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Context of 'September 24, 2004: Novak Backs Away from Initial Advocacy of Journalists Revealing Sources'

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Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, “outs” a covert CIA agent to a reporter. Libby tells New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who has been a reliable outlet for administration leaks and disinformation (see December 20, 2001, August 2002, and May 1, 2003), that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official. Plame Wilson is a covert CIA officer currently working at CIA headquarters on WMD issues in the Middle East. More importantly for Libby, she is the husband of former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger to verify the administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium there (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and who has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war policies both on television and in print (see July 6, 2003).
Libby Blames CIA for 'Slanted Intell' - Miller meets Libby at the Old Executive Building. Her focus is, as she has written in her notebook, “Was the intell slanted?” meaning the intelligence used to propel the US into war with Iraq. Libby is “displeased,” she notes, by what he calls the “selective leaking” of information to the press by the CIA. He calls it a “hedging strategy,” and Miller quotes him in her notes: “If we find it, fine, if not, we hedged.” Miller feels that Libby is trying to use the interview to set up a conflict between the White House and the CIA. He says that reports suggesting senior administration officials may have selectively used some intelligence reports to bolster their claims about Iraq while ignoring others are “highly distorted.” The thrust of his conversation, Miller will later testify (see September 30, 2005), is to try to blame the CIA for the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq invasion. The CIA is now trying to “hedge” its earlier assessments, Libby says. He accuses it of waging what he calls a “perverted war” against the White House over the issue, and is clearly angry that it failed to, in his view, share its “doubts about Iraq intelligence.” He tells Miller, “No briefer came in [after the State of the Union address] and said, ‘You got it wrong, Mr. President.’”
Joseph Wilson and 'Valerie Flame' - Libby refers to “a clandestine guy,” meaning Wilson, and tells Miller that Cheney “didn’t know” about him, attempting to disassociate Cheney from any responsibility for Wilson’s trip. In her notes, Miller writes, “wife works in bureau?” and she will later testify that she is sure Libby is referring to the CIA. In her notes, she also writes the words “Valerie Flame,” a misspelled reference to Wilson’s wife. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Vanity Fair, 4/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 310; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
No Story from Interview - Miller does not write a story based on the conversation with Libby. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Libby a 'Good-Faith Source' - Miller will later recall Libby as being “a good-faith source who was usually straight with me.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005] She will note that she was not accustomed to interviewing high-level White House officials such as him. For Miller, Libby was “a major figure” and “one of the most senior people I interviewed,” she will say. “I never interviewed the vice president, never met the president, and have met Karl Rove only once. I operated at the wonk level. That is why all of this stuff that came later about my White House spin is such bullsh_t. I did not talk to these people.… Libby was not a social friend, like Richard Perle.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
Initial Incorrect Dating by Times - In October, the New York Times will initially, and incorrectly, identify the date of this conversation as June 25. [New York Times, 10/8/2005]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency

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

Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July (see July 14, 2003), is interviewed by FBI agents regarding the Plame Wilson leak. The interview takes place in the offices of Swidler Berlin, a law firm that is representing Novak. Novak’s attorneys, Lester Hyman and James Hamilton, have advised Novak that he has no certain constitutional basis to refuse to obey a grand jury subpoena, and that to do so could mean imprisonment and, Novak will later write, “inevitably result in court decisions that would diminish press freedom, all at heavy personal legal costs.” Novak discloses how he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 8, 2003), but, he will write, “the FBI did not press me to disclose my sources.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Swidler Berlin, James Hamilton, Robert Novak, Lester Hyman

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), is questioned for a second time (see January 14, 2004) by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see December 30, 2003). As with the earlier interview, Fitzgerald interviews Novak at the law offices of Swidler Berlin, the firm representing him. In writing about this interview, Novak will not go into the specifics of his interrogation, but will state: “I declined to answer when the questioning touched on matters beyond the CIA leak case. Neither the FBI nor the special prosecutor pressed me.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Swidler Berlin, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Time reporter Matthew Cooper, already having submitted a deposition in the Valerie Plame Wilson CIA identity leak investigation (see August 9, 2004 and August 24, 2004), is subpoenaed again to provide further information. Time and Cooper will appeal the subpoena. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/8/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Time magazine, Matthew Cooper

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Columnist Robert Novak, who publicly outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson over a year ago (see July 14, 2003), testifies for a third time to FBI agents conducting an investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak. Novak has already testified to the FBI concerning his sources for the information on Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see October 7, 2003 and February 5, 2004). According to an affidavit subsequently filed by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Novak is testifying to clarify and add information to his earlier testimony regarding his conversations about Plame Wilson with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see October 1, 2003). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Armitage, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Al Hunt and Robert Novak on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’Al Hunt and Robert Novak on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ [Source: Washington Post]During a broadcast of CNN’s The Capital Gang, conservative columnist Robert Novak weighs in on the controversy surrounding a recent CBS story on George W. Bush’s National Guard service. The story relied on documents whose authenticity has been questioned. Novak says: “I’d like CBS, at this point, to say where they got those documents from.… I think they should say where they got these documents because I thought it was a very poor job of reporting by CBS.” Novak’s colleague, liberal Al Hunt, retorts: “Robert Novak, you’re saying CBS should reveal its source?… You think reporters ought to reveal sources?” Novak, tardily understanding where Hunt is going, backtracks: “No, no, wait a minute. I’m just saying in that case.” Novak has yet to publicly reveal his sources for his outing of CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Other reporters who were given Plame Wilson’s name, including the New York Times’s Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003) and Time’s Matthew Cooper (see September 13, 2004), have disclosed their negotiations with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald over revealing information to his grand jury, but Novak has said nothing on the subject. (Hunt later confirms that, like the vast majority of the Washington pundit corps, he has refrained from asking Novak about the issue, because Novak is “a close friend… it’s uncomfortable.”) Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who spars regularly with Novak on CNN, concurs: “Look, he’s a friend of mine. I know that he can’t talk about it. I respect that fact, so I don’t bring it up.” [Washington Monthly, 12/2004] Novak has spoken with the FBI and with investigators for Fitzgerald three times (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004).

Entity Tags: Paul Begala, CNN, Al Hunt, George W. Bush, Judith Miller, Robert Novak, Texas Air National Guard, Matthew Cooper, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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