: And he has not done so.


HUME: Have you asked him to do so?

NOVAK: No, I have not. I have not asked him to do so.

HUME: I want to ask you about the two other things in particular.

One is: Now you've got Bill Harlow saying, "Please don't do this." Give me again, more clearly, your reasoning for not. Did you not think there was some possibility that some damage could result from the disclosure of this CIA person's name?

NOVAK: No. I had no idea that she was a covert person, that she was not just working as an analyst at the CIA.

HUME: At that time?

NOVAK: At that time.

Had no idea that she was in any way a covert employee. If he had ever said to me, "Somebody's life was in danger if you do this," if he had gotten George Tenet to come on the phone with me I would not have written that.

But as a matter of fact, her life wasn't in danger and he said it is very unlikely she would ever go to Europe. That meant to me that she was not doing any kind of work as an agent in Europe. So, all he was saying is it might be embarrassing to her if she went on a vacation trip with her husband if she was identified as a CIA person and that wasn't a good enough reason for keeping her name out.

HUME: The allegation has grown out of this whole episode, with the conversations that Karl Rove had with you and with some other journalists, with the Scooter Libby role in the matter, that all of this was part of a campaign by the Bush administration to discredit Joe Wilson after he wrote a column in the New York Times, critical of the administration on Iraq and suggesting the administration had mislead about evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. You were the person who was at the point on all of this. What is your view of whether there was a campaign underway to discredit Wilson?

NOVAK: I saw no such campaign. Nobody in the administration ever said anything critical about Wilson to me. And my column was not critical of Wilson. The information came out to me in the course of an interview by a person who was not — believe me — not in the business of playing political dirty tricks.

I initiated the call to Karl Rove. We talked about Joe Wilson's wife for about maybe 20 seconds in the course of the conversation, which I took as a confirmation...

HUME: So you didn't call him about that specific thing; you called him about something else?

NOVAK: I called him about the mission to Niger, but in the course of asking about the mission to Niger, I said, "I understand that his wife works at the CIA and she initiated the mission."

HUME: And he said, "You know that, too?"

NOVAK: You know that, too.

HUME: He recalls it slightly differently. Did he belittle Wilson and his allegations?

NOVAK: No, at no time did he belittle him.

We were talking about specifics. I feel constrained not to say about exactly what was discussed — because it hasn't come out — in the conversation I had with both Mr. X and Karl Rove about some of the details of the mission in Niger, which I put in the column because I still consider that was given to me on a background basis.

HUME: Let me ask you a question others are sure to want to know the answer to: Why did you consider this — and I think I know the answer, but I'd rather hear it from you — why did you consider this to be newsworthy? What was the story here that made Joe Wilson's wife's job relevant?

NOVAK: The column was about the mission, what he found. Some of the things in the column indicated were contrary to what Mr. Wilson said. For example, — this was specifically asked for by Vice President Cheney — I wrote that there was never a real report written about it, that it was not a conclusive report. When I asked my original source, I asked him, "Why in the world did they send Joe Wilson on this? Why would it be somebody who was not a CIA person, was not familiar with this situation? Why would they send him?"

And I thought it was interesting that his wife suggested it. It was a throwaway line in the middle of the column.

HUME: Of course, it turned out to be — when the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated — an important reason why he was sent, according to the committee's findings.

NOVAK: Absolutely. They have a document that they put in the committee report that got very little attention. I wrote about it later, that she suggested it at the CIA, that her husband was well-plugged in and she suggested he be sent there. I still think it was an extraordinary decision to be made, but that was the decision that was made.

HUME: Bob Novak, great to have you. Thank you very much.

NOVAK: Thank you, sir.

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